March 1st: Ingeborg Rapoport

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To start the month we have the amazing Ingeborg Rapoport.  She was born in Cameroon back in 1912 and is still alive today!  Back in 1938, when she was in her mid-20’s, Rapoport was working on her PhD at the University of Hamburg in Northern Germany.  Her paper was approved but she was told that, because she was Jewish, she would not be given the chance to defend her thesis, meaning she couldn’t officially get her PhD.  Hitler and the Nazis had already taken over the government at this point and had placed harsh restrictions on Jew’s rights to, among other things, get an education.  Even though Rapoport wasn’t raised Jewish, her mother was, which meant it was unsafe for her to stay in Germany.  She was able to move to America where she applied to almost 50 medical schools, but was only accepted into one.  Years later, after the war had ended, she and her husband moved back to Germany where Rapoport founded Germany’s first neonatology clinic (a subspecialty of pediatrics that works specifically with premature infants), but she still had never officially gotten her PhD.  Eventually, her son, who became a professor at Harvard, went to visit the University of Hamburg.  While there, he recounted his mother’s story to the dean, who decided it was about time Rapoport got what the Nazis had stolen from her decades earlier.  So 77 years after she wrote her thesis on a disease called diphtheria (which at the time was prevalent in Europe), Rapoport successfully defended it to the dean and two other professors from the university,  officially earning her PhD.  She was 102 years old at the time, the oldest person to ever receive a PhD.

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