Straus, Rahel Goitein

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STRAUS, RAHEL GOITEIN (1880–1963), pioneering woman physician trained in Germany. Born and raised in an Orthodox family in Karlsruhe, Rahel Goitein was selected as valedictorian of the first graduating class of the first Girls' Gymnasium in Germany in 1899; she went on to become the first matriculated woman student at the University of Heidelberg. In order to complete her medical education, Rahel Goitein had to overcome many obstacles and much discrimination against her as a woman. Some faculty members, including the dean, tried to discourage her; she needed special permission to take courses and even to sit for her final exams. Nevertheless, she persevered; a month before her marriage to Eli Straus, a lawyer, in 1905, she passed her state medical boards and in 1908, she received her doctorate in medicine. For 25 years, Rahel Straus maintained a private medical practice in Munich, while at the same time running a model Jewish household and raising five children.

An ardent Zionist since her youth, Straus organized and led various women's Zionist groups in Munich, including the Association of Jewish Women to Support Cultural Work in Palestine before World War i and wizo, the Women's International Zionist Organization, thereafter. She also served as vice president of the Jüdischer Frauenbund. She belonged to several radical feminist organizations, joining the German Association for Woman Suffrage in 1905 and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom after the war.

Soon after the death of her husband in 1932, Straus emigrated to Palestine with her children. She set up a medical practice in Jerusalem, but, encountering difficulties adapting to a new language and environment, she retired in 1940, at the age of 60. Once again, she became involved in volunteer activities on behalf of women, establishing a homemaking school to train young immigrant girls, a service to collect, repair and distribute used clothing and furniture among the needy, and an occupational therapy workshop for handicapped women. She also established akim, a training institute for the rehabilitation of disabled children, which is still known as Beit Rahel Straus. In 1952, she helped found the Israeli branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and remained its honorary president until her death.

After retiring from medical practice, Rahel Straus wrote her memoirs, Wir lebten in Deutschland: Erinnerungen einer deutschen Jüdin (1961), discussing life in Germany before the Nazi era. She began to paint and to write poetry; she also became the author of a popular children's book of fairy tales in Hebrew. Her papers are found in the Leo Baeck Institute Archives at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.


H. Pass Freidenreich, Female, Jewish, and Educated (2002); M. Krauss, "'Ein voll erfülltes Frauenleben': Die Ärztin, Mutter und Zionistin Rahel Straus (1880–1963)," in: H. Häntzschel & H. Bussmann (eds), Bedrohlich gescheit: Ein Jahrbunder Frauen und Wissenschaft in Bayern (1997), 236–41.

[Harriet Pass Freidenreich (2nd ed.)]

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Straus, Rahel Goitein

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