Wolff, Charlotte

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WOLFF, CHARLOTTE (1897–1986), pioneering Jewish lesbian physician, psychotherapist, and sexology researcher in Germany and England. Born in Riesenburg, West Prussia, but raised in Danzig and Dresden, Charlotte Wolff matriculated at the University of Freiburg in 1920 and studied in Königsberg and Tübingen before completing her doctorate in medicine in Berlin in 1926. In 1931, she began working in the Institute for Electrophysical Therapy at the Neukölln clinic and was appointed its director the following year. She also had a small private medical and psychotherapeutic practice. An active member of the Verein Sozialistischer Ärzten (Association of Socialist Physicians), Wolff did volunteer work in a marriage counseling center in Berlin, distributing family planning information and providing poor women with contraception devices.

After the Nazi takeover in 1933, Charlotte Wolff was dismissed from her position in the outpatient clinic and was detained briefly by the Gestapo. Soon thereafter, she managed to escape to France and then England and began researching and writing books on chirology; she initially supported herself by analyzing hands because, as a refugee, she was not permitted to practice medicine. In 1937, Wolff became a permanent resident of England and gained permission to practice as a psychotherapist. In 1941, she was made a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and in 1947, she became a naturalized British citizen, but she was not officially reinstated as a physician until 1952.

In the 1960s, while writing her first autobiography, homosexuality became Charlotte Wolff's new field of research. She published Love Between Women (1973), a landmark study based on interviews with more than a hundred lesbians. She later wrote a book on bisexuality and a 1986 biography of Magnus Hirschfeld, the pioneering German-Jewish sexologist. In the 1970s, her books began to be translated into German; she was invited to come to Germany to speak about her experiences and her research on homosexuality and bisexuality in 1978 and again in 1979. As a Jew and a lesbian, Wolff believed that she was a quintessential outsider belonging to two persecuted minorities, but towards the end of her life, she found acceptance in British and German lesbian feminist circles, making important contributions to the study of homosexuality in both her adopted country and her native land. Other books include Studies in Hand Reading (1936); The Human Hand (1942); The Hand in Psychological Diagnosis (1950); On the Way to Myself: Communications to a Friend (1969); and Hindsight (1980).


R. Alpart, Like Bread on the Seder Plate (1997), 141–49; H. Pass Freidenreich. Female, Jewish, and Educated (2002); R. Wall, Verbrannt, verboten, vergessen (1988), 211–13.

[Harriet Pass Freidenreich (2nd ed.)]