Tammes, Jantina

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(b. Groningen, The Netherlands, 23 June 1871;

d. Groningen, The Netherlands, 20 September 1947), genetics, botany.

Tammes demonstrated that the heredity of continuous characters can be explained within the framework of Mendelian genetics. Because she interpreted her experimental data more in probabilistic terms than others who were publishing on this topic around 1910, her work was the most convincing. In 1919 she became the first person in The Netherlands to occupy a chair in genetics. In addition, she was the second female professor in the country.

Early Years. Jantina, or Tine, Tammes was born in 1871 into a lower-middle-class family. In 1883 she entered a secondary school for girls. She later took private lessons in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and in 1890 she enrolled at the University of Groningen, becoming one of only eleven women students. She was allowed to follow the lectures and practical courses, but her secondary-school diploma did not allow her to take the academic examinations. In 1892 she obtained a teacher’s certificate in physics, chemistry, and cosmography and later, in 1897, one in botany, zoology, mineralogy, and geology. After a few years of teaching, she became, in 1897, the assistant of the professor of botany Jan Willem Moll and worked in the Botanical Laboratory in Groningen.

Moll used his friendship with Hugo De Vries to foster Tammes’s scientific development. De Vries stimulated her emerging interest in evolution and heredity, and through Moll’s mediation Tammes worked for a couple of months in De Vries’s laboratory. However, this visit did not result in an appointment as assistant in the phytopathological laboratory in Amsterdam, because, according to De Vries, “a lady cannot be required to inspect the fields in all weathers” (Stamhuis, 1995, p. 501).

Because she had not taken an academic degree, Tammes could not obtain a doctorate. Moll, however, thought that her publication “Die Periodicität morphologischer Erscheinungen bei den Pflanzen” (The periodicity of morphological phenomena in plants) had the qualities of a doctoral dissertation, and he made various efforts— all unsuccessful at the time—to procure for her both an honorary doctorate and a position. The obstacles were, officially, her weak constitution (in the case of jobs at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Wageningen and the Deep-Sea Research Station in Den Helder but also in the case of a prestigious scholarship in the Dutch East Indies), and unofficially, her need to care for her aging parents. Her innate diffidence and fear of failure may also have played a role.

Mendel’s Law for Continuous Characters. After 1899 she continued her research at the Botanical Laboratory in Groningen in an unpaid position. In 1903 she began research into cultivated flax. Moll managed to arrange that a prize contest, dedicated to the study of flax, was organized by the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Holland Society of Sciences) at Haarlem, and in May 1907 Tammes duly won the prize. The jury’s assessment of her work was extremely positive. The report was published in the Society’s proceedings under the title “Der Flachsstengel: Eine statistisch-anatomische Monographie” (The flax stalk: A statistical-anatomical monograph).

In the following years Tammes began to hybridize flax varieties. On the basis of this work she proved more convincingly than others, including the Swede Herman Nilsson-Ehle and the American E. M. East, that the heredity of continuous characters could be explained within the framework of Mendelian genetics by the multiple-factor hypothesis. Tammes’s conclusion was more persuasive because she made well-argued claims concerning the number of hereditary factors that contributed to the values of the continuous characters involved. She was able to draw these conclusions because she interpreted her experimental data in more probabilistic terms than others who were publishing on this topic around 1910. Her work was, however, undervalued by her contemporaries as well as by historians, and her case can therefore be considered an example of the so-called “Matilda effect,” the systematic undervaluation of the scientific achievements of women.

Professorship. In 1910 Moll recommended Tammes for an honorary doctorate at the University of Groningen, and she received the honorary degree in 1911. Earlier, Moll had proposed her appointment as an extraordinary professor in the theory of heredity and variability. His argument in support of a new chair in heredity was based on the rapid expansion of the field and its potential significance for agriculture. He also argued that in the Botanical Laboratory there was already available (as he said) “a person qualified in all respects,” who moreover would probably be willing to accept the “not well-paid job of an Extraordinary Professor” (Stamhuis, 1995 p. 505). Although the university accepted Moll’s proposal, the Minister of Internal Affairs did not approve the appointment, stating that the establishment of the new professorship did not seem an urgent matter.

In April 1912, as Moll’s eyesight was deteriorating, Tammes began to supervise the practical courses in botany for students at the University of Groningen. In 1917 Moll’s successor started a new campaign to get Tammes appointed as professor. This campaign resulted in her appointment in 1919 as extraordinary professor in variability and heredity. Tammes became the first person in The Netherlands to occupy a chair in genetics. She was also the second female professor in the country and the first at the University of Groningen. After her appointment she attended genetics conferences, visited other genetic institutions, developed relationships with other geneticists, and exchanged students, mainly with German institutions. Eight students gained their doctorate under her guidance. She was editor of Genetica from 1932 to 1943.

In her inaugural address as professor Tammes expressed her skepticism about the growing eugenic movement and its proposals to improve the human race.

She felt that not enough was known about the genetic constitution of humans to provide a scientific basis for eugenics. She expected more from improvement of the social and economic conditions in society. This, however, did not prevent her from being a member of the Nederlandsche Eugenetische Federatie (Dutch Eugenic Federation). Although Tammes cannot be characterized a feminist, she stood at the start of Magna Pete, the female student organization in Groningen, and was a member of the Dutch branch of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW). She retired in 1937 at the age of sixty-six and died in 1947.


A bibliography of Tammes’s publications appears in Genetica 22 (1941): 6–8. Seven of Tammes’s articles are reprinted in the issue as well.


“Die Periodicität Morphologischer Erscheinungen bei den Pflanzen.” Verhandelingen. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, 2nd sec., 9, no. 5 (1903): 1–148.

“On the Influence of Nutrition on the Fluctuating Variability of Some Plants.” Proceedings of the Section of Science of the Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen 7 (1904): 398–411. Reprinted in Genetica 22 (1941): 9–24.

“Der Flachsstengel. Eine Statistisch-Anatomische Monographie.” Natuurkundige Verhandelingen Hollandsche Maatschappij van Wetenschappen 3, vol. I. 4. Haarlem (1907): 1-285.

“Das Verhalten Fluktuierend Variierender Merkmale bei der Bastardierung.” Recueil des Travaux Botaniques Néerlandais 8 (1911): 201–288. Reprinted in Genetica 22 (1941): 25–88

“Some Correlation Phenomena in Hybrids.” Proceedings of the Section of Science of the Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam 15 (1912): 1004–1014. Reprinted in Genetica 22 (1941): 91–102.

“Die genotypische Zusammensetzung einiger Varietäten derselben Art und ihr genetischer Zusammenhang.” Recueil des Travaux Botaniques Néerlandais 12 (1915): 217–277. Reprinted in Genetica 22 (1941): 115–161.

De Leer der Erffactoren en hare Toepassing op den Mensch. Inaugural address. Groningen: Wolters, 1919.


Jaarboek der Rijksuniversiteit te Groningen 1948. Groningen, Wolters, 1948. See pp. 62–63.

Schiemann, Elisabeth. “Tine Tammes zum Gedächtnis.” Die Züchter. Zeitschrift für theoretische und angewandte Genetik 19, no. 7 (1949): 181–184.

Stamhuis, Ida H. “Statistiek en Waarschijnlijkheidsrekening in het Werk van Tine Tammes (1871–1947).” Gewina 15 (1992): 195–207.

———. “A Female Contribution to Early Genetics … Tine Tammes and Mendel’s Laws for Continuous Characters.” Journal of the History of Biology 28 (1995): 495–531.

Westerdijk, Johanna. Mededeelingen van de Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Vrouwen met Academische Opleiding 8 (July 1937): 12–13; ibidem 14 (March 1948): 2–3.

Wilde, Inge de. ’Nieuwe Deelgenoten in de Wetenschap’. Vrouwelijke Studenten en Docenten aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 1871–1919. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1998.

Ida H. Stamhuis

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