Conrad-Martius, Hedwig (1888–1966)

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Conrad-Martius, Hedwig (1888–1966)

German philosopher and member of the Göttingen Circle. Name variations: Hedwig Martius. Born Hedwig Martius in 1888 to a medical family in northern Germany; died in 1966; studied with Edmund Husserl at the University of Göttingen 1911–1912; Ph.D. University of Munich, 1913; married Theodor Conrad in 1912.

Awarded essay prize from the Philosophische Fakultat at the University of Göttingen (1912); was a lecturer, University of Munich from 1949.

Selected works:

Ursprung und Aufbau des Lebendigen Kosmos (1938); Der Selbstaufbau der Natur: Entelechien und Energien (1944); Naturwissenschaftlich-metaphysische Perspectktiven; Drei Vortrage (1948); Das Lebendige; die Endlichkeit der Welt; der Mench Drei Dispute (1951); Die Zeit (1954); Das Sein (1954); Der Raum (1958); Brief an Hedwig Conrad-Martius (1960); Die Geistseele des Menschen (1960); Schriften zur Philosophie (1963).

Hedwig Martius was one of the first women to be a professional academic. In 1888, she was born in the north of Germany to an established medical family, who sent her to study literature at the University of Göttingen in 1911. She soon became interested in the philosophical movement of phenomenology that was centered in the university, however, and later burned her early attempts at writing drama and poetry.

Martius was introduced to phenomenology through attending the lectures of Moritz Geiger. He recommended her to Edmund Husserl, the philosopher who led the movement of phenomenology in continental European philosophy. The study of how we perceive the world, phenomenology was one of the most important philosophical approaches in the 20th century. As one of Husserl's students, Martius participated in the philosophical discussion group that became known as the Göttingen Circle, which included such notable philosophers as Max Scheler, Adolf Reinach, Fritz Kaufmann, Edith Stein , Roman Ingarden, and Alexandre Koyre.

In 1912, Martius left the University of Göttingen for the University of Munich to pursue her Ph.D. in Philosophy. Her thesis grew out of a paper written at the University of Göttingen for which she had won a prize from the Philosophische Fakultat. (She did not pursue the Ph.D. at Göttingen because they required fluency in Latin.) That same year, she married Theodor Conrad, who supported her academic work with an orchard farm, as women were not permitted to hold paid academic positions at the time. Conrad-Martius lived alternately at the farm in Bergzabern (Palatinate) and in Munich while she studied.

Her work was characteristic of the Göttingen Circle. Conrad-Martius' doctoral thesis was a critique of positivism, the approach to philosophy that was then flourishing in Vienna and would continue to dominate British and American philosophy throughout the 20th century. Positivism considers the world in terms of discrete units that map onto the truths expressed in language. For Conrad-Martius, as a phenomenologist, this approach to ontology (the study of the grounds of reality) was mistaken, and she took the position that we must look for deeper structures in our experience. Her later work concerned nature and the forms, or "essences," which underlie our experience of it. After the completion of her Ph.D. in 1913, she continued to read natural science and the great philosophers, especially the German idealists. World War I left the farm unproductive and the Conrads struggled to make ends meet. Nonetheless, Conrad-Martius frequently hosted the meetings of the Göttingen Circle at the farm.

In 1930, Conrad-Martius returned to philosophical work, though she continued to struggle financially. Although women were now permitted to lecture at German universities, the economy was weak. After the Nazis came into power, she was prohibited from academic employment and publication because she had a Jewish grandparent. Conrad-Martius nonetheless published in German magazines and abroad, and the end of World War II unleashed a torrent of her academic publications. In 1949, she was granted a lectureship at the University of Munich. She died in 1966.


Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Spiegelberg, Herbert. The Phenomenological Movement. Boston: Martin Nijhoff, 1982.

Waithe, Mary Ellen, ed. A History of Women Philosophers, vol. 3. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publications, 1987.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada