Born in Essen in 1881, Selma Meyer was from a Jewish merchant family. She initially trained as a music teacher in Berlin. After women were granted permission to study in Prussia in 1908, she went back to school to obtain her school-leaving qualification (Abitur). She then went on to study medicine in Berlin in 1910, obtaining her doctorate on 4 July 1916 with a thesis on brachial plexus birth palsy. She was granted her licence to practise medicine on 1 February 1917. Selma Meyer completed her clinical rotation at the Charité children’s hospital under Prof. Adalbert Czerny, then spent her residency with Prof. Arthur Schlossmann at the children’s hospital in Düsseldorf where she was appointed a senior physician within the hospital’s infection ward on 1 November 1921.
On 27 January 1922, Selma Meyer became the first woman to complete her habilitation in paediatrics (and the second female member of a German medical faculty). On 19 December 1927, she then became the first woman in Germany to be appointed a professor of paediatrics at the Düsseldorf Academy for Practical Medicine. Her research focused on infectious diseases, haematology and social paediatrics. Selma Meyer also served as head physician at the Empress Auguste Victoria House for infants and young children and as a lecturer at the
West German Academy for Social Hygiene in Düsseldorf and the Lower Rhine Women’s Academy.
Prof. Arthur Schlossmann said of her university teaching and her ability to motivate staff to conduct scientific work: “Dr. Meyer has an outstanding talent for teaching, is an excellent, widely-recognised speaker and understands how to guide the physicians working in the infection departments to scientific activity.”1
On 31 March 1929, Selma Meyer concluded her service as a senior physician and opened her own practice for paediatric diseases and X-ray diagnostics at Jägerhofstraße 3 in Düsseldorf. She remained a member of the teaching staff at the Academy for Practical Medicine however. On 7 September 1933, her teaching licence was revoked; from 1934 until 1938, she acted as school physician for the Jewish community. On 30 September 1938, the Fourth Ordinance of the Reich Citizenship Law led to her being stripped of her licence to practise medicine, along with all other Jewish physicians. She was expatriated and her assets were confiscated. In 1939, she emigrated to England, travelling on to the USA in 1940 where she ran a paediatric practice in New York until her death in 1958.
1 Selma Meyer’s personnel file in the Düsseldorf main state archives (HStA Düsseldorf, 97781); cf. Peter Voswinckel: Dr. Selma Meyer (1881–1958) – Erste Professorin für das Fach Kinderheilkunde in Deutschland. In: Bettina Wahrig-Schmidt (Ed.): Die Professionalisierung der Frau. Bildung, Ausbildung und Beruf von Frauen in historischer Perspektive. Lübeck 1997, p. 115–123, here p. 118. Cf. Selma Meyer’s habilitation file in: Düsseldorf University Archives 1/2, 1131.