Forgotten women of Paleontology: Erika von Hoyningen-Huene

Erika von Huene in the lates 1920s at the Tuebingen University.

Erika von Huene at Tübingen.

Erika Martha von Hoyningen-Huene was born in Tübingen, Germany, on September 30, 1905.  Descendant of a noble Baltic German family, Erika grew up in a deeply religious home. Her father,  Professor Dr Friedrich Freiherr (Baron) von Hoyningen, better known as Friedrich von Huene (1875–1969), was a world expert palaeontologist, whose life and research were strongly influenced by his beliefs. Von Huene wrote several books, papers and articles, spanning 65 years, but he never gained a full professorial position. Instead, he took the position of  Konservator at the University of Tübingen. As a young girl, Erika helped her father in the Institute and Museum of Geology and Palaeontology and studied under his strong influence.

She was one of only two female vertebrate palaeontologists in the pre-World War II history of Germany.  She completed her doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Dr Edwin Hennig in 1933, the same year that Hitler came to power. She later contributed with George Gaylord Simpson with her pioneering work on early mammals. But  the Nazi regime affected her life and work. During those difficult years, her father used his influence to help persecuted colleagues, such as ‘Tilly’ Edinger. However, after the events that followed the infamous “Kristallnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass), Tilly Edinger’s paleontological career in Germany ended abruptly.

Friedrich on Huene contemplating the placement of a rib on a South African dicynodont specimen (From Turner 2009)

Friedrich von Huene contemplating the placement of a rib on a South African dicynodont specimen (From Turner 2009)

When World War II began, Erika moved to Berlin invited by her former professor Otto H. Schindewolf, and carried out some work for him in the geological survey. After the war ended, Erika lost her job. For a time, she assisted his father and published her last paper in 1949. Her last years were devoted to managing nursing homes in Tübingen and Berlin. She died in Berlin, almost a week after her father’s death, on April 9, 1969.

During her scientific career, Erika wrote only seven papers. She suffered the consequences of the discrimination against women in Germany and finally gave up. In the year that Erika gained her doctorate, promotion for women in Germany was denied and women in higher positions were downgraded, and by the time  the war ended and men returned to their jobs, most women returned to the “safety of their homes”.


Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2010, v. 343, p. 111-153

S. Turner, 2009, Reverent and exemplary: ‘Dinosaur man’ Friedrich von Huene (1875-1969), Geological Society London Special Publications 310(1):223-243


4 thoughts on “Forgotten women of Paleontology: Erika von Hoyningen-Huene

  1. Pingback: Forgotten women of Paleontology: Erika von Hoyningen-Huene | Letters from Gondwana. | First Night History

  2. Pingback: Forgotten Women of Palaeontology: Erika von Hoyningen-Huene | Musings and Ravings

  3. Erika von Huene is here indeed pictured in Tübingen, not, however, at the University, but on the famed old Neckar Bridge (Neckarbrücke), as it looked like before WW2.

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