Charlotte Wolff and lesbian history: reconfiguring liminality in exile.

Brennan, T. and Hegarty, P. (2010). Charlotte Wolff and lesbian history: reconfiguring liminality in exile. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 14(4) 338 - 358.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10894161003677232

Abstract

This article considers the "liminality" of the psychologist Charlotte Wolff, MD (1897-1986). Always living openly as a lesbian since her school days in Danzig, Wolff trained as a doctor-also pursuing a parallel interest in poetry and in philosophy. As a Jewish person, she was forced to leave the Berlin Health Service and flee Germany when the Nazi regime came to power. Having moved to Great Britain in 1936 after three years in France, Wolff reconfigured "exile" beyond the literal experience of emigration and immigration, as a form of "marginality" or "liminality" always involved in artistic and scientific endeavors. In her life and work she negotiated several liminal areas-from her gender presentation to her standing in the academic and scientific community (she was a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, to which she bequeathed her papers and the copyright to her work, but at the same time she was not an eminent psychologist), to her membership of sexual minority organizations (she conducted pioneering research on lesbianism and bisexuality, but some resented her connection with the psy-professions). In the spirit of Wolff's "liminality" as a strategy and creative zone, and along the lines indicated by Morawski (1994) as regards the transformative possibilities of feminist psychology as a liminal science, we argue for a reappraisal of Wolff's life and work that, in negotiating the borderlands between lesbian history and history of psychology, could enrich both disciplines.

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