At 102, woman becomes oldest recipient of doctorate

We’re declaring this Ingeborg Rapoport Day, in honor of the 102-year-old German woman who today will get a doctorate from Hamburg University Medical Center.

She wrote her thesis on diptheria almost 80 years ago, but the Nazis would not allow her to defend it.

So last month, a group of professors traveled to her home and gave her the opportunity to do so, the BBC reports.

“It was about the principle,” she said. “I didn’t want to defend my thesis for my own sake. After all, at the age of 102 all of this wasn’t exactly easy for me. I did it for the victims.”

In the ’30s, she and her husband fled to the United States, where she also became an enemy of the state in the ’50s.

The McCarthy anti-communist trials meant that Ingeborg and her husband were at risk because of their left-wing views. So they fled again – back to Germany.

This time Ingeborg Rapoport went to communist East Berlin, where she worked as a paediatrician.
Eventually she became a paediatrics professor, holding Europe’s first chair in neonatal medicine, at the renowned Charite hospital in East Berlin.

She was given a national prize for her work in dramatically reducing infant mortality in East Germany.

When she was in the United States, she applied to 48 medical schools. She was accepted by one — the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“I had great luck—and perhaps some tenacity,” Rapoport told the Wall St. Journal last month.

She needed it recently. We know a lot more about diptheria than we did when she wrote her original thesis. But Ms. Rapoport had to struggle to get updated. She’s nearly blind and can’t use a computer. So for the last few months, her friends have patrolled the Internet for her and told her as much information as they could about the advances.

With the ceremony today, she has officially become the oldest recipient of a doctorate.