The center bears the name of the philosopher Margherita von Brentano di Tremezzo (1922–1995), the first woman to hold the office of Vice President at Freie Universität Berlin, from 1970 to 1972. Margherita von Brentano completed her doctorate in 1948 under the supervision of Martin Heidegger. Since 1971, she held a professorship at Freie Universität Berlin Institute of Philosophy before being appointed Professor Emerita in 1987.
As early as 1963, she grappled with the topic of “Women’s Circumstances and the Image of ‘the Woman’ at the University” in a talk she gave during the University Days at Freie Universität Berlin. In the years that followed, she published a number of academic and journalistic articles on discrimination against women in higher education, in which she also addressed the question of how and why women vary in their responses to exclusion from academia. Margherita von Brentano equated discrimination against women in the university with the “overall problem of women’s and men’s self-conception in our society.” As she saw it, “the relationship of the sexes, that is, of the two basic forms of humanity, [has] from bygone ages to this day been a relationship of domination and subjugation – so much so that even the lovely and valid demand for it to be a partnership is made into a tool for domination by claiming that it already is one.”
When feminism emerged as an academic and political movement, in the 1970s and 1980s, Margherita von Brentano expressed deep skepticism. The fact that the center bears her name should not be taken as a retroactive appropriation of an intellectual with a critical voice, but rather as a commitment to pursue Gender Studies and feminist scholarship with a self-critical and self-reflective eye. In this undertaking, let us not lose sight of those principles of academic thought and action that Margherita von Brentano stood for, both in her work and in her life.
Since 1995, Freie Universität Berlin has awarded a prize recognizing outstanding achievement in promoting women and Gender Studies – a prize in the name of Margherita von Brentano.
You can learn more about the Margherita von Brentano Prize here.