Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hnad* (for Hand*)

Born on September 30, 1897, into a liberal, middle-class Jewish family in Riesenburg, West Prussia, Charlotte Wolff was initially drawn to the study of philosophy and literature (even publishing some poetry of her own), but after enrolling in college, made the pragmatic decision to go into medicine instead. She received her degree from Humboldt University of Berlin in 1928, and worked for a few years treating prostitutes, dispensing birth control, and directing neonatal services in Germany. But by the early 1930s, she was forced to emigrate to France, and then later to England, where she eventually obtained citizenship in 1947. (Not only was Wolff a Jew, but she had also been accused by the Gestapo of being "a woman dressed as a man, and a spy.") As a German refugee, she was forbidden to practice medicine in France as well, and became a leading, if somewhat eccentric, proponent of chirology, or "hand reading"—an occupation that probably amounts to little more than "fortune telling" in the minds of some, but to others constitutes a valid science, or at least an intriguing area of inquiry. (Current research suggests, for example, that the ratio between ring and index finger length correlates with sexual orientation, among other things.) In any case, Charlotte took her chirological calling seriously, working with juvenile delinquents in England and proving that many of them had certain types of manual abnormalities. (She wrote The Human Hand in 1942, and The Hand in Psychological Diagnosis in 1951.) She also believed that human beings and Capuchin monkeys were descended from a common ancestor in the Americas, due to the similarities in their hands. In the 1960s, Wolff began doing research in the field of sexology and published Love Between Women in 1971. She had long been an open and outspoken activist for gay rights (in 1932, an "Aryan" girlfriend broke up with her for fear of the Nazis), though she refused to consider herself a "professional lesbian." In fact, she rather disliked the words lesbian and homosexual in general. She once said: "Liebe und ein starker Geist kennen kein Alter. Phantasie hat keine Zeit." Which translates to: "Love and a strong spirit know no age. Imagination has no time." She wrote two autobiographies (On the Way to Myself in 1969 and Hindsight in 1980) and in 1977, at the age of eighty, produced Bisexuality: A Study. She also managed to come out with the 500-page Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology in 1986, the same year that she passed away at the age of 89. We found a handful of today's typo for hand* in OhioLINK (about ten, mostly for words like handbook or handicapped, and a couple of false positives for the initialism HNAD, a medical condition), along with 251 in WorldCat.

(Charlotte Wolff, image found on the Web.)

Carol Reid

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