First Female Professor Leads the Way for Women


When Emmi Hauser Fischl accepted a job teaching physics at Stevens in 1947, she didn’t stop to think about the significance of the moment, historical or otherwise. According to Fischl, she needed a job and any significance was due to the forward thinking of Stevens. She doesn’t see herself as an example for women or even as a forerunner to the women’s movement. While she may not like the spotlight, she is in fact the first female professor at Stevens.

It’s worth noting that Fischl began her post at Stevens long before the first female undergraduate student was admitted in 1971. She was instructing young men in the physics lab during the same decade that Lore E. Feiler was slipping into the back of classes. Much has changed on campus since the ’40s when Fischl taught only young men. Now women make up 30% of the student body and roughly half of the full-time faculty members are female.

Yet Fischl is modest about her abilities and pragmatic when recounting the interview and subsequent job offer. She recalled her interviewer saying, “You know, we never had a woman before, but if you are okay with it – so are we.”

If she downplays the importance of her place in history that is only because of her practical nature. At her heart, she is a survivor. She came to the United States in 1939 to escape Nazi Germany. At 17, she experienced things that very few can imagine. She was taken in by her cousins in Chicago who didn’t have much, but they made do with the little they had and strove to succeed. While she was able to go to high school for free, any higher education was up to her. She did her due diligence. She studied hard and earned partial scholarships, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Illinois College and a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University. All through school, she worked several jobs to pay for her education.

In 1944, WWII was still raging. Her brother had gone to war and Emmi was eager to enlist in the army. She wasn’t a citizen yet, but she didn’t let that deter her. She wrote a letter to the State Department and said that she’d like to become a citizen and enlist in the army. They told her she had to wait her turn. While she wasn’t able to serve, her dream of citizenship became a reality in 1945.

While she was completing her graduate work, she met her future husband Fred Fischl, who was completing his doctorate. They were married in 1947. Soon after, they moved to a furnished apartment in Newark, New Jersey. They didn’t have much in those early years of marriage, but Fischl says they made do. She continued to teach at Stevens until her first child Jacky was born, followed by her two sons, Robert and Peter. Even when the children were young, she worked. She started a business at home with her friend translating technical articles. Later, she took courses to become a substitute teacher so her schedule would match the children’s.

As her children became independent, she had more time. With her active mind and natural curiosity, she studied computer programming. She became a Fortran programmer for the rest of her working life. Physics and computer programming remain male dominated fields, facts that the brilliant Fischl doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it. When asked, she said her motivation for studying physics in the first place was simply “because she liked it.”

Emmi is 95 years old and is still vibrant and active. In fact, it was only a few years ago that she stopped skiing because of worry over fractures. Her daughter Jacky has fond memories of family ski trips to Vermont and her mother’s plum cake. She shares her mother’s love of math and science and became an engineer. But Emmi’s sharp intellect or love of life isn’t the most enduring quality she possesses. It is her strength and her ability to persevere, says Jacky. She had to cope with the loss of her youngest son and the passing of her husband.

Fischl now lives in Fort Myers, Florida. Like so many other circumstances in her life, she made it through Hurricane Irma. A few weeks after the storm, she was told over the phone that her daughter described her as having great strength. She laughed and said, “Oh, she did, did she?” Then she recited the first stanza of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley:

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul.”


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