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Background - 28.05.2020 - 00:00

History lesson: Alice Scheitlin – an early female graduate of the HSG

Admission for women was already included in the founding resolution of the Commercial Academy St.Gallen, today’s University of St.Gallen (HSG). Alice Scheitlin enrolled as an auditor in the Winter Semester of 1900/01 and was one of the first female students.

The first of two children, Alice Sophie Scheitlin was born in St.Gallen on 31 March 1883. Her parents were the St.Gallen merchant Bernhard Scheitlin and Pauline Gmür, a citizen of Murg in the Canton of St.Gallen. Nothing is known about her educational background. According to the records, Alice Scheitlin did not attend the St.Gallen Cantonal School and thus did not hold the necessary school certificate to enrol in an institution of tertiary education. She may have attended a private school for young ladies since her father was part of the property-owning bourgeoisie. Also, she may well have attended a language school at home or abroad, as was not unusual for middle-class daughters.

At the age of 17, Alice Scheitlin enrolled as an auditor in the Commercial Academy in the Winter Semester of 1900/01. The academy had started its teaching activities in 1899 – at that time located in the west wing of the St.Gallen Canton School (today's Kantonsschule am Burggraben).

Female students at the St.Gallen Commercial Academy

The admission of women students to universities still caused vehement debates in the late 19th century. The Cantonal Government regulated admission of women students in the founding negotiations for the St.Gallen Commercial Academy, today’s University of St.Gallen (HSG) in a resolution dated 25 May 1898: “Attendance of the institution shall also be permitted to female persons.”

A brochure of 1904 stated that women could be admitted as students provided that they had successfully attended a Handelsmittelschule, i.e. an academic-stream secondary school with a focus on commercial subjects, or an equivalent educational background from other schools. Everyone whose educational background allowed the assumption that they would be able to follow and understand the teaching and lectures in the subjects of their choice could be admitted as auditors.

Successful graduation

From 1902, the Commercial Academy under the headship of Karl Emil Wild offered preparatory courses. These were intended to “fill the gaps which were revealed in the language subjects, for instance, and primarily also in the commercial background”.

Alice Scheitlin attended the preparatory course for one semester and enrolled at the Commercial Academy as a regular student in Summer Semester 1903. Besides language subjects, Scheitlin also attended economics and economic history courses, as well as courses in accountancy and settlement transactions. In November 1905, she was the first woman to sit the commercial diploma examination at the St.Gallen Commercial Academy. Her grades were 1 and 2 across the board, with the remark “Application very good throughout. Achievements good to very good”.

In a much-cited 1928 study by the Swiss Association of Women Academics, Alice Scheitlin was described as the first female graduate of the commercial academy – a title that is not entirely accurate. In fact, she was "only" the third woman to graduate from the Handelsakademie. A few months before her, Elisabeth Rannacher from St.Gallen (language diploma) and Henriette Zoller from Romania (commercial diploma) had already successfully completed their final examinations.

Emigration to the USA

After concluding her studies, Alice Scheitlin worked as a language teacher for French and English in St.Gallen until July 1913. In January 1915, she moved to Berne. 15 years later, in 1930, she resettled in Newark, New Jersey (USA), again to work as a language teacher. There is evidence that she worked for an insurance company in Orange, New Jersey (USA), from 1940.

Alice Scheitlin died at a ripe old age in St. Petersburg, Florida (USA) on 9 September 1974. She had remained single and had no children.

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