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Background - 30.07.2019 - 00:00

History lesson: Hanny Thalmann – the first woman to gain a PhD at HSG

In 1943, Hanny Thalmann became the first female student to be awarded the title of Doctor of Economics and Finance by the St.Gallen Business Academy (only the second doctorate the university, now HSG, had ever awarded). Through her lecturing, she pursued her goal of getting women interested in subjects such as women’s suffrage, and she has been recognised for her services to women’s education and vocational training.

Born on 26 July 1912 in Gossau (Canton St.Gallen), the daughter of a secondary school teacher, Hanny (Johanna Hermina) Thalmann initially attended her local primary school. After her father died young (in 1920), her widowed mother moved the family to Flums (Canton St.Gallen). After attending secondary school, Hanny Thalmann completed her business training course in Walenstadt (Canton St.Gallen), and she subsequently consolidated and expanded her knowledge of commercial matters at the commercial college of the Institute of Menzingen (Canton Zurich), an educational institution run by Catholic nuns, where she gained a diploma in commerce.

Degree course at St.Gallen Business Academy (now HSG)

Hanny Thalmann’s good references enabled her to enrol on the preparatory course (summer semester 1930 to summer semester 1931) at the Business Academy in March 1930. On 21 April 1931, she passed the commercial college entrance examination with a grade of "sufficient", and enrolled at the Business Academy in the winter semester of 1931-32. She was forced to delay her studies by several semesters due to a pulmonary disease, and she was granted leave from the summer semester of 1932 to the summer semester of 1933. Nevertheless, she had an encouraging mentor in her uncle, Dr Richard Senti, who was a Catholic priest in Wil (Canton St.Gallen) and for whom she spent two and a half years taking care of all the parish’s administrative office work. In the winter semester of 1936-37, she was granted leave from her degree course once again, this time to complete an internship, and she used the opportunity to spend a year working in administration at the Wil branch of Sparkassa bank, thus gaining practical knowledge of banking. She eventually obtained her qualification as a teacher of business studies with the overall grade of "good".

First woman to gain a PhD at the Business Academy

After successfully completing her diploma, Hanny Thalmann was employed by the now expanded School of Commerce in Menzingen (Canton Zurich). There, she spent two years as a secular teacher of commercial subjects for the diploma and university entrance courses.

Under the presidency of Professor Walther Hug, the Business Academy was given the right to award PhDs in 1938, and Hanny Thalmann enrolled for a PhD in economic sciences in the winter semester of 1939-40. At the same time, she was given a lectureship at the business training college in Uzwil (Canton St.Gallen).

In July 1943, her revised doctoral thesis "Industry in the Sarganserland" was accepted and after she had successfully passed the oral examinations, she became the first woman at the school to be awarded the title of Doctor of Economics and Finance (only the second PhD the school had ever presented).

A pioneer in the fight for women’s rights

Between 1945 and 1974, Hanny Thalmann taught at the vocational college for retail in St.Gallen (from 1958 as principal). Furthermore, she also dedicated herself to women’s issues and women’s rights, as a member of the board at the Frauenzentrale for Canton St.Gallen between 1950 and 1981 and as a member of the cantonal board of the Catholic Women’s Association for St.Gallen and Appenzell between 1954 and 1988. Through her lecturing, she pursued her goal of getting women interested in subjects like women’s suffrage, and she has been recognised for her services to women’s education and vocational training. In 1968, Thalmann was elected the first female member of the educational board of Canton St.Gallen. In this position, which she took up on 31 December 1982, she worked to improve teacher training and equal educational opportunities for girls and boys, among other things.

First female member of the National Council for Canton St.Gallen

After the formal introduction of women’s suffrage in March 1971, Hanny Thalmann was elected the first female member of the National Council for Canton St.Gallen for the CVP in the Swiss parliamentary elections of autumn 1971 and was therefore sent to Bern. She remained active in the areas of education and social issues up until November 1979. With her conservative Catholic upbringing, she campaigned for maternity rights and maternity insurance, among other things, and she played an important role in shaping the new vocational training act of 1978.

Ongoing links with HSG

In the winter semester of 1982-83, Hanny Thalmann spoke as part of the HSG’s public lecture courses, addressing questions of age and ageing under the title of "Spiritual transformations among ageing people. How do those around them react?" and "The financial situation among pensioners, with account of the position of women". To mark 50 years since she gained her PhD, she was honoured as the HSG’s first female recipient of a doctorate on "University Day" in 1993.

Dr Hanny Thalmann died on 11 May 2000 in St.Gallen.

Photo: Dr Hanny Thalmann on University Day in 1993

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