Irène Van Der Bracht, the first female university professor
Irène Van Der Bracht was born on 8 February 1891 in Erwetegem, East Flanders.
She was already a teacher at Notre-Dame aux Épines College in Eeklo and held a State diploma as a physical education teacher when she enrolled at the Higher Institute of Physical Education at Ghent University to obtain her Bachelor's degree. At the time, this was one of the only courses open to young women wanting to add a university degree to their CV, as they had to have completed a classical secondary education to enrol in university, but the legislature had not made provision for humanities for girls. The Institute was founded in 1908 and attracted young women; not only did they not require a degree in humanities, but the course was short - three years. Irène Van Der Bracht obtained her degree, one of four young women who successfully completed the course between 1908 and 1914.
In 1913, at the end of her studies, Irène was hired on a "temporary basis" to cover the departure of a teacher. Her meagre salary of 150 Francs per month was equivalent to that of a new teacher. In 1914, the young patriot refused to work under the control of the Germans. But her inactivity during the war put her in a precarious financial situation. This prompted her to ask for a review of her status and her becoming a professor. She was only granted the title of "lecturer", but without the salary adjustment that would have brought her up to the same level as her male counterpart. In 1920, she married Jules Van den Ostende, curator of the university buildings. While this marriage put an end to her financial worries, it did not improve her professional recognition. Despite the growing workload generated by the university's linguistic duality, several requests for salary increases were refused for trivial reasons, which felt like a pretext for not giving her what male colleagues had obtained. In spite of a negative decision by the Higher Institute of Physical Education, the Socialist Minister of Arts and Sciences, Camille Huysmans, approved her appointment as a professor on 10 October 1925. Irène Van Der Bracht thus became the first woman in Belgium to reach such a high rank.
Outside the university, Irène was a rapporteur at the seventh International Congress of Physical Education in 1935, held in Brussels. She was honoured with two 'knighthoods', one of the Order of the Crown in 1928, followed by another of the Order of Leopold in 1934. She died on 7 October 1941 in Sint-Amandsberg.
© Collectie Universiteitsarchief Gent, Henri De Jonghe