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Ida Freund: 

 Teacher, Educator, Feminist, and 

Chemistry Textbook Writer  

Palmer, Bill 


Abstract—  In the nineteenth century the 

importance of the following women textbook 

writers deserves recognition: Jane Marcet 

(Chemistry and natural philosophy): Mary 

Somerville (Physical sciences): and Mrs Lincoln 

Phelps (Biology and chemistry). They were all 

prolific writers who were recognised in the highest 

scientific circles. 

Ida Freund, in the early twentieth century, was 

another textbook writer in this tradition. She wrote 

two major chemistry books but these were virtually 

her total life’s work. However a well known 

historian of chemistry said that her work “is to be 

classed among the really great works of chemical 


This paper will focus on the life and work of this 

great woman chemist and educationalist, whose 

ideas on physical and chemical change and of the 

value of practical work in teaching chemistry put 

her ahead of her time.  


1. I



DA Freund’s life and work is not widely known, 

so her story is worth telling. Ida Freund's two 

books relate to chemical change as was the 

doctoral thesis of the writer of this study. Some 

comparisons can be made between her work and 

the work of Henry Edward Armstrong (Palmer, 

1998). However they expressed opposite views 

on science education issues (Brock, 1996, 

Footnote 71: Jenkins, 1979, p. 175). Brock 

(1996) indicates that Armstrong supported 

heurism whereas Freund opposed heurism. The 

problem here is that Armstrong was far from 

consistent in defining heurism and that Freund’s 

painfully careful experimentation was hardly 

suited to science teaching for all. However both 

were extremely competent chemists with a 

passion for experimental work. Jenkins indicates 

that Armstrong and Freund also had opposed 

views on domestic science curricula. In this case 

Armstrong’s views were probably not soundly 

based on experience: it was a part of his 

personality to express strong views about 

‘everything’.  Ida Freund had a wide variety of 

skills that would have enabled her to give 

instruction in domestic science had she wished to 

do so, but as will be seen later she was not 

supportive of domestic science curricula.  


Manuscript received February 10, 2007. 

B. Palmer is with the Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia 


Ida Freund enjoyed a varied life in spite of 

physical handicaps; her determination to succeed 

transcended her disabilities. Little biographical 

detail is available. No biography or autobiography 

is available. A Cambridge University Scholarship 

(URL: Ida Freund Memorial Prize) is named after 

her. The two books that she wrote and the regard 

in which she was held by colleagues and 

students are her memorial. Some information 

about her can be found in dictionaries such as 

Oglivie and Harvey, (2000) and Oglivie (2004), 

though many, such as Cooney (1996), Kass-

Simon and Farnes (1993) and Yount (1997), do 

not mention her. Other sources include an article 

(Hill and Dronsfield, 2004) and Benfey's 

introduction (Benfey, 1968) to the 'Dover' reprint 

of her book The study of chemical composition

She is mentioned in some of the histories of the 

Cambridge women's colleges, such as Gardiner 

(1914), Welsh (1914) and Grimshaw (1979). The 

preface by Hutchinson and Thomas to Freund's 

book The experimental basis of chemistry: 

suggestions for a series of experiments 

illustrative of the fundamental principles of 

chemistry is a personal tribute by kind friends. 

There are also a number of obituary notices and 

various studies of women chemists (Rayner-

Canham, and Rayner-Canham, 1998, pp. 69-71; 

Fara, 2005, pp. 156-159) are helpful. Patricia 

Gould has provided the author of this study with 

information about Freund whilst Gould (1997b) 

was researching women physicists of the period. 

A brief vignette of Freund’s very interesting life 


2. E





Ida Freund was born in Vienna, Austria on 5 

April 1863, but she was left an orphan when 

young and was raised by her maternal 

grandmother there (Shorter, 2005, p. 181). She 

attended a state school and then trained for 

teaching obtaining the Austrian State Diploma for 

teachers. After this her grandparents died one 

after the other in spite of Freund 'nursing them 

tenderly' (Gardiner, 1914, p. 34).  So, in 1881, at 

the age of eighteen she came to England to keep 

house for her uncle Ludwig Strauss, a violinist.  

Her uncle had influential friends who 



recommended that she be sent to Girton. He 

agreed as he had long recognised her talents, so 

she prepared for the ‘Little-Go’ examinations at a 

private institution. Greek, Latin and mathematics 

were all new to her. In July 1882 she was 

admitted to Girton College, Cambridge (Anon, 

1948), but it can hardly be said that this was what 

she wanted – in fact she bitterly opposed the 

idea of going to college (Welsh, 1914, p. 9). 

However she did put her heart and soul into her 

work in science. Here she achieved a first 

division in both the first and the second part of 

the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1885/1886. It was 

a remarkable achievement considering that she 

was working in a second language and that at 

the time it was difficult for women to get 

advanced instruction in practical chemistry. 

Physics was her second subject for part of the 

Natural Sciences Tripos and she did this almost 

as brilliantly as her beloved chemistry. 

3. C



In 1886, she became a lecturer in Cambridge 

Training College. In 1887, she was appointed 

Demonstrator in chemistry at Newnham College. 

However, in 1890, she underwent an operation 

which left her lame for life (Welsh, 1914, p. 10) 

and she temporarily left Cambridge to support 

her uncle in London. There are three slightly 

different versions of the cause of her lameness. 

An informant with access to the University Library 

at Cambridge states that amongst the William 

Bateson Correspondence (Cambridge University 

Library) in a letter from Bateson to Anna Bateson, 

of 16 Jan 1890, Bateson wrote:  ‘Poor Miss 

Freund has had a leg amputated for disease of 

some sort. I believe, Trumpington Street is laid 

with straw for her.’ On the other hand, Benfey 

(1968) states that ‘she lost a leg in a carriage 

accident’. Wilson (1905) says ‘In her youth she 

had a cycling accident and lost a leg; she had an 

artificial one...’ and this latter version of events is 

confirmed by Mary Creese (Creese, 1991, p. 


Freund stayed in London until 1893 and when 

her health improved, she returned to Cambridge 

with her uncle whose health was failing. She 

resumed work at Newnham and she looked after 

her uncle until 1899, when he passed away.  

Her chief interest was her work at Newnham 

College, particularly practical chemistry. In 1903 

she won the Gamble prize (Anon, 1948, pp. 21-

22) for her essay on The history prior to 1800 of 

theories concerning the ultimate constitution of 

matter. This is unavailable but it would seem 

likely that much of it is contained in her first book, 

which was entitled The study of chemical 

composition and was published in 1904. It is a 

massive piece of work of about 650 pages in 

length of which M. M. Pattison Muir says ‘... is to 

be classed among the really great works of 

chemical literature...’ (quoted Gardiner, 1914, p. 


Considerable information is available about her 

teaching responsibilities and schedule: 

The Cambridge University Reporter shows that 

she taught practical chemistry at the lab in 

Newnham for two hours, three mornings a week, 

from Easter Term 1887 until Lent Term 1898 

inclusive.  After this date, the timetable for 

chemistry seemed to alter considerably.  For 

example, in Easter Term 1898 she lectured on 

Chemical Theory (treated historically) at the 

Balfour laboratory for 1 hour, three times a week; 

lectured on physical chemistry in a room at 

Newnham 8pm on Thursday evenings; practical 

chemistry classes as before.  (P. A. Gould, 


4. M









As stated earlier Miss Freund wrote two major 

books, namely The study of chemical 

composition and The experimental basis of 

chemistry and a few articles on chemistry. 

Contemporary reviews of these seem uniformly 

favourable, for example a review of The study of 

chemical composition states: 

The author quotes very freely from original 

sources, the experiments of the writers being 

described and their reasoning given in their own 

words wherever possible, and this gives to the 

book a peculiar freshness which will be 

appreciated by every reader… (Stokes, 1906, p. 


Kahlenberg (1905,  p. 567), himself an 

experienced chemistry textbook writer,  provides 

a very favourable review of The study of chemical 

composition for students and others who need an 

accurate summary of existing views of chemical 


This viewpoint is confirmed by the number of 

scholars citing Freund’s book The study of 

chemical composition. Freund is often cited by 

historians of science, such as Thomas Kuhn 

(Kuhn, 1952,  p. 12, footnote 2: for her evaluation 

of atomism in chemistry), Richard Sharvy 

(Sharvy, 1983, p. 439, footnote 1: concerning 

Aristotle’s ideas on mixtures), Guerlac (Guerlac, 

1961, p. 535, footnote 6: for her opinions on 

Dalton), Aaron Ihde (Idhe, p. 96, footnote 4: for 

her table of data on Richter’s analytical results) 

and Benfey’s (Benfey, 1974, p. 353, footnote: 

brief  biography of Julius Lothar Meyer). There is 

no doubt that Freund acts as a greatly 

appreciated secondary source for the views of 

earlier chemists on the chemical composition of 

matter, a source which later historical scholars 

have built upon.   

The book, The experimental basis of 

chemistry, was originally planned by Ida Freund 

to have been 20 chapters in length; she 

continued writing until a few days before her 

death, completing ten chapters. Her friends (Mr 

Hutchinson and Ms Beatrice Thomas) edited 

these ten chapters, remarking how little editing 

was necessary (Hutchinson and Thomas, 1920, 



p. viii); the book was published in 1920, six years 

after her death. Brock (2000, p. 418) regards this 

book as influential in reinforcing ‘the significance 

of illustrative experiments in teaching the 

fundamental laws of chemistry’. Freund in her 

writing considered that ‘the use of terms such as 

research, discovery and proof in connection with 

experimental work’ of students was inappropriate 

(Brock, 2000, p. 418).  

Apart from her two books it is difficult to trace 

Freund’s other publications in full. She did 

research on the neutralisation of a number of 

salts and published her results in a lengthy article 

(58 pages) in Zeitschrift für physikalische chemie 

(Freund, 1909). The article was written by Freund 

in English as Effect of temperature on the volume 

change accompanying neutralization in the case 

of a number of salts at different concentrations 

(Benfey, 1968, p. xi) and translated into German 

by W. Neumann. The paper was also 

communicated to an English audience, being 

read to the Royal Society (Freund 1908). 


Producing quality research in the limited 

laboratory conditions available at Newnham 

College and combined with her physical 

handicap was an amazing achievement. 

Richmond (1977, footnote 13) quoting from 

Freund and from a student of the period, points 

out the inadequacies of the Cambridge women’s 

college laboratories in terms of size ‘no one could 

tell whether it was the post-office box, a safe, or a 

draught- cupboard’  and in terms of heating in the 

winter ‘I still quiver with cold as I remember those 

raw days in the laboratory…’.  

These would have been the conditions in 

which Ida Freund produced her research. Berry 

and Moelwyn-Hughes (1963, pp. 357-392) tell 

the story of the revival in 1901 of the old 

Cambridge Chemical Club which included all 

those who lectured in chemistry at the university 

and at the colleges (1963, p. 357). Ida Freund 

would have been a member of the club as she 

was in charge of the Newnham College 

laboratory (1963, p. 358). Many prominent 

chemists including H. E. Armstrong presented 

papers to the club, which had an average 

attendance of thirty for its meetings. These 

meetings would have provided Ida Freund with 

an opportunity to hear the latest research and to 

present her own research.  ‘A valuable paper 

entitled “Double Salts” was given by Miss Ida 

Freund (Lecturer at Newnham College)’. No 

detail of this paper appears available but the 

main points are described by Berry and 

Moelwyn-Hughes (1963, p. 361) and a number of 

these headings can be found in The study of 

chemical composition, so some idea of the paper 

may be obtained.  

Freund also had a piece of laboratory 

apparatus (Fowles, 1957, p. 371) named after 

her as her invention, though the apparatus is no 

longer in common use. The apparatus was a 

variation on Ostwald’s gas measuring tube, see 

Fowles (1957, p. 324). This does indicate that Ida 

Freund was a skilled laboratory chemist and 

practical researcher as well as a chemical writer. 

5. S












Some comments by friends and students give 

an indication of the esteem in which Ida Freund 

was held: 

Miss Freund was a terror to the first-year 

student with her sharp rebukes for thoughtless 

mistakes. One grew to love her as time went on, 

though we laughed at her emphatic and odd use 

of English. Yet how brave she was trundling her 

crippled  and, I am sure often painful body about 

in her invalid chair smiling, urging, scolding us 

along to 'zat goal to which we are all travelling 

which is ze Tripos’.    (Ball, 1905, p. 76) 

In my day Miss Freund reigned supreme in the 

Chemistry Lab. in the garden. She was a great 

character.  (Wilson, 1905, p. 72) 

Everyone who worked with Miss Freund knows 

that her high standard and stringent requirements 

gave you a new idea of the demands of science; 

you were not allowed to think that you 

understood, when you did not understand, or to 

be satisfied with a result which was not the most 

accurate that you could obtain.     (Gardiner, 

1914, p. 35) 

 Gardiner (1914, p. 35) also refers to a student 

who speaks of Miss Freund's power of 

encouraging the timid, showing them what they 

could achieve. All these comments indicate the 

regard in which Ida Freund was held by her 


6. P



Ida Freund’s pedagogy is perhaps one of the 

most interesting facets of her life, yet it is not 

clear that she had any great influence on the 

direction that science education was taking at a 

time when debate in this area was fierce. As 

previously indicated she certainly seems to have 

crossed swords with Henry Edward Armstrong on 

the issues of heurism in science teaching 

describing it as ‘nothing better than make-

believe, fraught with grave intellectual danger 

(Freund, quoted Fowles, 1957, p. 513). From a 

distance of a hundred years, the differences on 

heurism do not seem that great. Freund appears 

to have been against discovery learning, which 

she considered fraudulent. 

Miss Freund had a dread of thoughtless 

experimenting and slipshod thinking. She felt 

strongly that much that passes for training in 

science has little relation to scientific method and 

is of small educational value. 

(Hutchinson and Beatrice Thomas, 1920, p. vi) 

Surely, therefore, the more honest, 

intellectually bracing and eventually more fruitful 

course is to sweep away all delusions as to what 

pupils can discover for themselves...    (Freund, 

1920, p.8) 



But as things are, the attitude of many teachers 

of elementary chemistry who are considered 

most progressive and most truly scientific has 

much in common with the Alchemists of an 

earlier age...       (Freund, 1920, p. 9) 

These statements may have been written 

specifically to annoy Armstrong and no doubt 

would have done so, but by the time the Freund's 

book was published he was already a spent force 

due to the practical difficulties of implementing 

heurism on a large scale. Ironically one doubts 

that the sort of critical understanding of chemistry 

that Freund desired for teachers and their 

students was brought any nearer by the gradual 

diminishing of Armstrong's influence.  In fact, the 

outcome was of a cheaper, learn-by-rote science 

that would not have satisfied the ideals of either 

Armstrong or Freund.  

Ida Freund strongly opposed the replacement 

of science in the curricula of girl’s schools by 

domestic science: 

But powerful opposing forces, including other 

women such as Ida Freund, who was herself a 

science graduate and a fellow of Girton College, 

Cambridge, ridiculed the idea that cooking could 

ever attain the status of science in her attacks on 

the King's College course during 1911-12.  (Bird, 


 During her teaching career Ida Freund was 

responsible for helping undergraduates pass Part 

1 of the Natural Sciences Tripos in chemistry, 

where frequently they had not studied chemistry 

before, so she is one of the earliest science 

teacher educators. In 1897, Ida Freund held a 

vacation course for physics teachers at 

Newnham College, because several of her 

former students who were now teaching 

‘complained of the scarcity and inferiority of the 

apparatus at their disposal’. They learned ‘how to 

construct the simpler kinds of instruments for 

themselves.’ (Gardner, 1921, pp. 121-122). 

Thereafter she organised regular courses for 

science teachers, fulfilling the teacher educator’s 

role of assisting the teaching profession, 

whenever possible. Ida Freund‘s influence was 

limited because she mainly worked at an 

individual level, concentrating her energies on a 

few students rather than getting involved in 

serving on committees and writing articles 

publicising her views.  

Ida Freund (Freund, 1905) wrote briefly about 

her chocolate periodic table, which serves as an 

exemplar of her pedagogy. She had made a 

periodic table from Edinburgh Rock and 

chocolate when ‘the elements were iced cakes 

each showing its name and atomic weight in 

icing... We divided it up between us’ (Wilson, 

1905, p. 72). 

Freund modestly describing the same event 


Whether it [Freund’s chocolate periodic table] 

is of a kind that would lend itself to extended use 

as an adjunct to the study of chemistry must be 

considered doubtful.(Freund, 1905) 

The chocolate periodic table was made with 

care and skill, combining a knowledge of 

chemistry with ability as a cook and craftsperson; 

it was a labour of love and evidently each year 

she prepared a different treat for her students. 

This example is certainly a precursor to much 

current work in making lessons interesting (often 

through food), so her pedagogy is excellent. It is 

Freund’s excellent example as a teacher with her 

own distinctive pedagogy as well as her intellect 

and her sincere concern for her students that 

makes her a model for teacher educators. 

Freund appears to have reservations about the 

accuracy of the periodic table from a theoretical 

perspective – perhaps not surprising as the table 

as then known was constructed on different 

principles from those used today (atomic weight 

rather than atomic number). However, her 

reservations can be seen more clearly in one 

chapter of The study of chemical composition 

where she points out some of the periodic table's 

deficiencies (see Freund, 1904, pp. 504-5, 

Wyruboff's criticisms). Nonetheless the criticism 

of the periodic table may surprise those present 

day educationalists who see the periodic table as 

central to the study of school chemistry. 

Ida Freund retired due to ill health in 1912 and 

died in 1914 (Anon, 1914a: 1914b), but up to the 

day before her death was still working on the 

manuscript for her book The experimental basis 

of chemistry. The Ida Freund Memorial fund was 

subscribed by friends after her death and the 

proceeds were given to Newnham College to 

raise the standard of physical science teaching in 

schools by giving teachers opportunities for 

further study. This was in accordance with 

Freund's life-work. 

7. F













It is said (Gould, 1997a) that Austria, where 

Freund had received her early education had 

been supportive of the educational and social 

progress of women, whereas English social 

conventions of the time gave women’s education 

only limited support and virtually no political 

influence.  She was active on many social issues; 

she was a member of the women's suffrage 

movements (Hill and Dronsfield, 2004); she 

financially supported the Southwark Settlement 

for the mentally handicapped and knitted clothing 

for the soldiers in the Boer War. She was well-

travelled as, whilst her uncle was alive, they used 

to go on trips around Britain and Europe 

together. After his death she went on cycling 

holidays to Europe (she used a tricycle, powered 

by her arms) and went as far afield as Scotland, 

Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. 

Her views on education for girls, particularly in 

science, were strongly and sincerely felt, but her 

desire also for scientific accuracy, individual 

effort and examination success would not 



necessarily endear her to women's movements 

today. It should be remembered that tempering 

her surface hardness, there was a deep 

compassion for people.  

As a committed feminist, Freund wrote in a 

number of different journals and gave evidence 

to a Parliamentary committee. Two examples 

follow: in 1911, Freund who was seriously 

concerned about academic standards in girls’ 

schools, wrote a lengthy contribution for The 

Englishwoman (Freund, 1911) pointing out the 

dangers of trying to teach science in an applied, 

‘domestic form’ (Dyhouse, 1977, p. 29); Vickery 

(1999, p. 155 ) states that when the question of 

whether domestic science should replace 

science as a discipline in women’s colleges such 

as Newnham College was raised, Ida Freund 

responded angrily arguing that domestic science 

could in no way prepare a student to think and 

analyse in the proper scientific method. 

8. C



There is something particularly remarkable 

about Ida Freund’s life and many people find 

Freund’s life inspirational. For example Susan 

Gasser, Director of the Friedrich Miescher 

Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, 


My other heroes include a set of women 

scientists, Ida Freund, Marie Curie, Barbara 

McClintock and Dorothy Hodgkin. They pursued 

the research that they loved and tolerated 

whatever they had to bear to do it, ignoring that 

science was not ‘something appropriate’ for 

women. I admire their force of character. 

(Gasser, 2007) 

Her interest in the teaching of chemistry, her 

concern for accurate practical work and her 

interest in chemical composition naturally lead to 

her work on physical and chemical change, 

which is a particular interest of the author of this 

study (Palmer, 2003).   

Although she wrote just two books and some 

articles, a contemporary Cambridge chemist 

Matthew M. Pattison Muir said that her work ‘is to 

be classed among the really great works of 

chemical literature’ (quoted by M. I. Gardiner, 

1914). Her obituary in Nature (A correspondent, 

1914, p. 327) remarked that ‘science has lost a 

devoted follower, chemistry an enthusiastic and 

original teacher, investigator and writer, and her 

friends a wise, warm-hearted and gentle woman’. 

It is worth noting that she is one of only fifteen 

British women chemists mentioned in The Oxford 

Dictionary of National Biography, which contains 

biographies of 514 British male chemists 

(Kauffman, 2004) amongst the total of 50,000 

biographies. This distinction places Ida Freund in 

context as achieving great distinction in her 

chemistry in an era where it was not easy for a 

woman to excel in the sciences and she 

accomplished this in spite of severe physical 

difficulties. She also found time and energy to be 

active politically to ensure women a place in the 

science of the future. 





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2326 (93) 327. 

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[4] Anon (1948). Girton College Register 1869-1946. 

Cambridge: Privately printed Girton College (University 

of Cambridge). 

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(Editor)  A Newnham Anthology.  Cambridge: Newnham 

College, Cambridge, pp. 76-78. 

[6]  Benfey, T. (1968 in reprint of Freund, I. 1904). The study 

of chemical composition: an account of its  method and 

historical development. New York : Dover Publications. 

[7]  Benfey, T. (1974).  Meyer, Julius Lothar in Gillispie, C. C. 

(Editor)  Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Volume 9. 

New York: American Council of Learned Societies and 

Charles Scribner’s Sons, Publishers, p.353 (footnote). 

[8]  Berry, A. J. &  Moelwyn-Hughes, E. A. (1963). Chemistry 

at Cambridge from 1901 to 1910, Proceedings of the 

Chemical Society (December), pp. 357-392. 

[9]  Bird, E. (1998). 'High class cookery': gender, status, and 

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