German Dora Richter was the first person in the world to complete the physical transition from male to female. Born in the Erzgebirge region of Germany in 1891 and baptized Rudolph, Richter displayed a tendency from early childhood, to: “act and carry on in a feminine way.” She expressed distaste for male clothing and at the age of six, reputedly tried to tourniquet her penis. After this, Rudolph’s family allowed her to live as female as much as possible.
However, adult life was cruel. Richter worked as a male waiter or cook during the summer months in various Berlin hotels. But when autumn came, she lived as a woman. This habit led to her being arrested and imprisoned several times for cross-dressing. Eventually, Richter encountered a liberal judge, who instead of imprisoning her, referred her to Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish-German doctor at the Institute for Sexual Research in Dresden- the doctor who had already helped Kurt Baer make the transition from female to male.
At the institute, Dr. Hirschfeld helped Richter obtain a permit to wear women’s clothes and as it was difficult for crossdressers to find a job, employed her as domestic help. Richter became one of five such employees at the Institute who were treated entirely as women. Dr. Levy-Lenz who joined the institute in 1925, recalled how the ‘girls’ would sit together “peacefully knitting and sewing and singing old folk songs. These were, in any case, the best, most hardworking and conscientious domestic workers we ever had. Never ever did a stranger visiting us notice anything…”
In 1922, Dr. Erwin Gohrbandt of the University of Berlin medically castrated Richter. In the meantime, Dr. Hirschfeld began to investigate the effects of reducing her testosterone levels. He published details of Richter’s transformation in his work on gender studies, Geschlechtskunde. Dr. Felix Abraham also carefully monitored the changes in Richter.
He noted how: “Her castration had the effect – albeit not very extensive – of making her body become fuller, restricting her beard growth, making visible the first signs of breast development, and giving the pelvic fat pad… a more feminine shape.”
Nine years later, Dora Richter was finally given a vagina after Dr. Levy-Lenz finally removed her penis. The operation was the world’s first-ever vaginoplasty and a complete success. However, Richter’s new life was to be short-lived. In 1933, the Nazis destroyed Dr. Hirschfeld’s Institute– and many of its records. They sent the surviving residents to concentration camps but killed many others in the initial attack. Dora Richter fell into this latter group.