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SAIS alumna's legacy endures through endowed fellowship

Elfriede Sobernheim's lifelong commitment to country and community inspired her generous planned gift
Posted February 18, 2016
Elfriede Sobernheim and the first SAIS graduates in 1945 
IMAGE: Johns Hopkins SAIS photograph collection
Elfriede Sobernheim and the first SAIS graduates in 1945 IMAGE: Johns Hopkins SAIS photograph collection

As a member of the first class of graduates from the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Elfriede Sobernheim '45 knew that some men still questioned whether women should have a hand in shaping international diplomacy.

Post-graduation, she spent 27 years proving her worth to her adoptive nation and to her mostly male colleagues at the U.S. Department of State and in the Army. A talented translator, she would help chase Nazis, identify communist threats, and work on early satellite mapping systems.

While marriage or post-war force reductions might have pulled some women away from their government jobs, Sobernheim and many of the female friends she made at graduate school maintained commitments to their careers.

"We were able to show them differently," she said of those early doubters during an oral history interview recorded for the school in 2010.

Even in retirement, when her days were filled with women's service group meetings and knitting for the homeless, Sobernheim stayed on top of current affairs. She was deeply moved by the Ebola crisis, with its many implications for international relations and global health.

Upon her death last year, Sobernheim left a generous gift to establish the Elfriede L. Sobernheim Endowed Fellowship, which will support students pursuing a dual degree through SAIS and the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The dual-degree program is a cross-disciplinary merging of two top-ranked schools. In addition to on-campus instruction, students complete a practicum and have the opportunity to pursue internships with think tanks or nongovernmental organizations on the ground amid health crises in places like Ethiopia, Indonesia, or Zimbabwe. Dual-degree graduates have gone on to work for the World Bank, the Clinton Foundation, and several government agencies.

The goal is to give students the health management tools that will help them navigate the increasingly political world of global health services.

Sobernheim was thrust into politics at 11, when her family fled Berlin for the United States. After living in Binghamton, New York, she opted to come to SAIS because of its programs and its setting in Washington, D.C.

More than 60 years later, she still fondly recalled living above the old Florida Avenue classrooms where she took notes with a fountain pen.

"Today’s students don't know how lucky they are," she said.

Elfriede Sobernheim gave generously to Johns Hopkins SAIS throughout her lifetime and maximized her support with a gift through her will.

If you have included SAIS in your estate plan or are considering doing so, please let us know. We want to thank you and welcome you into the Johns Hopkins Legacy Society and SAIS Legacy Circle, honoring those who make a gift from their estate or a life income gift. For more information, visit our gift planning page.