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Beyond Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Weimar Women at Work

  • Renate Bridenthal

It is a commonplace that the National Socialist assumption of power in Germany in 1933 was to a large extent made possible by a clever manipulation of irrational fears provoked by the economic, social, and political tensions of the time. More than once since the Frankfurt School's famous study on authority and the family it has been suggested that the authoritarianism of the German family contributed to the susceptibility of the population to the siren call of the leadership principle and that threats to the traditional structure of society, especially the family, made people fearful and desperate enough to see a savior in Hitler. Certainly his call for women to return to hearth and home found a responsive audience. The Kinder, Küche, Kirche issue in Nazi propaganda implied that women were deserting their homes, their children, and their morality, challenging men's authority by asserting their independence and by flooding the labor market to such an extent that honest Familienväter found themselves without “work or bread,” to use the compassionate terms of the otherwise dispassionate 1933 census. Carl Gustav Jung, in his pamphlet Die Frau in Europa, was only one of the more distinguished spokesmen for the widely held view that women's emancipation was responsible for endangering not only the institution of marriage but also the whole spiritual balance between the masculine and feminine principles.

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This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the American Historical Association, December 29, 1971.

1. Studien über Autorität und Familie. Forschungsberichte aus dem Institut für Sozialforschung. Introduction by Horkheimer, Max. Schriften des Instituts für Sozialforschung, vol. 5 (Paris, 1936).

2. Germany, Statistisches Amt, Statistik des deutschen Reiches, vol. 453, Pt. II, pp. 6–7. Hereafter referred to as Stat.d.d.R.

3. Jung, Carl Gustav, Die Frau in Europa (Zürich, 1948, from the original of 1929). It is interesting that this essay was reprinted in the post-World War II period.

4. Schoenbaum, David, Hitler's Social Revolution (New York, 1966), p. 178.

5. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 402, p. 423, and vol. 408, p. 9.

6. Stat.d.d.R, vol. 408, p. 9. Germany, Statistisches Amt, Wirtschaft und Statistik, vol. 5 (1925), p. 12. Hereafter referred to as W&S. The differential came down to 1,059/1,000 in 1933. W&S, vol. 14 (1934), p. 159.

7. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, pp. 318–19, projected that in 1933 34% of the female population would be working. Forced displacement of women after the Nazi takeover made this figure accurate. W&S, vol. 5 (1925), Sonderheft 2, p. 5, looking worriedly at the huge population of Russia, counted the German losses as between twelve and thirteen million—two million soldiers, three-quarter million civilians, three million unborn children, seven million in lost territories— and calculated that the normal population of Germany should be seventy-five million rather than sixty-two and a half million. Even so, it was the largest population in Europe outside Russia, with Great Britain following with forty-four million and France and Italy with thirty-nine million each.

8. W&S, vol. 5 (1925), Sonderheft 2, “Beiträge zum deutschen Bevölkerungs-problem,” p. 29. Also fn. 20, below.

9. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, p. 7.

10. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, pp. 205, 132*; vol. 402, p. 232; vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 36.


This shows male participation in absolute numbers steadily decreasing, women's increasing until after 1925, when they, in turn, began their “flight from the country.”

11. In the countryside, the ratio of females to males in 1933 was 1,002 to 1,000, and only 862 to 1,000 among the twenty-year-olds, indicating a high rate of emigration for young girls. The national average was 1,059 to 1,000, and in the big cities it was greater, with Berlin leading at 1,160 to 1,000. W&S, vol. 14 (1934), p. 160, and vol. 15 (1935), p. 197.

12. From 1925 to 1933, the total number of agricultural workers decreased by 12%, female workers alone by 22%. W&S, vol. 14 (1934), p. 632. The Chamber of Agriculture in Pomerania ascertained that from Jan. 1, 1928, to June 30, 1929, about 20% of the Mägde from Eastern Pomerania emigrated. Sering, Max, Die deutsche Landwirtschaft unter volks- und weltwirtschaftlichen Gesichtspunkten (Berlin, 1932), p. 149.

13. The average number of hours a year worked by the peasant women in Württemberg was 3,933, by the peasant man 3,554, by the hired help, 2,800. Münzinger, Adolf, Der Arbeitsertrag der bäuerlichen Familienwirtschaft: eine bäuerliche Betriebserhebung in Württemberg, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1929), pp. 811–12, 835.

14. Ibid., pp. 809–10. Kempf, Rosa, Arbeits- und Lebensverhältnisse der Frauen in der Landwirtschaft Bayerns (Jena, 1918), p. 132.

15. Kempf, op. cit., pp. 36, 133.

16. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 212, pp. 606–7; vol. 410, pp. 70–71; vol. 461, pp. 52–53.


Note that while male ownership also dropped in the second period of the republic, it remained above prewar levels, while that of women fell below.

17. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 410, pp. 70–71; W&S, vol. 14 (1934), p. 444.

18. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 402, p. 232; vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 36.


The Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, p. 207, commented on the drop in the number of female heads of agricultural institutions from 1895 to 1907, relating it directly to the development of dairy co-ops. Kempf, op. cit., p. 129, noted that the commercial development of agriculture tended to exclude women and jeopardized the peasant wife's relative independence.

19. Stropp, Emma, Die landwirtschaftlichen Frauenberufe; ein Wegweiser für die Berufswahl (Gotha, 1919).Hauff, Lily, Entwickelung der Frauenberufe in den letzten drei Jahrzehnten (Berlin, 1911), pp. 2425, had expected educated women to make great headway in all these fields.

Women's place in gardening underwent some dramatic changes from 1907 to 1933. From 1907 to 1925, the number of female gardeners dropped sharply, then picked up by 1933, though only to half the prewar level. The number of men in the profession climbed steadily. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, Anhang, p. 53; vol. 402, p. 410; vol. 470, p. 35.

20. These are recurrent themes in the reports of the factory inspectors. Germany, Arbeitsministerium, Jahresberichte der Gewerbeaufsichtsbeamten und Bergbehörden, 1919–1934. Hereafter referred to as GAB. On the issue of pregnancy, the figure for miscarriages reported by firms and by sickness insurance agencies was suspiciously high. In 1928. one factory in Berlin reported 148 live births to 724 “miscarriages,” and in 1926 a factory inspector remarked that if the unsafe conditions of some factories were known, women would queue up to work in them, given their tendency to try to abort. GAB, 1926, I, p. 105, and 1928, I, p. 113. In Prussia, the ratio of live births to miscarriages completely reversed itself from 1916 to 1922: from 8 live births to 5 miscarriages it became 5 live births to 8 miscarriages. GAB for Prussia, 1922, p. 62.

As late as 1932, the criminal code still prohibited contraceptive devices, and abortion, permitted only for medical reasons, carried a penalty of six months to five years imprisonment for the patient and up to ten years for the doctor. Nevertheless, illegal abortions for those who could afford them were performed. The files of one doctor operating in a small town of 25,000 indicated that in one year he had performed 426 abortions, mostly on married women. DrKienle, Else, Frauen: Aus dem Tagebuch einer Ärztin (Berlin, 1932), p. 25.

21. Vallentin, Antonina, “The Employment of Women since the War,” International Labor Review, vol. 25, 0106 1932 (Geneva, 1932), p. 484.Kaiser, Helene, Der Einfluss industrieller Frauenarbeit auf die Gestaltung der industriellen Reservearmee in der deutschen Volkswirtschaft der Gegenwart (Leipzig, 1933), p. 22.

22. Oppenborn, Harry, Die Tätigkeit der Frau in der deutschen Kriegswirtschaft (Hamburg, 1928), p. 19.

23. Ibid., pp. 16–43; von Gersdorff, Ursula, Frauen im Kriegsdienst (Stuttgart, 1969), p. 25.

24. Oppenborn, op. cit., pp. 44–52.

25. Von Gersdorff, op. cit., p. 37.

26. GAB, 1919, I, p. 113.

27. Kuczynski, Jürgen, Die Geschichte der Lage der Arbeiter unter dem Kapitalismus, vol. 18 (Berlin, 1963), p. 223. In Chapter 3, the author analyzes the wage differentials between men and women during the Weimar period and concludes that it tended to narrow during bad times, the inflationary twenties and the Depression, when men's real wages fell closer to subsistence level and thus to women's wages, while in good times, such as the period of relative stabilization, the differential tended to widen again, as men's wages recovered.

28. Ibid., p. 230; GAB, 1919, I, p. 123.

29. GAB, Prussia, 1921, I, p. 113.

30. Kaiser, op. cit., p. 49; W&S, vol. 6 (1926), p. 792.

31. Brady, Robert, The Rationalization Movement in German Industry (Berkeley, 1933), pp. 171–72, 240.

32. Ibid., p. 309.

33. Kaiser, op. cit., pp. 100–105.

34. Brady, op. cit., p. 309.

Note that while women's participation in the diminishing textile labor force dropped much more sharply than that of men, 13% compared to 0.2%, their rate of unemployment was considerably lower, so that actual employment of women dropped only 16% while that of men dropped 27%. This kind of phenomenon gave rise to the impression that women were displacing men on the job market, when actually the structural change underlying the crisis was going in the opposite direction. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 402, p. 236; vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 40.

36. Germany, Arbeitsministerium, Die öffentliche Berufsberatung in Deutschland nach der Berufsberatungsstatistik von 1926/1927,Reichsarbeitsblatt, II, 1928, no. 15, pp. 253–57. There was one job available for every two male applicants who came for counseling and one for every three female applicants; 43% of the males were placed, 35% of the females.

37. Kuczynski, op. cit., p. 238.

38. GAB, Prussia, 1922, p. 68.

39. Blum, Margarete, Neuzeitliche Arbeitsteilung zwischen Mann und Frau in Handel und Industrie (Cologne, 1932), p. 41.

W&S, vol. 7 (1927), p. 576, and vol. 14 (1934), Sonderblatt no. 24, p. 8.

W&S, vol. 7 (1927), p. 575, and 14 (1934), Sonderblatt no. 24, p. 8.

W&S, vol. 6 (1926), p. 915.

The census of 1907 had already noted the inverse relationship of numbers of workers and heads or managers of firms on a sexual basis. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, p. 207, remarked on the general tendency for female clerks to increase more rapidly than male clerks while female owners and managers fell more rapidly than males. The census of 1925 showed this to be a continuing trend. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, pp. 133–34.

Meanwhile, the employment of women in home industry rose, while that of men fell.

In trade and commerce, the number of female independents increased, but considerably less than the number or proportion of male independents.

43. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, p. 205; vol. 408, p. 124; vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 46.

44. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, p. 205; vol. 408, p. 124; vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 46.

45. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 453, Pt. II, p. 7.

Note that men were affected more by the Depression, again leading to the impression that they were being displaced by women, when in fact men's and women's white-collar work was very different.

46. Blum, op. cit., p. 17; Herz, Stephanie, Zur Typologie der Kaufmännischen Angestellten (Berlin, 1931), p. 26.

47. Kienle, op. cit., p. 50.

48. Half the female clerks were under age 25, compared with one-fourth of the males. Tarrasch, Staffi M., Die weiblichen Angestellten: Das Problem ihrer Organisation (Heidelberg, 1931), pp. 1516.

49. Herz, op. cit., p. 25.

50. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, p. 139.

51. Herz, op. cit., p. 17; Glass, Frieda, “Einkommen und Lebensbedingungen berufstätiger Frauen; nach einer Erhebung der Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutscher Frauenberufsverbände,” Jahrbuch der Frauenarbeit, vol. 7 (Berlin, 1931), pp. 2445.

52. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, pp. 87, 93–94.

53. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 453, Pt. II, PP. 48–50; W&S, vol. 7 (1927), pp. 576–77.

54. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, p. 298; W&S, vol. 15 (1935), Sonderbeilage no. 14, p. 18; Hauff, op. cit., p. 44.

55. Kempf, op. cit., p. 137.

56. Puckett, Hugh Wiley, Germany's Women Go Forward (New York, 1930), p. 199.

57. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 211, pp. 269–76; vol. 408, pp. 308–309; W&S, vol. 15 (1935), Sonderblatt no. 14, p. 19.

58. Stat.d.d.R., vol. 408, p. 299; W&S, vol. 15 (1935), Sonderbeilage no. 14, p. 19.

59. Defined as “person(s) with fixed salary earning additional money by taking away other people's work” by Cassell's New German and English Dictionary (New York, 1939), a gratuitous causal interpretation.

60. Claudia Koonz, “After the Vote: Women and ‘The Woman Question’ in Weimar Politics,” paper presented to the American Historical Association, Dec. 29, 1971.

61. Vallentin, op. cit., noted that the countries employing the highest percentage of women were those which were still primarily agricultural. The first two decades of the twentieth century saw a drop in female employment in twelve out of eighteen countries, mostly European, and only a small rise in the remaining six. In most cases, it was found, the war affected women not by bringing more of them into the labor force, but by changing the work of those already in it. Only in one field, that of salaried employment, did a new demand draw on untapped sources of labor: the daughters of the middle class, many of whom felt derogated to be working at all and were only doing so under the impact of financial crisis. See also Kuczynski, op. cit., vol. 5, p. 58, and vol. 18, p. 252. For the third world, Boserup, Ester, Women's Role in Economic Development (London, 1970), has shown that in present-day developing countries modernization often widens the gap between the sexes with respect to productivity, income, and attitudes by changing the family from a producing to a consuming unit, by eliminating traditional enterprises in which women hold a special place, and by relegating them to unskilled low-paying jobs in the modern sectors. With further industrialization, opportunities for women to become wage earners may increase, but the movement is horizontal rather than vertical, that is, more low-echelon jobs become available, but upward mobility to positions of high status and remuneration is rare for women. Boserup carefully distinguishes between underdeveloped and advanced industrial nations; nevertheless, the parallels to Weimar Germany are striking.

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Central European History
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