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Feminism and Female Emancipation in Germany 1870–1945: Sources, Methods, and Problems of Research

  • Richard J. Evans


Until very recently, almost no serious research into the history of feminism and female emancipation in modern Germany has been published. This neglect is indeed far deeper than that from which women's history in Britain, France, or the United States has suffered. In some measure, it is connected with the reasons for the general neglect of social history in modern Germany—the concern of German historians with questions of political power, foreign policy, and intellectual development, the perversion of historical studies in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, and the dominance in West German historiography of a close professional elite whose intellectual roots went back to the period before 1933. This situation is now changing, and there is growing interest in both West and East Germany in women's role in the German past. Yet, so far at any rate, this interest has not inspired in Germany any major work of research or synthesis. Even more surprising is the fact that the numerous recent American discussions of women and modernization in Europe almost entirely fail to discuss Germany, confining themselves instead to taking examples from Britain and France. In view of the centrality of the German model to more general discussions such as that in Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, it seems astonishing that so little has been done to investigate the German dimension of women's history.



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1. See especially the coverage of this subject in recent works such as Fricke, Dieter, ed., Die bürgerlichen Parteien in Deutschland 1850–1045: Handbuch (Leipzig, 1968);Ritter, Gerhard A. and Kocka, Jürgen, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870–1914: Dokumente und Skizzen (Munich, 1975);Menschik, Jutta, Gleichberechtigung oder Emanzipation? Die Frau im Erwerbsleben der Bundesrepublik (Frankfurt am Main, 1971);Brandt, Gisela, Kootz, Johanna, and Steppke, Gisela, Zur Frauenfrage im Kapitalismus (Frankfurt am Main, 1973). For an early discussion, see Urs Müller-Plantenberg, , “Zur Geschichte der Lage der Frauen in Deutschland,” Das Argument 4, no. 3 (1962): 2026. More specialized recent scholarly work is cited in the footnotes below.

2. See, for example, Branca, Patricia, “A New Perspective on Women's Work: A Comparative Typology,” Journal of Social History 9 (1975): 129–53;Scott, Joan W. and Tilly, Louise A., “Women's Work and the Family in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 17 (1975): 3664; and Tilly, Louise A., Scott, Joan W., and Cohen, Miriam, “Women's Work and European Fertility Patterns,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6 (1976): 447–76. The comparative neglect of Germany by these latter authors is all the more striking since their major objective is to attack the interpretations advanced by Shorter, Edward in The Making of the Modern Family (London, 1976) and a number of articles (see n. 28 below), which are based to a great extent on German material, and which originated in research carried out on rural society in Bavaria.

3. Millett, Kate, Sexual Politics (New York, 1969), pp. 157–68.

4. See for example Bridenthal, Renate, “Beyond Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Weimar Women at Work,” Central European History 6 (1973): 148–66, which studies the impact of modernization on German women and argues that it made them look to an idealized past. Other students (e.g., Patricia Branca) emphasize the positive effects of modernization on women's place in society, which may be an additional reason for their avoidance of Germany. Germany may also have escaped because (as Bridenthal shows) the real impact of economic and social modernization hit women in Germany only in the twentieth century, and students of modernization in Europe often tend to concentrate on the nineteenth century, neglecting the different pace of development in different countries.

5. Kirkpatrick, Clifford, Nazi Germany: Its Women and Family Life (New York, 1938), long remained the fundamental work, and other historians have added details without substantially modifying Kirkpatrick's interpretation: e.g., Schoenbaum, David, Hitler's Social Revolution (London, 1967);Fest, Joachim C., The Face of the Third Reich (London, 1972);Grunberger, Richard, A Social History of the Third Reich (London, 1974);Stephenson, Jill R., Women in Nazi Society (London, 1975) (the last-named incorporating a great deal of original research).Thomas, Katharine, Women in Nazi Germany (London, 1943), is an interesting contribution based on personal experience. The major alternative to Kirkpatrick's interpretation is now Mason, Tim, “Women in Germany 1925–1940: Family, Welfare and Work,” History Workshop: A Journal of Socialist Historians, issue 1 (spring 1976): 74113; issue 2 (autumn 1976): 5–32. See also nn. 13 and 52–54 below. Research in progress on women in German society in this period includes: Dörte Winckler-Schurr (Trier/Freiburg) studying working women 1933–1945, Helen Boak (Manchester) researching into working women in the Depression, and Renate Bridenthal (Brooklyn) looking at working women in the Weimar Republic. By contrast, there is relatively little of a nonorganizational orientation on the period before 1918.

6. Thönnessen, Werner, The Emancipation of Women: The Rise and Fall of the Women's Movement in German Social Democracy 1863–1933 (London, 1973);Strain, Jacqueline, “Feminism and Political Radicalism in the German Social Democratic Movement 1890–1914” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1964);Quataert, Jean, “The German Socialist Women's Movement 1890–1918: Issues, Internal Conflicts and the Main Personages” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1974);Wheeler, Robert, “German Women and the Communist International: The Case of the Independent Social Democrats,” Central European History 8 (1975): 113–39;Draper, Hal and Lipow, Anne G., “Marxist Women versus Bourgeois Feminism,” in Miliband, Ralph and Saville, John, eds., Socialist Register 1976 (London, 1976), pp. 179226;Honeycutt, Karen, “Clara Zetkin: A Left-Wing Socialist and Feminist in Wilhelmian Germany” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1975);Honeycutt, Karen, “Clara Zetkin: A Socialist Approach to the Problem of Woman's Oppression,” Feminist Studies, vol. 3 (04 1976);Merfeld, Mechthild, Die Emanzipation der Frau in der sozialistischen Theorie und Praxis (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1972);Bölke, Gundula, Die Wandlung der Frauenemanzipationstheorie von Marx bis zur Rätebewegung (Berlin, 1970);Quataert, Jean, “Feminist Tactics in German Social Democracy: A Dilemma,” Internationale Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (IWK) 13 (1977): 4865; details of work in progress appear regularly in IWK.

7. The only reliable account based on primary sources was until recently Remme, Irmgard, “Die Internationalen Beziehungen der deutschen Frauenbewegung vom Ausgang des 19. Jahrhunderts bis 1933” (Ph.D. diss., Free University of Berlin, 1955), which confines itself to one aspect of the question. The problems of the sources are discussed in part v of this article.

8. See for example Zmarzlik, Hans-Günter, “Das Kaiserreich in Neuer Sicht?,” Historische Zeitschrift 222 (1976): 105–26.

9. Hohorst, G., Kocka, J., and Ritter, G. A., eds., Sozialgeschichtliches Arbeitsbuch: Materialien zur Statistik des Kaiserreichs 1870–1914 (Munich, 1975), pp. 6869, n. 9. The best figures are those given in Hoffmann, W. G. et al., Das Wachstum der deutschen Wirtschaft seit der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1965), pp. 184, 210.

10. Scott and Tilly, “Women's Work and the Family”; Richards, Eric, “Women in the British Economy Since About 1700: An Interpretation,” History 59 (1974): 337–57.

11. Work is being carried out by Robyn Dasey (Portsmouth Polytechnic / London School of Economics) on working women in nineteenth-century Germany.

12. See for example Gellately, Robert, The Politics of Economic Despair: Shopkeepers and German Politics 1890–1914, Sage Studies in Twentieth Century History, vol. 1 (London, 1974); and Winckler, Heinrich August, Mittelstand, Demokratie und Nationalsozialismus: Die politische Entwicklung von Handwerk und Kleinhandel in der Weimarer Republik (Cologne, 1972).

13. Beilner, Helmut, Die Emanzipation der bayerischen Lehrerin, aufgezeigt an der Arbeit des bayerischen Lehrerinnenvereins (1898–1933): Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Emanzipation der Frau (Munich, 1971).

14. See for example the relevant files in the Oberschulbehörde papers in the Staatsarchiv der Freien- und Hansestadt Hamburg, where there are elaborate analyses, with a wealth of statistical and illustrative material, of the pay and terms of employment of women schoolteachers in the city.

15. Archiv des Allgemeinen deutschen Lehrerinnenvereins (Deutsches Zentralinstitut für Soziale Fragen, Berlin-Dahlem).

16. For the general context, see Caspary, Gerda, Die Entwicklungsgrundlagen für die soziale und psychische Verselbständigung der bürgerlichen deutschen Frau um die Jahrhundertwende (Heidelberg, 1933).

17. Additional work on the broader subject of women and education in Germany includes Zinnecker, Jürgen, Sozialgesdiichte der Mädchenbildung (Weinheim, 1973);Kater, Michael H., “Krisis des Frauenstudiums in der Weimarer Republik,” Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 59 (1972): 207–55; and Stephenson, Jill R., “Girls' Higher Education in Germany 1930–1940,” Journal of Contemporary History 10 (1975): 4170.

18. Thönnessen, The Emancipation of Women, p. 58; Kuczynski, Die Geschichte der Lage, Bd. 18; Bridenthal, “Beyond Kinder, Küche, Kirche.” For a sample of female worker autobiographies, see Emmerich, Wolfgang, ed., Proletarische Lebensläufe (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1974), 1: 127–31, 180–87, 211–13, 235–37, 268–69, 274–79, 312–14, 343–45, 350–54.

19. Weber-Kellermann, Ingeborg, Die deutsche Familie: Versuch einer Sozialgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main, 1974).

20. Mason, “Women in Germany,” part I, p. 79.

21. For the earlier feminization of domestic service in Germany, see Engelsing, Rolf, Zur Sozialgeschichte deutscher Mittel- und Untersichichten (Göttingen, 1972).

22. For a pioneering study of domestic service in England and France, see McBride, Theresa, The Domestic Revolution (London, 1975).

23. For another aspect of the culture of poverty with significant implications for the social position of women, the housing problem, see Lutz Niethammer in cooperation with Brüggemeier, Franz, “Wie wohnten Arbeiter im Kaiserreich?,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 16 (1976): 61134.

24. Evans, Richard J., “Prostitution, State and Society in Imperial Germany,” Past and Present, no. 70 (02 1976): 106–29.

25. Linse, Ulrich, “Arbeiterschaft und Geburtenentwicklung im Deutschen Kaiserreich von 1871,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 12 (1972): 205–72.

26. Cf. Linse's failure to consult the papers of the feminist movement, which leads him into error on its policies (Linse, “Arbeiterschaft,” pp. 233–36; Archiv des Bundes Deutscher Frauenvereine, Deutsches Zentralinstitut für Soziale Fragen, Berlin—Dahlem, 16/I/5: Breslauer Generalversammlung 1908, Stenogramm, pp. 365–468).

27. Neuman, R. P., “Industrialization and Sexual Behaviour: Some Aspects of Working—Class Life in Imperial Germany,” in Bezucha, R., ed., Modern European Social History (Lexington, Mass., 1972), pp. 270–98;Neuman, R. P., “The Sexual Question and Social Democracy in Imperial Germany,” Journal of Social History 7 (1974): 271–86.

28. Shorter, E., “Illegitimacy, Sexual Revolution and Social Change in Europe 1750–1900,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2 (1971): 237–72;Capitalism, Culture and Sexuality: Some Competing Models,” Social Science Quarterly 53 (1972): 338–56;“Sexual Change and Illegithmacy: The European Experience,” in Bezucha, , ed., Modem European Social History, pp. 231–69;Female Emancipation, Birth Control and Fertility in European History,” American Historical Review 78 (1973): 605–40;The Making of the Modern Family (London, 1976).

29. Scott and Tilly, “Women's Work,” pp. 55–56, n. 71; more generally, Tilly, Scott, and Cohen, “Women's Work.”

30. Notable exceptions are Knodel, John, The Decline of Fertility in Germany 1871–1939 (Princeton, 1974), technically sophisticated though based on official figures, but narrowly demographic in orientation; and above all Lee, Robert, “Some Economic and Demographic Aspects of Peasant Society in Oberbayern 1752–1855, with Special Reference to Certain Estates in the Former Landgericht Kranzberg” (Oxford D.Phil., 1972), a detailed study in the classic French mold.

31. The pioneer of demographic history in Germany at this level has been Wolfgang Köllmann. See Köllmann, Wolfgang, Bevolkerung in der industriellen Revolution (Göttingen, 1974).

32. Lee, Robert, “Probleme der Bevölkerungsgeschichte in England 1750–1850: Fragestellungen und vorläufige Ergebnisse,” Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 60 (1973): 289310;Zur Bevölkerungsgeschichte Bayerns 1750–1850: Britische Forschungsergebnisse,” Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial-und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 62 (1975): 309–38.

33. Hausen, Karin, “Familie als Gegenstand Historischer Sozialwissenschaft: Bemerkungen zu einer Forschungsstrategie,” Geschichute und Gesellschaft: Zeitschrift für Historiche Sozialwissenschaft 1 (1975): 171209, and other essays in the same issue.

34. Further recent German work on women and the family can be found in Conze, W., ed., Sozialgeschkhte der Familie in der Neuzeit Europas (Stuttgart, 1976), a collection of essays. See also Medick, Hans, “The Proto-industrial Family Economy,” Social History, no. 3 (1976), pp. 291315.

35. One complete set of case histories can be found in Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Arcbiv des Allgemeinen Deutschen Frauenvereins. Diligent investigation might well bring similar records to light elsewhere. Additional material can be found in the papers of Marie Munk, a prominent woman jurist of the Weimar Republic, some of which are housed in the Deutsches Zentralinstitut für Soziale Fragen, Berlin-Dahlem, and others in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.

36. Evans, Richard J., The Feminist Movement in Germany 1894–1933, Sage Studies in Twentieth Century History, vol. 6 (London, 1976), pp. 930, 223–27, 246–47, 275, and passim.

37. The best of these older accounts are Zahn-Harnack, Agnes von, Die Frauenbewegung—Geschichte, Probleme, Ziele (Leipzig and Berlin, 1928), and sen, Frances Magnus-Yon Hau, “Ziel und Weg in der deutschen Frauenbewegung des XIX. Jahrhunderts,” in Wentzke, P., ed., Festschrift für Friedrich Meinecke (Munich and Berlin, 1922). It is precisely reliance on works such as these, more or less the only good historical accounts available at the time, which caused Kirkpatrick (Nazi Germany: Its Women) to give a relatively uncritical and oversimplified account of the history of German feminism, and which through his work has colored the interpretations of subsequent writers on the subject (e.g., Stephenson, Women in Nazi Society, pp. 17–32; Millett, Sexual Politics, pp. 159–60). For an example the complacency of the older accounts, see Puckett, Hugh Wiley, Germany's Women Go Forward (New York, 1930), published when Germany's women were beginning to go rapidly backward.

38. Heymann, Lida Gustava, in collaboration with Dr. jur. Anita Augspurg, Erlebtes- Erschautes: Deutsche Frauen kämpfen für Freiheit, Recht und Frieden, ed. Twellmann, Margrit (Meisenheim am Glan, 1972 [written 1940–41]);Stocker, Helene, “Lebensabriss” (written 1939), Ms. in Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Other important memoirs containing material on the middle-class radical feminist movement include Lily Braun, Memoiren einer Sozialistin, 2 vols. (Munich, 1908/1909), which is cast in the form of a novel and is amplified and corrected in Vogelstein, Julie, Lily Braun: Ein Lebensbild (Berlin, 1922);Schirmacher, Käthe, Flammen: Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben (Leipzig, 1921);Lüders, Else, Minna Cauer. Leben und Werk: Dargestellt an Hand ihrer Tagebücher und nachgelassenen Schriften (Gotha, 1925). See also n. 48 below.

39. See the discussion (esp. of Gertrud Bäumer) in Stephenson, Jill R., “Women in German Society 1930–1940” (Ph.D. diss., University of Edinburgh, 1974), pp. 420–22.

40. For examples, see Brandt, G. et al. , Die Frauenfrage im Kapitalismus (Frankfurt, 1973), PP. 1520;and Menschik, J., Gleichberechtigung oder Emanzipation? (Frankfurt, 1971), pp. 5155. See also above, n. 37.

41. See above, n. 7.

42. Twellmann, Margrit, Die deutsche Frauenbewegung im Spiegel reprāsentativer Frauenzeitschriften: Ihre Anfänge und erste Entwicklung 1843–1889, Marburger Abhandlungen zur politischen Wissenschaft, ed. Abendroth, W., Bd. 17 (2 vols.) (Meisenheim am Glan, 1972); see the critical review of Twellmann's book by Schlette, Ruth, “Neue Veröffentlichungen zur Geschichte der Frauenbewegung,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 12 (1972): 631–36;Hackett, Amy, “The German Women's Movement and Suffrage 1890–1914: A Study of National Feminism,” in Bezucha, R., ed., Modern European Social History (Lexington, Mass., 1972), pp. 354–86;Hackett, Amy, “Feminism and Liberalism in Wilhelmine Germany, 1890–1918,” in Carroll, Berenice A., ed., Liberating Women's History: Theoretical and Critical Essays (Urbana, 1976). See also Sanford, Jutta Schroers, “The Origins of German Feminism: German Women 1789–1870” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1976);Greven, Barbara, “Anpassung als Emanzipation: Zur Theorie und Praxis der bürgerlichen Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894–1933” (Ph.D. diss., University of Erlangen, 1976); and Hackett, Amy, “The Politics of Feminism in Wilhelmine Germany, 1890–1918” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1976).

43. An account of the origins of these two collections can be found in Jahrbuch des Bundes Deutscher Frauenvereine 1927–8 (Leipzig/Berlin, 1929), pp. 4652.

44. Cf. nn. 15 and 35 above.

45. For the attitudes of the newspapers, see Evans, The Feminist Movement in Germany, pp. 74–75. For Jewish women, see Kaplan, Marion, “German-Jewish Feminism: The Jüdischer Frauenbund 1904–38” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1976).

46. Hamburg, Staatsarchiv, Politische Polizei, S8897/IV.

47. Evans, The Feminist Movement, chap. 4.

48. Details of personal papers in Denecke, L., Die Nachlässe in den Bibliotheken der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Boppard am Rhein, 1969), and Mommsen, W., Die Nachlässe in den deutschen Archiven (Boppard am Rhein, 1971). Some personal papers are printed in Else Lüders, Minna Cauer (see above, n. 38); Krüger, Hanna, Die unbequeme Frau: Käthe Schirmacher im Kampfum die Freiheit der Frau und der Freiheit der Nation 1865–1930 (Berlin, 1936);Beckmann, Emmy, ed., Des Lebens wie der Liebe Band: Briefe von Gertrud Bäumer (Tübingen, 1956); and Beckmann, Emmy, Was ich hier geliebt: Briefe von Helene Lange (Tübingen, 1957).

49. Evans, Richard J., “Women and Socialism in Imperial Germany: The Sources and Their Problems,” International Labor and Working Class History, no. 9 (05 1976): 1619; full list of sources in Evans, The Feminist Movement, pp. 282–88.

50. See the appendix to the present article.

51. See the standard bibliography, Zahn-Harnack, Agnes von and Sveistrup, Hans, Die Frauenfrage in Deutschland: Strömungen und Gegenströmungen 1790–1930. Sachich geordnete und erläuterte Quellenkunde, 2d ed. with supplements (Tübingen, 1961).

52. Apart from work already cited, research is in progress on the early German feminist Louise Otto-Peters by Sigrid Wiegenstein (Berlin) and on the development of German feminism 1860–80 by Ulrike Bussemer (Berlin). Ute McNab (Wolfson College, Cambridge / Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) is working on literary aspects of German feminism. Hans-Günter Zmarzlik (Freiburg) is studying the relationship between German feminism and social change.

53. See n. 5 above.

54. E.g., Millett, Sexual Politics; Müller-Plantenberg, “Zur Geschichte” (see n. 5 above).

55. Stephenson, Women in Nazi Society.

56. See the discussion in Mason, “Women in Germany.”

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