"We declare work to be a duty and honor for the female sex, claim the right to work and view it as necessary that all things in the way of women working be removed."If this demand were worded in more contemporary terms, it could come from modern times. However, it is 130 years old. It is the core statement of the bylaws of the German Women's Association (Allgemeinen Deutschen Frauenvereins - ADFV).
This organization was founded in Leipzig in October 1865 by LOUISE OTTO-PETERS and her fellow reformers and was the first step in the task of organizing German women. LOUISE OTTO-PETERS, advocate of women's rights, journalist and novelist, headed the German Women's Association until shortly before her death in March of 1895. Already in 1848 and 1849 she was among the few who had bound the fight for equal rights and economic independence for women with the demands of the Revolution of 1848.
With this, LOUISE OTTO-PETERS was decades ahead of her time. When the ADFV was founded, there was no party that had put "Women Have the Right to Work" on its banner. Only a few could see paid employment for women as something important worth striving for.
The industrialization of the Founders' Years (Gründerzeit) after 1871 made labor so cheap that working women and their daughters had to work in factories as assistants to others in their families. There they worked in conditions which are unimaginable today and earned much less than their male co-workers. Moreover, their situation was worse than that of the men; women had no rights of citizenship - until 1918 no right to vote, until 1908 no political party where they had the right to participate. Nevertheless, a women's movement formed from middle-class women and the female workforce.
In spite of persecution, arrest and condemnation, after the 1880's the leaders of the movement developed many associations for working women. They were disguised as learning institutions or reading clubs, but actually served to politically inform and organize for humane working conditions, equal pay for equal work, protection of pregnant women and recent mothers and the eight-hour day. EMMA IHRER (1857-1911) was the driving force for these workplace-centered associations. She was the first, and for a long time the only, female member of the leadership of the Free Unions (Freien Gewerkschaften), founded in 1890.
At this time CLARA ZETKIN (1857-1933) rose to the undisputed leadership of the socialist women's movement. Along with the majority of the social democrats, she considered the fight for women's rights as another part of the class struggle. On these ideological grounds, CLARA ZETKIN declined to work with the middle-class women's movement. They had common goals, but from her point of view no agreement on the way to reach them.
This was clearest during the fight for the right to vote for women. It was the Social Democratic Party (SPD) which was the first to take up the demand for women's suffrage in its platform in 1891; and it was the SPD leader and representative AUGUST BEBEL (1840-1914) who first demanded the right to vote for women in the Reichstag. However, it was the radical wing of the middle-class women's movement, in the persons of MINNA CAUER (1841-1922), ANITA AUGSPURG (1857-1943) and LIDA GUSTAVA HEYMANN (1868-1943), that in 1902 created the German Association for Women's Suffrage (Deutschen Verein für Frauenstimmrecht) and in 1904 participated in the founding of the International Woman Suffrage Association. The German socialists also fought at the international level for the right to vote for women. The tradition-rich International Women's Day originally was exclusively a day to fight for the institution of the right to vote for women. It was inaugurated in 1910 at the Woman Socialist International in Copenhagen through the work of the German delegation.
On the other hand, in the moderate wing of the middle-class women's movement, the demand for equal educational opportunity for girls and boys, and men and women, was of foremost concern. A hundred years ago, girls were not permitted to attend public high schools, and women couldn't study in Germany. Middle-class women accepted that their primary job was child rearing. HELENE LANGE (1848-1930), the formative personality of the middle-class women's movement, was like most of her fellow activists a schoolteacher. In Berlin, she instituted, in 1893, a course of high school study for girls; she founded the German Woman Teachers' Association (Allgemeinen Deutschen Lehrerinnenverein); and she was on the board of directors of the German Women's Association which she led into the Federation of German Women's Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine - BDF). The German Women's Parliament (Deutsche Frauenrat), founded after the second world war, viewed itself as the heir of the Women's Shelter Association (Frauen-Dachverbandes) which was founded in 1894.
BERTHA VON SUTTNER
All the political associations of the German women's movement of this time possessed their mouthpieces - important, well-read newspapers and magazines which are storehouses for the history of the German women's movement. HELENE LANGE founded and edited "Die Frau" ("The Woman"). MINNA CAUER's life work was the magazine "Die Frauenbewegung" ("The Women's Movement"). The most important organ for the left's struggle was CLARA ZETKIN's "Gleichheit" ("Equality").
As different as the currents running through the political activists of the women's movement were, the first world war united many of them. Socialists as well as conservatives worked to care for troops, institute soup kitchens, shelters and sewing groups and care in their communities for widows, orphans and returning wounded.
The end of the war brought the German Republic and the right to vote for women. They now had the right to elect and be elected and many made use of it. In the national congress that drafted a democratic constitution, 8.7% were women: MARIE JUCHACZ (1879-1956) was the first woman permitted to speak in a democratically elected German parliament.
However, not only friends of equal rights sat in the national congress, but, along with many men opposed to emancipation, also several female representatives who originally had been opponents of women's suffrage. For that reason, the comprehensive task for lawmakers of instituting equal rights could not be taken forward. Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution conceded to women and men "as a matter of principle the equal rights and duties of citizenship" only. This formulation allowed for many interpretations, and many restrictions as well.
The First German Republic lasted only fourteen years. It was characterized by consequences of the war and the world economic crisis, anti-democratic forces at the helms of power in the state, mass unemployment and political radicalization. Progressive women parliamentarians along with their emancipatory goals had hardly a chance. The rights of single mothers and their children, the rights of property in marriage, the right of divorce and abortion reform were all political issues they wanted to deal with, but which had to be newly made the order of the day a half century later. The first generation of women parliamentarians was only able to accomplish relatively unspectacular progress on the road toward equal rights, and that little bit was completely destroyed by National Socialism.
After 1933, German women were systematically purged from public life. Along with other independent (non-Nazi) organizations, those of women were forbidden. Women students, bureaucrats and professionals found it essentially harder to maintain themselves, until they were needed again so that the process of armament could be accelerated. For the Nazis, the ideal image was that of a mother who gave children to the state. In Germany, the political role of women fell far behind the standard which had already been set once by women like LOUISE OTTO-PETERS.
Already in the second world war, especially in the first years afterwards, the role of women was fundamentally altered. They had to assume many types of typically male roles - and were admired for the way they filled them. In 1949, two German states arose: the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (DDR). Equal rights for women and men were protected by the constitutions of both parts of Germany - although the consequent reality looked very different. While in the DDR women citizens had only the possibility of participating in state-sanctioned organizations conforming to the regime, there developed in the Federal Republic an array of organizations which fought in different ways for the conversion of the legal claims to equal rights into everyday reality. In the working life of the DDR, there was a relatively unobstructed side-by-side relationship of women and men since the definition of working classes allowed for no sex-specific differences.
Of the 65 parliamentarians who in 1948-1949 drafted the basic laws of the Federal Republic (which since October 1990 have also applied to the former DDR), there were four women who specially committed themselves to the constitutional principle of equal rights: HELENE WESSEL, HELENE WEBER, FRIEDERIKE NADIG and ELISABETH SELBERT. To jurist ELISABETH SELBERT (1896-1986) was owed the service of putting through, over much opposition, the simple sentence "Men and women have equal rights". After that, the entire traditional lawmaking and judicial process had to be brought into conformity with the inalienable right of women to equality, a process during which there were many setbacks.
The hesitant assimilation of this principle into practice led to a new women's movement. ALICE SCHWARZER (born 1942) became its symbol. Women now fought with unorthodox means for conditions which could lead from legal assertions to the reality of equal rights. This women's movement called itself 'autonomous' because it operated independently of existing organizations. For just that reason, this 'autonomy' was highly effective. It made obstacles to women's policies clear to politicians and political parties and obliged them to rethink them. Authorities and enterprises formulated plans to improve the lot of women. Communities created positions devoted to addressing injustices in the workplace; state governments instituted Women's Ministries. Within the Social Democratic Party, women effected a change in the bylaws with the goal of continually strengthening the representation of women. Similar discussions took place in the Christian Democratic Union.
Women's organizations received support from the still few women in high places - for example from the child rearing expert RITA SÜSSMUTH (born 1937). Ten years ago, she traded her teaching position for the minister's seat in the Department of Women, Families and Health (Frauen-, Familien- und Gesundheitsressort) of the federal government. In this position, and also in her present office as president of the Bundestag, she used unconventional suggestions and tenacious reminders to give many boosts to equal rights and co-operation and achieved much.
Motivation in this direction also came from the European Union. Twenty years ago it released guidelines for the equal compensation of men and women. Later guidelines were issued for equal educational and promotional opportunities as well as for equal treatment in regard to social insurance. Since European law must be adopted by all EU member states, today women's policies are effected in the Federal Republic of Germany more than they would have been 'without Europe'.
The prospects for genuine equality are therefore better than ever before. But that is not enough - much must still happen in hearts and minds.
Women at the Top
Women in the EU
Translated by Robert Burkhardt with the kind assistance of the other members of the Translation Workshop organized by the Goethe-Institut Boston January-March, 1998. Derived from a poster in the German language Copyright ©1995 by Inter Nationes - Bonn. The original German text was written by Antje Dertinger. Reproduced by permission. The original poster had pictures which are not reproduced here due to lack of Internet publication permission. Minor changes were made to the text to accommodate this absence. Last revision: September 30, 2009.