Women

   Although the circumstances and attitudes of German women in the Weimar years are too diverse for simple definition, a few issues compel examination. Buoyed by a Constitution* that provided equal suffrage with men (Article 22), declared men and women "fundamentally" equal before the law (Article 109), and abolished discrimination against women in the civil service* (Article 128), women had reason to be proud of their achievements in 1919. But they soon learned that the Constitution was a statement of intent often violated at the national and state levels. Within the civil service, for example, married women might be pressured to resign employment; the fringe benefits provided women, whether married or not, were often lower than those for men, while salary levels were depressed by using lower grades. Although publicly employed women often worked under better conditions than those in private employ, their situations did not comply with Article 128. Of the 61,462 women publicly employed in 1923, about 60,000 were in the postal system, the great majority being telephone operators and counter clerks. This was not so much a policy of deliberate discrimination as a mentality (not confined to Germany) that women belonged in certain sectors of the economy. When Germany sank into depression,* a campaign against so-called Doppelverdiener (double earners) was chiefly applied to working wives in public and private sectors.
   More profound than failure to enforce constitutional provisions was the atti-tude of women toward those provisions. Suffrage was not owed to the hard-fought battle of women—as was the case in Britain and the United States—but to military defeat and revolution. In fact, suffrage came when women least expected it. In 1914, the League of German Women's Societies (BundDeutscher Frauenvereine, BDF), a largely middle-class Spitzenverband founded in 1894, grasped the chance to be part of the war effort by setting up the National Women's Service (Nationaler Frauendienst). By 1917 numerous women served in vital capacities from which they had previously been barred. Yet while suf-frage had been a key issue energizing the BDF in 1900, few members were focused on the vote by 1918; many more opposed it. Ultimately, suffrage was viewed as a foreign import and meant little to women who had not struggled for it; throughout the 1920s they were less inclined than men to vote. Moreover, those parties favoring equal rights—the DDP, but also the SPD and the KPD— received relatively fewer votes from women at elections. In general, women stressed party loyalty before perceived interests as women: as conservatives and middle-class liberals, they supported the Volk (nation); as Catholics,* they af-firmed a commitment to religion; as socialists or Communists, they bolstered class issues. Not only did women support the whole range of parties irrespective of platforms on women's rights, but they voted less frequently for the SPD than men and more frequently for the male-dominated Center Party.* In general, they closed ranks with men who shared their views rather than cooperate as women across the political spectrum.
   It would be misleading to claim that Germany did not possess militant fem-inists. Radicals—for example, Anita Augspurg, Lida Heymann, and Helene Stocker*—campaigned in the 1920s for pacifism, social equality, and sexual freedom, but they represented a tiny minority and were largely without effect.
   The posture of the BDF, on the contrary, not only spoke to the average woman throughout the Weimar era but reflected current German attitudes. Shaken by social and economic problems, men and women were united in their fear of an age that threatened their existence. The BDF publicly stated that "selfless ded-ication to the whole people" required women to return to "tasks appropriate to their nature." Its focus on the national community (Volksgemeinschaft) led some to dub the BDF the embodiment of "organized mofherliness" (organisierte Mutterlichkeit). While radicals lost their momentum, new groups, less concerned with rights than with economic interests, proliferated and joined the BDF. The largest, the Housewives' Union (Reichsverband der deutschen Hausfrauenver-eine), had 200,000 members by 1931 and was supportive of the DNVP. Indeed, while the prewar BDF had been dominated by the Progressive Party (precursor to the DDP), the postwar BDF moved steadily to the political Right. Although Gertrud Baumer,* a key member of the DDP who served as BDF president during 1910-1919, retained enormous influence on the BDF's executive until 1933, her liberalism became suspect. Emma Ender, president during 1924-1931, represented the DVP; Agnes von Zahn-Harnack, president during 1931-1933, voted for the DNVP and wrote of her nostalgia for the Kaiserreich. Thus, as time passed, leadership shifted to the Right and the BDF as a whole expanded its support for parties hostile to feminism. By the mid-1920s the BDF's attacks on libertarianism found substance in support for the Law for the Protection of Youth against Trash and Filth.* The BDF never campaigned actively for the rights guaranteed women by the Constitution; doing so would have offended the organization's most powerful member groups. Of course, this was self-defeating because the BDF failed to defend the interests of many of its members. For example, when the depression provoked dismissal of married female em-ployees as a way of alleviating male unemployment, the BDF raised no objec-tion; most no doubt perceived such action as in the interests of men and women alike.
   Young women were more inclined after 1929 to join the NSDAP than the BDF. Meanwhile, Hitler* was careful never to say that women were inferior but, rather, in their own way, equal to men. Indeed, he used BDF arguments— for example, that women were performing the equivalent of military service by risking their lives in childbirth—to attract female votes. Actually, the BDF pur-sued aims throughout the Weimar era that had much in common with those of the NSDAP. When Hitler proclaimed that "equal rights for women means that they experience the esteem that they deserve in the areas for which nature had intended them," he was echoing the BDF's program. Soon after he became Chancellor, the Nazi Frauenfront (Women's Front) began synchronizing the BDF. Since its constitution dictated independence, the executive dissolved the BDF in May 1933; dissolution was not an act of defiance. Its chief organ, Die Frau, was deemed sufficiently sympathetic to NSDAP ideals to continue pub-lication under Baumer's editorship until 1944.
   REFERENCES:Boak, "Women in Weimar Germany"; Bridenthal and Koonz, "Beyond Kinder"; Caplan, Government without Administration; Diehl, Paramilitary Politics; Richard Evans, Comrades and Sisters and Feminist Movement; Greenberg, Literature and Sensibilities; Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland; McIntyre, "Women and the Pro-fessions.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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