A German Women's Movement: Class and Gender in Hanover, 1880-1933

A German Women's Movement: Class and Gender in Hanover, 1880-1933

A German Women's Movement: Class and Gender in Hanover, 1880-1933

A German Women's Movement: Class and Gender in Hanover, 1880-1933

Synopsis

Nancy Reagin analyzes the rhetoric, strategies, and programs of more than eighty bourgeois women's associations in Hanover, a large provincial capital, from the Imperial period to the Nazi seizure of power. She examines the social and demographic foundations of the Hanoverian women's movement, interweaving local history with developments on the national level. Using the German experience as a case study, Reagin explores the links between political conservatism and a feminist agenda based on a belief in innate gender differences.

Reagin's analysis encompasses a wide variety of women's organizations- feminist, nationalist, religious, philanthropic, political, and professional. It focuses on the ways in which bourgeois women's class background and political socialization, and their support of the idea of 'spiritual motherhood,' combined within an antidemocratic climate to produce a conservative, maternalist approach to women's issues and other political matters. According to Reagin, the fact that the women's movement evolved in this way helps to explain why so many middle-class women found National Socialism appealing.

Excerpt

The entire strength of the women's movement derives from the conviction that the woman, different from the man anatomically down to her teeth, is just as different in her psyche, and that she can therefore bring other characteristics . . . to the task of developing human culture. -- Helene Lange

The conviction that the two sexes were divided by innate and far-reaching differences was widespread among all the women's movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even some supporters of equal rights feminism, who sought to obtain the same rights and roles that men had, embraced and celebrated the concept of gender difference. The movements that emerged in almost all Western societies during this period were divided not over the question of gender difference, but over the problems raised by this conviction: whether or how difference should be reflected in feminists' goals and strategies.

A so-called radical minority within the Wilhelmine women's movement pursued a strategy of equal rights feminism, but the "moderate" majority within the leadership of the movement's umbrella organization, the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, or BDF, grounded its analysis and proposals in essentialism, the belief in innate gender differences. In Germany, gender difference was articulated within the framework of a philosophy that became known as the doctrine of spiritual motherhood. This school of thought was originally developed by the' women who were associated with the social reformer Friedrich Froebel, and popularized within the broader women's movement by Henriette Goldschmidt. Its proponents held that all women possessed certain innate maternal qualities, including the capacity to nurture and educate the young, ill, poor, or otherwise dependent persons. Married women, they argued, exercised these talents in their capacities as wives and mothers, but unmarried women could and ought to function in maternal roles, too, especially as teachers, nurses, and social workers. Furthermore, all women could ex-

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