German Women in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History

By John C. Fout | Go to book overview

Self-Conscious Histories
Biographies of German Women in the Nineteenth Century

RUTH-ELLEN BOETCHER JOERES

In 1868 and 1869 in Leipzig two volumes were published that contained biographical sketches of personages whose roles in history ranged from the sensational to the utterly obscure. 1 At a time when biography had become widespread as a version of personal history, easy to read and immensely adaptable to a variety of forms, from full-length tomes to brief contributions in anthologies, from obituaries (necrologies) of all shapes and sizes to sketches of still-living figures, such a publishing event could hardly have been considered unique or even worthy of particular notice. The fact that the books were labeled volumes 2 and 4 of a series entitled Privatgeschichten der Weltgeschichte ( Private Lives from World History) also would not have aroused any special interest, since by the 1860s the earlier Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon definition of biographies as, first and foremost, depictions of persons distinguished "by their social position" was no longer necessarily valid: 2 minor figures had already gained the attention of a readership that at least on occasion consented to accounts of lesser lives. What was significant were the subjects of the volumes: Louise Otto, the biographer who wrote these sketches, directed her attention exclusively to women. More than that, with few exceptions, her subjects were not members of royal families, and indeed often represented the other extreme, the forgotten women of the murky past whose anonymity she wished to remedy.

Women had not been excluded from biographical attention before the appearance of Louise Otto's volumes. The Brockhaus definitions of biog-

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