New Women and Families
in the New Germany
Rejection of childbirth has virtually become a public movement. I
The transformed woman wants more than to be a mother, she also wants to be a woman. Women are fleeing Nora's doll house not just in isolated cases but in battalions (Heerenstärke). 2
Conducted just at the midpoint of the Weimar Republic's brief turbulent existence, the 1925 German census served to confirm the widespread contemporary perception of a nation in the grip of rapid demographic and social transformation. Most dramatically, the "new" women of the "new" German Republic were, it seemed, becoming less motherly, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Average family size had dropped to one child per family. 3 Depending on one's point of view, the modem nuclear family had arrived or women were on a birth strike. Of the total population of 62,410,619, 96 percent lived in families, 4 but the families they lived in were significantly different— particularly for the urban working class—than those of the pre-World War I era. The traditional large proletarian families of the Kaiserreich, symbolized by Heinrich Zille's and Käthe Kollwitz's renderings of hordes of children tugging at the skirts of pregnant mothers, while still a staple of both right- and left-wing political propaganda, were becoming a remnant of a prewar past. They were nostalgically mourned by some and discarded as patently dysfunctional—indeed "asocial"—in the modern world by others. In any case, while still visible, they were becoming a minority.
The birth rate in Germany had been steadily declining since the late nineteenth century, 5 but the trend toward smaller families did not appear as a mass working-class phenomenon until after the First World War. 6 According to the census, the average working-class household now consisted of 3.9 persons. 7