Discovering Women’s History
German-Speaking Journalists (1900–1950)
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Illustrations
- Radical Feminist and Belligerent Journalist:Grete Meisel-Hess (1879–1922)
- In Search of the Überweib The Journalism of Elsa Asenijeff (1867–1941)
- ‘Das Erwachen der Frau’Eliza Ichenhaeuser (1869–1932) and the First Wave of German Feminism
- The ‘Meisterin des deutenden Essais’Margarete Susman (1872–1966) on theFirst World War and the November Revolution
- Front-Page JewsDoris Wittner’s (1880–1937) Berlin Feuilletons
- Roving Reporter, Travel Journalist, StorytellerAnnemarie Schwarzenbach (1908–1942)
- She of All People:The Journalist Erika Mann (1905–1969)
- Journalistic Production of the New WomanVicki Baum (1888–1960) and Gina Kaus (1893–1985)
- Proletarian Literature and the Woman QuestionThe Journalism of Alice Rühle-Gerstel (1894–1943)during the Weimar Republic
- The Literary Interventions of a Radical Writer JournalistMaria Leitner (1892–1942)
- Writing the CityThe Berlin of Gabriele Tergit (1894–1982)
- ‘Our Correspondent in Weimar’Gabriele Reuter (1859–1941) andThe New York Times
- ‘Soft’ Propaganda for Germany?The Writings of Ursula von Kardorff (1911–1988)
- AppendixI, of All People’
- Notes on Contributors
- Series index
First International Women’s Day. Protests across Berlin demanding the introduction of the women’s vote, 19 March 1911. Photograph by the Haekel Brothers. ullstein bild / The Granger Collection, New York.
First, I would like to thank the many contributors to this volume for their wonderful work and collegial efforts in bringing it to fruition. I learned much during our extended conversations and e-mail exchanges regarding these writers and the vast field of women in journalism. This volume is by no means exhaustive and offers only a limited sampling of the writers of the period. My colleagues’ engaged interest in the history of women and journalism as it relates to German culture is inspiring.
A special heartfelt thanks to Dr Frido Mann, who graciously allowed the publication of Erika Mann’s unpublished autobiographical fragment, ‘I, of All People’ in the appendix to this volume. I would also like to thank Gert Brüning who made available a photo of Gabriele Tergit. I would also like to voice my appreciation to archivists at the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden; Stadtarchiv Leipzig; Leo Baeck Institute; Berlin Landesarchiv; Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach; New York Public Library; and Granger Collection for their research support.
I would also like to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by the Professional Staff Congress and the City University of New York via a PSC-CUNY Award in the publication of this work and for research support at archives in Germany.
Thanks are also given to Edward Batchelder for his careful reading of the manuscript, support and good humour in the final stages of manuscript preparation. Thank you also to my family, colleagues at Queens College/CUNY and my neighbours who offered their encouragement and support during this rewarding project.
Es ist klar, daß es nur eine unvollständige Geschichte sein kann, in die die Wünsche und Interessen nur einer Hälfte der Menschheit eingeschrieben werden.
— Eliza Ichenhaeuser, Die Journalistik als Frauenberuf
(Journalism as a Woman’s Profession, 1905)
This book sets out to present a selection of German-speaking women journalists of the first half of the twentieth century who made significant contributions to German life and culture, yet are barely known today. The prescient words by the feminist and journalist Eliza Ichenhaeuser, that the field of journalism can present but an incomplete history if it lacks an account of women’s wishes and interests, resonated with a generation of journalists determined to present their experiences in the early twentieth century. Yet, while many scholars have focused on the dense and complex social, cultural and political fields of Wilhelmine (1870–1918), Weimar (1919–33) and Nazi Germany (1933–45), awareness of the prominent role played by German-speaking women journalists has been long in coming. Well into the Cold War period, it seemed a commonly held assumption that women played at most a marginal role in the press.1 Due in large measure ← 1 | 2 → to the catastrophic events of twentieth-century German history, the reconstruction of women’s cultural history in Germany has remained especially difficult when compared to work in other countries such as the United States or Great Britain. The ramp-up to the First World War and Germany’s subsequent defeat erased some of the most progressive initiatives of the first wave of German feminism, to be taken up again only in the 1970s by a new generation.2 The rise of National Socialism, the Second World War and the Holocaust further destroyed the memory of what had been a complex and vital cultural period for progressive movements such as the fight for women’s equality in the personal and public spheres.3 Germany’s robust history of social dissent was further compromised by Cold War cultural politics (1949–90) and the need for political and ideological unity within the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) and the German Democratic Republic (DDR) respectively. Only with the reunification of Germany in 1989/1990 and the opening of previously inaccessible archival records have scholars and researchers begun to address and rectify the dislocations of the historical record caused by Germany’s serial economic and political collapses of the twentieth century.
The absence of women journalists from postwar cultural histories is due in no small measure to Germany’s tragic history and gender-based inequities, but the diffuse and ephemeral nature of printed media itself has also played a role. Even when newspapers and periodicals could be located, they were often in such a fragile state that sustained use by researchers proved impossible. Almut Todorow, in her pathbreaking study ‘Frauen im Journalismus der Weimarer Republik’ (Women in journalism during ← 2 | 3 → the Weimar Republic, 1991) outlines the hurdles faced by researchers in accessing primary materials despite the pressing need for exactly that sort of empirical study of the period.4 This issue is thankfully being addressed by an ever-growing number of media projects focused on making entire archival catalogues and formerly inaccessible newspapers and periodicals available to scholars and the general public online.5 Because of these efforts, the path-breaking work done in the 1980s and 1990s by researchers on journalism and German gender politics such as Almut Todorow, Ulla Wischermann, Ruth-Esther Geiger, Sigrid Weigel and others can be expanded in new directions.6 Their insights with respect to women’s cultural history as it largely ← 3 | 4 → related to the organized women’s movement and the journalistic writings of its leaders (e.g. Helene Lange, Helene Stöcker, Gertrud Bäumer, Lily Braun, Minna Cauer) are being taken up by a new generation of scholars with much improved access to period documents. This has made possible many of the chapters in this volume, which highlight a diverse profile of writers and journalists who published both within and outside the periodicals of women’s organizations and women’s magazines.7 There remains a rich cultural history of women in journalism to be explored, as I hope the chapters of this book will show.
This edited volume seeks to build upon scholarship on women and culture by focusing on individual journalists within the context of the period in which they participated. The concept of ‘journalist’ is defined broadly here as a writer who regularly placed fiction or nonfiction contributions in periodicals and/or newspapers. These could include book reviews, short stories, serial novels, cultural reviews or other articles associated with feuilleton writing; or nonfiction writing and more traditional reportage such as news articles, political and social commentaries, editorials, and the new field of photojournalism. Further, the writers had to self-identify as journalists, consider their work as a professional pursuit, and have received public recognition for their writings in that their work was reviewed, cited and/or discussed during cultural or political forums and debates. In terms of structure, each chapter considers the journalist’s individual articles and other published and unpublished writings within the political, social and cultural contexts of Wilhelmine, Weimar or Nazi Germany. Contributors to the volume, as befits the range of subject matter, approach their subjects ← 4 | 5 → from different interdisciplinary perspectives and methodologies. Archival and online resources, when available, are referenced within the individual article and/or the bibliography for each chapter.
These journalists wrote from vastly different personal, cultural, political and ideological perspectives, yet all exerted an influence on a media industry and a society that were in continuous flux with respect to women’s role in and relation to German society. It is hoped that the discussion of the journalists here will continue to raise awareness of the wide range of published opinions by German-speaking women in press of the era and thus bring their accomplishments to the fore in contemporary cultural and literary debates. Scholars and students from a variety of disciplines – journalism, history, German studies, Jewish studies, gender studies and media studies – may find this collection useful in their undergraduate and graduate research.
A variety of factors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – the end of imperial censorship, an increase in literacy, the development of mass media, and the growing prominence and independence of public opinion – allowed women to participate in journalism as never before. The rise of mass social movements, mass culture, the blurring of gender lines, and a national obsession regarding the Woman Question (die Frauenfrage) were just some of the topics debated as papers sought to become the purveyors of mass enlightenment and social guidance while generating lucrative revenue.8 The urban press empires of Rudolf Mosse (Berliner Tageblatt, Berliner Morgen-Zeitung), Leopold Ullstein (Berliner Morgenpost) and August Scherl (Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Die Woche) offered publishers, editors and individual journalists unprecedented power with respect to melding the opinions of an increasingly literate and diversified public. They challenged and overthrew the privileged position of the highbrow literary journals of the nineteenth century as the exclusive arbiters of culture. Although largely a male affair in the 1890s, by the early 1900s the percentage ← 5 | 6 → of women journalists increased markedly along with the expansion of media and the successes of the women’s movement.9
During the Wilhelmine period especially, journalism offered women a more attractive alternative to traditional jobs such as school-teaching, domestic work or nursing and was one of the few professions that required no formal educational training. Women journalists began to promote their issues, and themselves, while media took on a new and more influential role within a modernizing society. Their outlooks varied greatly. Chapters by Godela Weiss-Sussex and Christa Spreizer highlight the works of Grete Meisel-Hess, Elsa Asenijeff and Eliza Ichenhaeuser, all writing from vastly different cultural and ideological perspectives in the late Wilhelmine period, a time when women struck out in new directions and took a confident stance regarding the role of women in society. Meisel-Hess, the Austrian-Jewish feminist, was an enthusiast of Nietzsche’s teachings and an active member in Helene Stöcker’s Bund für Mutterschutz und Sexualreform (League for the Protection of Motherhood and Sexual Reform, BfM). She stood outside the mainstream bourgeois women’s movement due to her radical attacks on traditional sexual morality and her advocacy of the libertarian rights of women in newspapers and journals such as Pan and the Berliner Tageblatt supplement Der Zeitgeist, as well as Der Demokrat and its two successors Der Weg and Die Aktion. Before the First World War she advocated positions of the eugenics movement, which, as Weiss-Sussex rightly points out, was a common concern of a wide range of social movements and not just the sinister ideology of the radical right with which it is usually associated. The Austrian feminist Elsa Asenijeff was also an admirer of Nietzsche, going so far as to attempt to care for him in 1897 (to ← 6 | 7 → the horror of his protofascist caretaker-sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche). Yet in contrast to Meisel-Hess, Asenijeff shunned all branches of the organized women’s movement, instead advocating the need for an entirely new concept of ‘woman’ based upon Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Übermensch’ (which she and other feminists considered a gender neutral term). Her journalism in Die Gesellschaft, Die Zeit and the Leipzig dailies Leipziger Tageblatt and Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten was but one venue for her contrarian and subversive attempts to elevate the status of the woman-artist within patriarchal Wilhelmine society. On the other end of the spectrum was the Romanian-German feminist Eliza Ichenhaeuser, whose work as a journalist was inseparable from her life’s mission as a humanitarian reformer. Working closely with Helene Lange and the bourgeois women’s organization, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (General German Women’s Federation, ADF), she sought to strengthen women’s traditional domestic roles while advocating for greater influence in public matters via electoral, educational and professional reforms. She published hundreds of articles in Germany’s major newspapers and advocated journalism as a moral mission and professional pursuit in books such as Die Journalistik als Frauenberuf (1905). These three women were just a few journalists of the Wilhelmine era, now largely forgotten, who capitalized on the popularity and influence of the women’s movement and helped pave the way for the successes of the Weimar New Woman artists, writers and journalists to follow.
During the First World War, conservative and nationalist pressures stymied what had arguably been steady progress in the rights of women and their growing role in society and in the media. Imperial censorship was reinstituted, self-censorship was encouraged, and although the influence of women in the press increased in isolated instances as women took over the positions of husbands and male relatives called up to service, the visibility of women’s issues declined. The celebration of individualism and heterogeneity seen in the late 1890s and early 1900s retreated as women were called upon to support the home front both economically and ideologically during the war. Germany’s catastrophic defeat in the First World War and the severe terms of the Treaty of Versailles cast a long shadow over the formation of the Weimar Republic in 1919 and the passage of a new constitution which included women’s suffrage. The period to follow was marked by years of ← 7 | 8 → crisis (1919–23) characterized by hyperinflation, severe economic deprivation, political violence, continuing gender-based conflicts, and the rise of racist ideologies such as antisemitism. Yet this cultural and social turbulence also opened new possibilities for the expression of women’s perspectives. The Golden Era (1924–9) is associated with a cultural renaissance in literature, arts and media (especially visual media) and the celebration of new lifestyles and outlooks. Women joined the workforce, wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, used makeup, smoked, drank and frequented jazz clubs. The cultivated image of the Flapper Girl tossed aside social and cultural taboos. The popular press saturated the market with tabloids sensationalizing the latest national and international crises. Local news, crime reports, fashion, sports, and other forms of mass entertainment were juxtaposed with elaborate department store advertisements.10 The press became highly politicized as political parties and government representatives advocated pro- or anti-Republic positions in their respective newspapers and journals. As women and men enjoyed the liberation of the Roaring Twenties and the influence of American lifestyles, conservatives and reactionaries felt Germany was betraying its history with foreign democratizing and commercializing trends that undermined tradition.11 In the midst of this chaotic yet culturally and intellectually rich ferment, journalists both observed and critiqued Germany’s national developments while also taking a keen interest in everyday life in the spirit of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit). Both the more traditional feuilletonist as well as the new Weimar photojournalist ← 8 | 9 → found opportunities for work in avant-garde newspapers and journals, as well as high-circulation boulevard and illustrated papers. The new field of photojournalism was especially apt at capturing the jarring juxtapositions of the era and created a synergy between photography and print that continues to shape journalism to this day.12
Within this highly charged atmosphere, many women writers were able to flourish. Chapters by Lisa Marie Anderson and Kerry Wallach highlight the more traditional feuilleton contributions of Margarete Susman and Doris Wittner, respectively, arguably two of the most prominent contributors to liberal German-Jewish periodicals from the 1910s to 1930s. Margarete Susman, as Anderson writes, advocated for a redemptive society based on the revolutionary principles of socialism, humanity and community, as seen in the hundreds of articles she wrote for German, Swiss and German-Jewish newspapers and periodicals. Anderson shows how essays such as ‘Die Revolution und die Frau’ (Women and the revolution, 1918), ‘Die Revolution und die Juden’ (Jews and the revolution, 1919), and ‘Kriegsbriefe deutscher Studenten’ (German students’ letters from the front, 1921) displayed Susman’s belief in a socialist community where women ‘could finally attain a long-elusive development and education’ and in which Jews ‘could work concretely toward the fulfilment of the messianic promise’. Yet by 1935 Susman was in exile and forced to reconsider the history, and even the very possibility, of a cultural synthesis between Jews and Germans. The feuilletons of Doris Wittner, Kerry Wallach writes, can serve as a key to understanding the liberal Weimar Jewish press and its readership. Wittner supported and defended the talents of Jewish writers, artists and performers in the face of growing antisemitism in Berlin publications such as the Vossische Zeitung, Berliner Tageblatt and Berliner Börsen-Courier, in addition to the Israelitisches Familienblatt, Jüdisch-liberale Zeitung (JLZ), Die jüdische Frau and others. The German-Jewish press was a complex and intellectually challenging cultural arena where ← 9 | 10 → journalists such as Susman and Wittner were able to seize opportunities and participate in an exciting yet short-lived era when many believed in the extraordinary possibilities of Weimar society.
Whereas both Anderson and Wallach analyse the work of journalists in the more traditional role of writer and cultural journalist, other contributors highlight the growing presence of women photojournalists in the Weimar era. Beth Ann Muellner’s chapter on the ‘roving reporter’ Annemarie Schwarzenbach considers how Schwarzenbach, very much a part of the ‘sensational’ world of the 1920s and 1930s with respect to her family, upbringing and lifestyle, offered a unique perspective as a Swiss-German ‘New Woman’ photojournalist writing mainly for a Swiss audience. Her articles and travel reports, Muellner notes, show rather than tell readers about the world. Muellner observes that the complicated world of the Weimar period, in which nationalism, fascism and militarism was seeping into every facet of life, encouraged women writers such as Schwarzenbach to develop a new awareness of their place in society with respect to their engagement with domestic and foreign affairs. This is especially true in the case of Erika Mann, Thomas Mann’s youngest daughter. Elke Nicolai’s contribution examines Erika Mann’s experiences at the cabaret club Pfeffermühle, an important catalyst for her transition from acting to political journalism during the 1930s. Cars, racing and the freedom of the road are popular subjects in her more light-hearted articles of the 1920s and 1930s, as they were with Schwarzenbach. But after founding the club in 1933, together with her brother Klaus, Therese Giehse and Magnus Henning, her journalism took on a more political tone. She later worked as a correspondent in London for the BBC in 1940, and in 1941 she appealed to German listeners to overthrow the Nazi dictatorship. Nicolai writes that her reportage became her main form of financial support while in exile in the US from 1937 until her return to Europe in 1952. Erika Mann did not keep a diary during her extraordinary life, which gives an even greater significance to her autobiographical fragment, ‘I, of All People’. In this unpublished work, she reflects upon the personal and political dislocations of her experiences from 1933 to 1943. It is printed for the first time in its entirety in the original English in the appendix to this book. ← 10 | 11 →
Journalism offered an appealing and at times exciting alternative to other forms of employment, but for many, journalism was still poorly paid, as were most professions for women, although in isolated instances women could thrive. Jana Mikota highlights the little-known journalism of best-selling authors Vicki Baum and Gina Kaus that appeared in magazines such as Die Dame, Uhu and Die literarische Welt. Both wrote of the New Woman’s changing sexual and social roles, and her new sense of self-understanding within Weimar society. Mikota looks at how Baum and Kaus constructed the New Woman and how their socially critical articles at times reflect conflicted attitudes towards money, influence, identity and the commodification of the New Woman image that was so much a part of their own successful careers. Mikota then examines Alice Rühle-Gerstel’s book reviews and articles, which appeared primarily in Die literarische Welt. Influenced by Marxism and individual psychology, her unique perspectives on proletarian art and advocacy for working women exposed Weimar Germany’s patriarchal structures and its continuing gender-based discrimination. Unlike Vicki Baum and Gina Kaus, Rühle-Gerstel did not write traditionally female-oriented articles on fashion and beauty. They also differed greatly with respect to their personal and professional prospects as life within Weimar Germany deteriorated and the rise of Hitler became inevitable. Gina Kaus and Vicki Baum both made the transition to Hollywood and continued to lead prosperous lives; Rühle-Gerstel committed suicide after the death of her husband while in Mexican exile in 1943. Yet all three reflected common sentiments regarding the need for expanded lifestyle, economic and social choices for women. They were writing at the juncture of changing conceptions of woman and her relations to the fields of commerce, industry, art and gender, and the tensions and ambivalence these topics raised for the New Woman.
Next, Julian Preece adds needed insight into the little-known life and career of the antifascist Hungarian journalist Maria Leitner, who wrote for Uhu in the 1920s, was a well-known figure in leftwing circles and promoted by Willi Münzenberg, a leading propagandist for the Communist Party in Germany. Her communist leanings limited her reception in West Germany during the Cold War, an issue that Preece addresses. He makes a convincing ← 11 | 12 → case that her works should receive a wider public audience. Like Brecht, she subverted traditional literary genres to advocate for women’s rights and raise awareness of the conditions of the proletariat in works such as her novel Hotel Amerika (1927). Preece considers her lesser known dialectical parables that appeared in the short-lived feminist magazine Der Weg der Frau (1931–2), the inverted romantic fiction, Mädchen mit drei Namen. Ein kleiner Berlinroman (Girl with three names. A Berlin popular novel, 1932) which appeared in Die Welt am Abend, and the anticolonial novel fragment, Wehr Dich Akato! Ein Urwald-Roman (Defend yourself Akato! A jungle novel, 1932–3) from the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung. After 1933, her fiction and journalism appeared in Paris-, Prague-, and Moscow-based exile publications.
Gabriele Tergit is another journalist better known for her novels than her reportage. A pioneering court reporter with the Berliner Tageblatt and best known for her social-critical novel Käsebier erobert den Kurfürstendamm (Käsebier conquers Kurfürstendamm, 1931), before 1933 she wrote for various Berlin publications such as the Berliner Tageblatt, Vossische Zeitung and Die Weltbühne. The short texts considered by Frances Mossop, in contrast to the social or political commentaries that were typical of her court reporting, present a personal record of her experiences and portrayals of Berlin’s urban landscape that resonated with her readers. While in exile she contributed articles to Prager Tagblatt, Bohemia, Prager Mittag and other papers.
In the last years of the Republic, before 1933, Germans deserted the intellectuals and political parties that had become associated with the humiliations and deprivations of the postwar period. Although the Nazi Party controlled less than three per cent of Germany’s newspapers during the Weimar period, by 1933 they had consolidated the use of radio, press, cinema and mass spectacle to increase their reach over the masses. The Nazi propaganda ministry gained control over the Reichsverband der deutschen Presse (Reich Association of the German Press) and, with respect to those owners, journalists and editors considered ‘racially pure’, kept an account of their private and public activities to be sure they followed ministry mandates ← 12 | 13 → and directives in the censorship of the press.13 Many writers, journalists, editors and publishers fled Germany or were imprisoned and killed. Others remained within Germany and negotiated the restrictive environment of Nazi Germany via an inner emigration (Innere Emigration), or enhanced their careers until the public reckonings of the postwar period.
Within this atmosphere, Lynne Tatlock considers The New York Times contributions of the best-selling author Gabriele Reuter (1859–1941), an esteemed German feminist writer of an earlier generation, who between 1911 and 1939 offered the nonacademic American readership of The New York Times a look at German life and letters. Reporting from Berlin and Weimar, her contributions in the 1930s chronicled, albeit at times inadvertently, Germany’s increasingly compromised cultural scene. Yet despite Reuter’s intellectual, social, and even physical limitations (she became nearly blind in her last years), Tatlock observes that she still ‘in some sense provided her American readers with an entirely accurate picture of the impoverished German literary field.’
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- Publication date
- 2014 (July)
- life culture awareness
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. 416 pp., 13 b/w ill.