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Domesticating the Public

Women’s Discourse on Gender Roles in Nineteenth-Century Germany


Daniela Richter

The domestic sphere, the ideological as well as physical context of female life during the nineteenth century, featured prominently in German women’s writing of the period. Women writers, such as Fanny Lewald, Ida von Hahn-Hahn and E. Marlitt, who had begun to dominate Germany’s book market, addressed domestic life and female gender roles through a variety of genres. At the same time, activists such as Helene Lange and Henriette Schrader-Breymann let their vision of female gender roles shape the kindergartens and girls’ secondary schools they founded.
This book discusses issues of female gender role formation and examines the ways in which women’s writing and activism contributed to the process. As a result, a rich tapestry of female social discourse is uncovered, exhibiting women’s strong commitment to shaping their destinies within a largely misogynistic political and legal national framework.


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Chapter 1 “Lasset eure Kinder Menschen werden”: Nurturing Gender Equality 21


Chapter 1 “Lasset eure Kinder Menschen werden”: Nurturing Gender Equality1 Since its first emergence in the late eighteenth century, pedagogical litera- ture has always focused not only on children and their needs, but on the family in its entirety. After all, texts dealing with the education and rais- ing of children were, and still are, addressed to parents, not children. In nineteenth-century Germany, the family was of immediate interest to the state both in terms of population numbers – Prussia in particular showed itself eager to expand its military troops – as well as in its role of raising and forming future citizens. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of the states’ administrative apparatus and increasing urbaniza- tion, the family evolved towards a family model that consisted of parents and children living together. This particular family form, prevalent among the urban middle classes, developed mostly due to the increasing separation of home and work place, another consequence of the economic changes. With this change in home-life came an ever increasing division between the familial roles of men and women, a development supported by social theorists who used the concept of gender characteristics to present a social concept as something it was not, namely a natural, biologically conditioned blueprint for people’s mental and emotional capabilities. According to these theories, men were naturally predisposed to rationality and an active life style, hence perfectly suited for a professional career and participation in the public sphere. Women, on the other hand, were seen...

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