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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 5 “The irresistible sword of female dignity and strength”: Maternal Politics 135


Chapter 5 “The irresistible sword of female dignity and strength”: Maternal Politics Following the harrowing experience of the Napoleonic Wars, the German states yearned for a change from the consequences of what was perceived as belligerent, masculine culture. In Switzerland and Germany, this led, among other things, to a complete rethinking of the pedagogy of early childhood, a development which to this day shapes the way children are taught throughout the Western world. The major aspects of this reform were a changed understanding of the child and the ideological elevation of the mother as being the most suitable for raising and educating young children. The maternal values of nurturing and kindness were revolution- ary concepts which educators such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel advocated as antidotes to the damage wrought by the recent years of warfare. Soon after Pestalozzi and Fröbel began their public work, their theories regarding maternal values were taken up by female educators and activists and developed into a platform for women’s public inf luence. Early feminist activists like Louise Otto-Peters insisted that women needed to be educated as much for providing intellectual stimulation to their children as for being equal companions to their husbands; both aspects were seen as necessary for the maintenance of stable families (Weedon 96). As such, the discourse on women’s maternal role began to permeate not only pedagogical writings, but also political essays and fiction. The new theory of children’s learning and women’s role in it...

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