Bäumer, Gertrud

views updated


BÄUMER, GERTRUD (1873–1954), prominent leader in the German women's movement.

Gertrud Bäumer was born in 1873 in Hohenlimburg, in Germany. When her father, a pastor and school inspector, died in 1883, Bäumer's mother was forced by financial necessity to return with her three children to her parents' house in Halle. Bäumer, who was determined to gain financial independence, trained as a teacher and taught in a girls' elementary school. After rising to a leadership position in the German Female Teachers' Association (Allgemeiner deutscher Lehrerinnenverein), she moved to Berlin, where she obtained a doctoral degree in German literature from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in 1905. In Berlin she met Helene Lange, a prominent figure in the German women's movement with whom she lived and worked until Lange's death in 1930.

Under Lange's tutelage, Bäumer soon gained visibility as an advocate of women's rights. Along with Lange, she edited the feminist journal Die Frau (Woman) and published several books as a single author and as a coauthor with Lange. Among her most important works of the prewar era was Die Frau in der Kulturbewegung der Gegenwart (Women in contemporary culture), published in 1904.

In this book and in her other writings, Bäumer argued that women deserved the full rights of citizenship. She based that claim not on women's similarity to men, but on their distinctive traits, which she called the weibliche Eigenart (female character). Because of women's sensitivity to personal relationships—a trait that she attributed to their socialization as mothers—she claimed that they were equipped to restore balance to a culture that was distorted by the one-sided predominance of men. Bäumer called on women to counteract men's characteristic competitive and aggressive spirit by emphasizing compassion, altruism, and care for disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society. This was a powerful argument for women's access to education and to the caring professions, including teaching, social work, medicine, and nursing. Bäumer's ideology was accepted by the majority of those in the German women's movement—a group that called itself "moderate," and distinguished itself from the "radical" faction that advocated a more militant struggle for gender equality.

Until 1908, German women were not allowed to belong to political parties. After this prohibition was lifted, Bäumer joined the Fortschrittliche Volkspartei (Progressive People's Party)—a liberal group that was strongly committed to social reform. In 1910 she was elected to head the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (League of German Women's Associations, or BDF), the organization that led the struggle for women's rights in Germany.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Bäumer rallied German women to their country's war effort. She became the head of the Nationaler Frauendienst (National Women's Service)—an organization that coordinated women's wartime work. An ardent patriot, Bäumer rejected the pacifist program of the International Committee of Women for a Permanent Peace—a women's group that met at the Hague in 1915 and called on women of all nations to oppose the war. But Bäumer opposed some wartime policies, especially those that put women under pressure to bear children. Motherhood, she insisted, was not just a means of producing cannon-fodder.

At the war's end, when German women won the right to vote and to run for public office, Bäumer joined the liberal politician Friedrich Naumann (1860–1919) in founding the Deutsche Demokratische Partei (German Democratic Party, or DDP), and became one of the party's leaders. She served as a DDP delegate to the Reichstag (national parliament) from 1919 until 1932. From 1920 until 1933, she also held a government post in the ministry of the interior, where she made policy on education and child welfare. Although a strong supporter of democratic government, she had many reservations about the Weimar political system, which she claimed was too politically fragmented to offer inspiring leadership.

When the Nazis (Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or National Socialist Workers' Party) came to power in 1933 under the leadership of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), the BDF chose to disband rather than to accept the Nazis' demand for complete conformity to governmental policies. Bäumer was dismissed from her post at the ministry of interior because of her liberal and feminist connections. However, she continued to edit Die Frau until 1944. While in general conforming to the limits set by the totalitarian government, she sometimes engaged in cautious dissent. She also wrote historical novels and an autobiography. After the war's end in 1945, she was among the founders of a new political party, the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU) but soon shifted her allegiance to another party, the Christlich-Demokratische Union (CDU). Bäumer died in 1954 in the Bethel Hospital, near Bielefeld. More than any other individual, except perhaps her partner Helene Lange, Bäumer defined the German women's movement during the first half of the twentieth century. Her legacy is controversial. As a courageous campaigner and brilliant publicist, she did much to advance the status of women in many areas. But many feminists of later generations regard her view of the "female character" as a confining stereotype that prevents women from reaching their full potential.

See alsoFeminism; Fin de Siècle; Germany.


Primary Sources

Bäumer, Gertrud. Die Frau in der Kulturbewegung der Gegenwart. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1904.

——. Die Frau in Volkswirtschaft und Staatsleben der Gegenwart. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1914.

——. Lebensweg durch eine Zeitenwende. Tübingen, Germany, 1933.

Secondary Sources

Allen, Ann Taylor. Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800–1914. New Brunswick, N.J., 1991.

Greven-Aschoff, Barbara. Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland, 1894–1933. Göttingen, Germany, 1981.

Repp, Kevin. Reformers, Critics, and the Paths of German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search for Alternatives, 1890–1914. Cambridge, Mass., 2000.

Schaser, Angelika. Helene Lange und Gertrud Bäumer: Eine politische Lebensgemeinschaft. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna, 2000.

Ann Taylor Allen

About this article

Bäumer, Gertrud

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article