Dornemann, Luise (1901–1992)

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Dornemann, Luise (1901–1992)

German reformer and author, active in the women's movement during the Weimar Republic, who became a leader of the state-sponsored women's organization in the German Democratic Republic. Name variations: during her years in the United Kingdom, 1936–1947, spelled her name Louise Dornemann. Born in Aurich, Ostfriesland, on February 23, 1901; died on January 17, 1992; daughter of a judicial official.

Selected writings:

Alle Tage ihres Lebens: Frauengestalten aus zwei Jahrhunderten (1988); Clara Zetkin: Leben und Wirken (1989); Jenny Marx: der Lebensweg einer Sozialistin (1980).

Born at the start of the 20th century into a world whose stability appeared unshakable, Luise Dornemann experienced a dizzying series of wars and revolutions in her long life as well as social, technological, and ideological transformations that continued to challenge humanity at the end of that same century. Although rural and small town life remained largely intact on the windswept island of Ostfriesland where she was born, Dornemann left home and in 1921 qualified to be a teacher in the city of Aachen. Politically active, over the years she became increasingly radicalized and in 1928 joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). A women's rights activist, she was particularly interested in the necessity of advancing the cause of sex education and abortion rights. In 1932, she became chair of the Unified Organization for Proletarian Sexual Reform and Protection of Mothers, also serving until the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 as director of the Marriage Counseling Office in Düsseldorf. The Nazis destroyed the sexual reform movement in Germany, making already restrictive anti-abortion laws even harsher.

In 1936, Dornemann immigrated to the United Kingdom. In London, she was a member of the Communist-led Allies Inside Germany Council, and also served as a member of the executive board of the Free German Cultural League, another Communist-oriented group of German emigrés. Remaining a dedicated Communist and desiring to participate in the construction of socialism in post-Nazi Germany, in 1947 she moved to the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and joined the Socialist Unity Party, which a year earlier had absorbed the Social Democrats and claimed to be the only voice of a united working class. Dornemann also joined the mass organization created to represent women in the SBZ, the Demokratischer Frauenbund Deutschlands (Democratic Women's League of Germany or DFD), which was founded in Berlin on March 8, 1947. As a reliable and loyal KPD veteran, Luise Dornemann was chosen in 1948 for the important post of secretary of the national executive board of the DFD. In effect, chief executive officer of the DFD, Dornemann held this post until 1951. Until 1953, she also served as DFD representative to the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF), a Communist-dominated organization founded in Paris in 1945. After being expelled from Paris in 1951, the WIDF headquarters moved to East Berlin.

Retiring from active politics in 1953, Dornemann worked for the next decade as a research associate in East Berlin's Institute for Marxism-Leninism. Over the next decades, she wrote a number of well-received history books intended for a broad audience. Ideologically orthodox, her biographies of Jenny Marx and Clara Zetkin went through many editions and were available in GDR bookshops and libraries until the end of the socialist state and society in 1989–90. Dornemann's biography of Jenny Marx even appeared in Japanese (1956) and Chinese (1983) translations. Despite her advanced age, she continued to serve as a member of the DFD executive board until the collapse of the GDR dictatorship in the fall of 1989. Although there were significant achievements for women in the GDR during its 40 years of existence, and many of its 1.5 million members were active in seeking realistic solutions to women's problems, the organization never exhibited any independence vis-a-vis the state. Organizationally, it became as sclerotic as the Honecker regime itself, the best indication of this being the fact that Ilse Thiele , DFD chair who was deposed in November 1989, had held that post since 1953. Luise Dornemann died on January 17, 1992.


Dornemann, Louise. German Women under Hitler Fascism: A Brief Survey of the Position of German Women up to the Present Day. London: "Allies Inside Germany"Council, 1943.

Dornemann, Luise. Alle Tage ihres Lebens: Frauengestalten aus zwei Jahrhunderten. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1988.

——. Clara Zetkin: Leben und Wirken. Berlin: 9th edition, Dietz Verlag, 1989.

——. Jenny Marx: der Lebensweg einer Sozialistin. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1980.

Herbst, Andreas, et al. So funktionierte die DDR: vol. 3: Lexikon der Funktionäre. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1994.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Dornemann, Luise (1901–1992)

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