Dransfeld, Hedwig (1871–1925)

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Dransfeld, Hedwig (1871–1925)

German social and political leader who founded the German Roman Catholic women's movement. Born in Hacheney bei Dortmund, February 24, 1871; died in Werl, Westphalia, on March 13, 1925; daughter of Clemens and Elise (Fleischhauer) Dransfeld; never married; no children.

Hedwig Dransfeld's parents died when she was a child, and she spent most of her youth in an orphanage. Hedwig was an excellent student, enabling her enrollment in a teachers' training academy in Paderborn in 1887. Despite her precarious health, which eventually resulted in the amputation of her left arm in 1898 due to the ravages of tuberculosis of the bone, she was a well-read and ambitious young woman, teaching for a number of years at Paderborn's Ursuline Academy in Werl, Westphalia. Her ultimate goal was to be a poet, and starting in 1893 Dransfeld published the first of several volumes of verse. Her poetry was sensitive to human feelings and aspirations, and also indicated her awareness of the social issues of the day including poverty and the alienation of many men and women from traditional Christian ideals.

Having become well known in German Catholic literary and social reform circles, Dransfeld was chosen in 1905 to become editor of the journal Die christliche Frau. Her editorial skills raised the prestige of this journal to new heights and Hedwig Dransfeld, who was an excellent public speaker, now became well known in all strata of German Catholic public life. Emphasizing the unity of faith and social action, she continued the progressive traditions that had distinguished German Catholicism since the 1860s. By 1912, when she became chair of the Katholischer Deutscher Frauenbund (German Catholic Women's League; KDF), Dransfeld had become the unchallenged leader of German Catholic women. Though the KDF had been founded in 1904, the organization did not begin to benefit from strong guidance until Dransfeld became its leader.

Despite her recurring health problems that began in the summer of 1914, Hedwig Dransfeld proved to be a forceful leader during the difficult years of war, defeat and reconstruction. Emphasizing the traditional female roles of wife and mother, the KDF never addressed itself specifically to women's issues and until the collapse of the German Reich in 1918 took a markedly apolitical if essentially conservative stance on public issues. Paradoxically, its earlier "neutral" position on the issue enabled the KDF to accept without internal schisms the granting of female suffrage in the closing weeks of 1918. In January 1919, Dransfeld was among the first group of German women to be elected to the Weimar National Assembly. Elected to the Reichstag in 1920 as a candidate of the Catholic Center Party, she and four other members of the KDF represented that party and its allied party, the Bavarian People's Party, in the national Parliament. Here she quickly earned a reputation as one of the most eloquent orators in that political, often turbulent, body.

Highly regarded as an expert on cultural and educational issues, Dransfeld's books, articles, and Reichstag addresses were regarded as the authoritative voice of Germany's Catholic community. Her great prestige as a pioneer of the Catholic women's movement as well as her considerable diplomatic skills enabled her to serve as a conciliator between different factions within the Center Party. Despite the precarious state of her health, Dransfeld was active to the end of her life as an advocate for women's rights within a conservative social framework. After resigning in 1924 as head of the KDF because of rapidly failing health, she died on March 13, 1925, in Werl, Westphalia. At the time of her death, national membership in the KDF had reached a total of about 250,000; lacking Dransfeld's strong leadership, by 1928 it had declined to 198,000. The KDF would be outlawed in Nazi Germany. In November 1988, Dransfeld was honored on a postage stamp of the German Federal Republic's definitive series of famous women in the history of Germany.


"Hedwig Dransfeld zum Gedächtnis," special issue of Die christliche Frau, 1927.

Usborne, Cornelie. The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women's Reproductive Rights and Duties. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia