Heymann, Lida and Anita Augspurg

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Heymann, Lida and Anita Augspurg

Two major leaders of the German women's movement, during the first 30 years of the 20th century, who combined their feminism with pacifism, insisting that the nations of Europe would be spared future wars only when women had the right to vote.

Anita Augspurg (1857–1943). Name variations: Augsburg. Pronunciation: OWGS-purk. Born Anita Johanna Theodora Sophie Augspurg on September 22, 1857, in Verden an der Aller, Germany; died on December 20, 1943, in Zurich, Switzerland; daughter of Augustine (Langenbeck) Augspurg (from a ministerial and medical family) and Wilhelm Augspurg (a lawyer); attended private schools and college work at the Universities of Berlin and Zurich; granted law degree from the University of Zurich; never married; no children; lived with Lida Heymann.

First wanted to become a teacher; studied drama at the University of Berlin and acted at theaters in Meiningen, Riga, and Altenburg, Germany (1881–85); studied jurisprudence at the University of Zurich (1893–97); edited the Journal for Female Suffrage (1907–12); opened highly successful photographic studio in Munich (1900).

Lida Heymann (1867–1943). Pronunciation: HAYman. Born Lida Gustava Heymann on March 15, 1867,in Hamburg, Germany; died on July 31, 1943, in Zurich, Switzerland; daughter of Gustav Christian Heymann (a merchant and investor) and Adele von Hennig; educated through governesses, tutors, and exclusive private schools; spent one semester at the University of Berlin and five semesters at the University of Munich; never married; no children; lived with Anita Augspurg.

Gained multimillion dollar inheritance (1896); founded a progressive kindergarten, a club for single women, and an association of women office workers, and participated in the German abolitionist movement at Munich (1896–98); met Augspurg at a women's meeting in Berlin (1896).

Augspurg and Heymann were among 13 cofounders of the German Union for Women's Suffrage (1902); they participated in the German Women's Suffrage League (1907); worked in the International Women's Suffrage Alliance (1904–09); attended a women's meeting at The Hague which established the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1915); Heymann went into hiding after being exiled from Bavaria for her criticisms of the German government and German war policy (1916); Heymann became vice president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1919); they edited the journal Woman in the State (1918–33); moved to Zurich (1933).

Selected publications:

Augspurg, Die ethische Seite der Frauenfrage (Munich: Koumhler, 1893); Heymann, Frauenstimmrecht und Völkerverständigung (Leipzig: Verlag Naturwissenschaften, 1919); Heymann, with the assistance of Augspurg, Erlebtes-Erschautes: Deutsche Frauen kampfen für Freiheit, Recht, and Frieden, 1850–1940 (edited by Margrit Twellmann, Meisenheiem am Glan: Anton Hain, 1977).

At the beginning of the 20th century, German women could not become lawyers or judges; could not vote; had their property held only in their husband's name; could attend university classes only if the professor gave special permission; and could not even serve as the head of most girls' schools in their country. The struggle to change such imbalances fell to the German women's movement, which, with its 250,000 members before 1914, was one of the largest in Europe. Two of the most prominent women in the struggle were Anita Augspurg and Lida Heymann, a personal and professional team who rejected both male domination of German society and "men's wars," insisting that women should control their own destiny.

After the Golden Age of Atlantis had sunk into the past, the dominion of Motherhood, which had prevailed up to this time, was replaced by the dominion of Fatherhood. Man elevated himself to the status of sole authority over the family and state. Woman was exploited and repressed; with her life in danger, she became his instrument and slave…. Man portrayed himself as ahero: he was courageous, strong, even loyal to others. Woman, on the other hand, he declared to be fearful, frivolous, disloyal, the weaker sex—and therefore deserving of his domination.

—Lida Heymann, in Erlebtes-Erschautes

Augspurg and Heymann arrived at their feminism in quite different ways. Augspurg, the youngest of five children, was a precocious child who, under the tutelage of an older sister, could read and write by age four. Her father was a jurist. He was interested in politics—he had been jailed for participating in the Revolutions of 1848, which swept across Europe in that year—but he did not discuss politics with his family, and especially not with women. Augspurg remembered her mother as being uneducated but intelligent.

At first, Augspurg wanted to become an artist, but a visit to a Dresden art museum (while she was visiting an older sister who was an artist in that city) convinced her otherwise. She was intrigued by the theater in Dresden, however, and returned home determined to read many dramas and novels. Thinking that she might prepare to become a teacher of physical education, she went to Berlin, where two of her music teachers introduced her to the concerts and theaters of the city. Her interest in the theater was rekindled.

After taking drama lessons in Berlin from 1881 through 1885, Augspurg acted in theaters in Meiningen (where there was a famous court theater), Riga, and at Altenburg. She financed herself with an inheritance from a grandmother. Critics remembered her voice. In a time when microphones and loudspeakers were not available, she spoke in a clear, trained voice which resonated throughout the theater.

Her theater career ended when she met Sophie Goudstikker , from a Dutch family which had moved to Germany many years before. Taking up joint residence in Munich, attracted by its artistic and bohemian reputation, they opened a photographic studio which they named "Atelier Elvira." Augspurg handled the business and technical side of the enterprise, and Goudstikker dealt with the customers. The studio was a great success, with even the royal family of Bavaria coming to their studio to be photographed.

Augspurg declared that her work in the studio was part of her own "emancipation process" in which, she said, she had cast off "the last remnants of the conventional life"—among them, the longer hair style worn by most women of the time (both she and Goudstikker wore their hair short). But she noticed that women's achievements were generally regarded as "personal"—of special significance to the woman but not to be recognized as special by society. This realization drove her to become active in the women's movement in the city. She was particularly prominent in a project to build a women's high school in a nearby city, Karlsruhe.

During Augspurg's stay in Munich, feminists were attempting to change the Civil Code of Germany, in order to give equal legal rights to women. Augspurg came to believe that the women's movement could advance only if leading women had legal expertise. In 1893, she began legal studies at Zurich, choosing a Swiss university where professors might be more amenable to women students. Within only four years, she astonished her professors when she pronounced herself ready to take her doctorate examination. Her dissertation concerned the origins of the British Parliament. She was the first German female jurist, although women were not allowed to be practicing lawyers in Germany until the 1920s.

In 1899, Augspurg became editor of a political supplement to a publication of the feminist Minna Cauer . Returning to Berlin, Augspurg established a household there with one of Germany's first female physicians, Agnes Hacker . They enjoyed appearing in public and doing things that were regarded as "unladylike": Hacker and Augspurg frequently rode on horseback in a city park. There, they sometimes met Cauer who, although she was already past her 50th birthday, delighted in riding a bicycle in the park.

In 1896, while attending a women's conference in Berlin, Augspurg met Lida Heymann. Heymann had grown to adulthood in a family of wealth, the result of a fortune her father had made importing coffee and then investing his profits. Her mother was from the old landed aristocracy of Saxony. She recalled little of her mother but "revered" her father, despite his determination to control most aspects of his children's lives. Of the nine children the marriage produced, all four boys died early, leaving five girls.

In this family of wealth and privilege, Heymann was initially educated by governesses and special tutors. At age 14, she and two sisters were sent to an exclusive private school, where Heymann, in her own words, was a "conscientious" student. They were driven to school, and servants often carried their books for them. Like many German feminists of the period, Heymann had become a bit of a religious skeptic, but when she graduated, her father acceded to her mother's wishes and had her go through religious confirmation. Following confirmation, she spent a year at a finishing school run by three Scottish women, who introduced her to the art and theater world of Dresden.

One incident in her youth left a lifelong impression on her. During family preparations for the wedding of one of her sisters, the groom-tobe noted that German laws allowed a man to discipline his wife. When Heymann said that such laws might convince women not to marry, her future brother-in-law responded with a statement that women were inferior to men. It was, Heymann wrote, the first time she had heard such assertions. The event convinced her that the main characteristic of men was arrogance.

Heymann remained in her family until age 28. She taught in a school for the poor and began a sewing school for girls. In 1896, she became financially independent when her father died and left her as an executor of his multimillion dollar estate. Although the judges and bureaucrats of Hamburg resisted the idea of a woman being executor, she won the right to control the estate when she found, in Hamburg city records, a 13th-century case in which a woman had served as an executor.

From 1896 through 1898, she founded organizations which were designed to help women become self-sufficient, sometimes using part of her personal fortune. She established a settlement in one of Hamburg's most exclusive business areas to provide cheap lunches for working women and daycare for their children. Part of the center's activities was to teach boys chores, such as darning socks. She also founded a club for single women, a society of women office workers, a progressive kindergarten, and a reform school where women and men, but particularly the former, might prepare for university studies.

Heymann was past age 35 when she began thinking of the importance of an education for herself. She chose the universities of Berlin and Munich for college study, although she had to confront one of Germany's most famous professors, the economist Lugo Brentano, for permission to audit his course. Brentano insisted that women auditors did not "know anything or understand anything." Heymann's persistent arguments, however, seemed to wear him down; she was allowed to audit the course.

Heymann gained fame, and a certain amount of notoriety, for her work to aid the abolitionist cause in Germany, a movement in which Augspurg was already involved. The abolitionists sought to end the German tradition that each municipality sponsored one or more local bordellos. In her native Hamburg, Heymann drew such attention to the issue that local authorities tried to condemn buildings, where she was scheduled to speak, as fire hazards. She responded by moving her meetings to a nearby town named Altona. Looking back on her life, she wrote that "I was 27 years old before I realized what a bordello was…. Women were mistreated, regarded as articles of commerce, exploited, and then stigmatized." Angered by attempts to silence her, she proclaimed in one of her speeches in Hamburg, "These degrading institutions, created by men, deserve only our contempt."

Their activities in the abolitionist cause brought Heymann and Augspurg together. At their first meeting, Augspurg was impressed with Heymann, who was not only ten years younger but who also wore short-cropped hair and dressed in newer "reform" clothing instead of the uncomfortable, heavily corseted styles worn by many women of the time. The two women had much in common. Avid bicyclists, they also opposed vivisection and shared an interest in vegetarianism. While she was a student at Munich, Heymann often spent time at Augspurg's nearby summer residence. They delighted in shocking their fellow citizens with behavior that was considered unconventional for women. Living what one writer has called a "sporty and extravagant lifestyle," they bicycled together, rode on horseback, and drove Heymann's car on journeys throughout Germany without a male escort or "protector."

Yet their colleagues in the feminist movement noticed that their personalities were quite different. Augspurg struck many of her co-workers as having a legalistic mind, and some of them worried that she allowed herself to be too influenced by the outspoken Heymann. But Augspurg was widely admired for her theatrical background, which made her an effective speaker and gave her an understanding of how to stage manage feminist meetings in order to gain maximum attention in the press. Her easy-going manner made her especially effective in dealing with male politicians. Heymann was more confrontational and was sometimes regarded, even by colleagues, as impulsive and contentious. But her courage was never questioned, and a contemporary praised her for "untiring tenaciousness and brave integrity" against strong male opposition in Germany.

What united these two women was a belief that men had proved themselves unqualified to lead European society. They drew this lesson not only from the abolitionist struggle but also from the fact that when German war veterans returned home after World War I, very few expressed regret for the killing they had done. Heymann wrote in her memoirs that "in the most important area of life, the personal life, there is a huge abyss between women and men, and it is unlikely to be bridged." Apparently, she was not joking when she said that if she hit an object when driving her car, she hoped it was a man and not a dog.

When Augspurg and Heymann decided to share a common household, they settled on larger and larger farms, the most famous of which was located in upper Bavaria. The farm reflected their sometimes mischievous humor; in addition to raising a large number of pigs—which popular opinion thought to be too dirty and disgusting a job for women—they cared for two donkeys which they named Tristan and Isolde (after two characters in a Wagnerian opera), cows, fruit trees, and a number of dogs. Their success in running their farming estates brought them a steady stream of male suitors. It also caused them continual amusement that men were attracted to women who excelled at (and made money at) "men's work."

In the major national women's organization in Germany, the Federation of German Women's Associations, Augspurg and Heymann belonged to the so-called "radical wing," in contrast to the more conservative leaders such as Helene Lange . What distinguished them from many German feminists was their optimism that women's political and organizing abilities would overcome obstacles. Active in founding suffrage organizations, they also served as officers in women's organizations and as editors of feminist journals. In 1899, Heymann joined the feminist Anna Pappritz in founding the International Abolitionist Federation. Heymann and Augspurg were among the 13 co-founders of the German Union for Women's Suffrage in 1902, with Augspurg saying that its aim was to gain the right to vote for all women. In 1913, both women joined the more aggressive German Women's Suffrage League. Augspurg served as vice president of the League, while Heymann served as vice president of the Union of Progressive Women's Clubs. During the years leading up to World War I, Augspurg was the editor of the Journal for Parliamentary Affairs and Laws and the Journal for Female Suffrage.

Although their ideas placed them on the political Left in Germany, both women were suspicious of the most leftward party, the Marxist Social Democratic Party (SPD). They believed that although the party argued for gender equality, in practice it was dominated by men who favored equality only in some distant future, when a Marxist revolution would supposedly occur. In 1907, they made their point: when the SPD refused to join in their efforts to organize a drive pressing for the right to vote for German women, they embarrassed party leaders when they mobilized the wives of many SPD officials to speak out.

Among the many political parties in Germany, they tended to support, instead, the various liberal parties, the remnants of the old German Progressive Party. This was particularly true of Augspurg, who thought that the goal of feminism was individual freedom and believed the liberals were most likely to achieve it. The liberal individualism of both women led them to oppose even special laws protecting factory workers. Only during World War I did they change their political allegiance, switching to a splinter group which had seceded from the SPD, the Independent Socialists. Unlike SPD leaders, the Independent Socialists had opposed German participation in World War I and had refused to vote a war budget for the army.

World War I split German feminism. Heymann regarded the war as a "men's war between men's states," while Augspurg said the war was a threat "to our culture and existence." But other leaders in the German women's movement, such as Gertrud Bäumer , disagreed. Bäumer argued that patriotic support for the war effort would bring greater public acceptance of the women's movement when the war was over. Heymann even clashed with Cauer, who believed it was naive to denounce the war. The membership of women's organizations dwindled during the war, possibly because support of the war was seen as a patriotic duty. Heymann said that some suffrage organizations were able to retain only about 10% of their members, and that many of these members stayed only because the organizations were engaged in social welfare work.

In 1915, during the early stages of World War I, they participated in a women's peace congress at The Hague in the Netherlands. The main achievement of the congress was the creation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Speaking to the congress, Heymann said the League was an important step toward correcting mistakes made by male-controlled governments. "A German woman," she said, "holds out her hand to a French woman, and speaks for the whole German delegation with the hope that we women can build a bridge from Germany to France and from France to Germany, and that in the future we may be able to make good the wrongdoing of men." But later journeys by League members to meet with the heads of major European governments proved fruitless. Not only did the women meet a frosty reception, but governments took steps to make future travel by the women much more difficult. In 1916, the wartime military dictatorship of Germany banned Heymann from public speaking. She went into hiding rather than obey an order for exile from Bavaria.

At war's end, the League met again, and Heymann was named vice president. Referring to the courage which many European feminists had shown in speaking up to their governments during the war, she now added:

New times call for new actions, and new conditions, new tasks, and perhaps even new principles…. We must be prepared. We can triumph if we stand together with the same courage, with the same self-respect and faith in what women have to give to the world, as did the women of 1914.

In the post-World-War-I years, they lived largely off what remained of Heymann's wealth. During the war, many Germans had purchased government bonds which were not honored by the new Weimar government of Germany when the war was over. Heymann had kept her foreign bonds, despite criticism that it was unpatriotic to do so. These bonds financed Heymann's and Augspurg's activities in Germany during the 1920s. Heymann ran unsuccessfully for the National Assembly (the new, democratically elected German legislature) in 1919 as an Independent Social Democrat. Throughout the 1920s, they edited the journal Woman in the State (Die Frau im Staat).

In January of 1933, Augspurg and Heymann were vacationing in North Africa and Spain when news arrived that Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor of Germany. They refused to return to Germany, eventually settling in Zurich. Since their property in Germany had been confiscated by the Nazis, they lived off what money they had on them, plus financial help from friends.

The years in Zurich were difficult for them, as they followed the news of what was happening in Germany. While insisting that it accepted equality of the sexes, the new Nazi government of Germany favored traditional roles for women, as wives and mothers. Leading Nazis insisted that women who participated in politics would become too "aggressive." By the time Augspurg and Heymann died—both in the year 1943—Nazism seemed to be triumphing throughout Europe. France had been conquered; British troops had been driven back to their own island; and Nazi armies had occupied parts of Europe's largest country, the Soviet Union.

As they watched disasters accumulate in Europe, both women kept a certain optimism. Insisting that the major task after the war would be to build a "united Europe and a united World," Heymann added that the slogan of postwar Europe should become "Nothing is impossible." In 1946, after the war was ended and Hitler was defeated and dead, a street in her native Hamburg was named after Lida Heymann. It was the same city where she had fought so bitterly in the abolitionist cause half a century before. She would probably have considered it strong evidence that "Nothing is impossible."


Evans, Richard J. Comrades and Sisters: Feminism, Socialism, and Pacifism in Europe, 1870–1945. Sussex: Wheatsheaf Books, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

——. The Feminist Movement in Germany, 1894–1933. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1976.

Gerhard, Ute. Unerhört: Die Geschichte der deutschen Frauenbewegung. Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1990.

Greven Aschoff, Barbara. Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland, 1894–1933. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1981.

Hackett, Amy K. "The Politics of Feminism in Wilhelmine Germany, 1894–1933." Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1977.

Heymann, Lida, and Anita Augspurg. Erlebtes-Erschautes: Deutsche Frauen kampfen für Freiheit, Recht, and Frieden, 1850–1940. Edited by Margrit Twellmann. Meisenheiem am Glan: Anton Hain, 1977.

suggested reading:

Bussey, Gertrude, and Margaret Tims. Pioneers for Peace: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915–1965. London: WILPF British Section, 1980.

Evans, Richard J. The Feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840–1920. London: Croom Helm, 1977.

Frevert, Ute. Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation. Translated by Stuart McKinnon-Evans, with Terry Bond and Barbara Norden. Hamburg: Berg, 1989.

Slaughter, Jane S., and Robert Kern. European Women on the Left: Socialism, Feminism, and the Problems Faced by Political Women, 1880 to the Present. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.


The property and papers of both Anita Augspurg and Lida Heymann were confiscated and destroyed by the Nazi government of Germany.

Niles Holt , Professor of History, Illinois State University, Normal-Bloomington, Illinois

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