Lange, Helene (1848–1930)

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Lange, Helene (1848–1930)

Intellectual leader of the League of German Women's Associations for the first 30 years of the 20th century who is still celebrated in Germany for her work in establishing schools for women. Born on April 9, 1848, in Oldenburg, Germany; died in Berlin on May 23, 1930; daughter of Carl Theodor Lange (a merchant) and Sophia Elisabeth (Niemeyer) Lange; attended the Women's High School of Oldenburg and began private instruction for the teacher's examination, 1872; lived with Gertrud Bäumer; never married; no children.

Employed in a pastor's house in southern Germany (1864); accepted position in a secondary school in Berlin (1876); was a signatory to the "Yellow Brochure" asking the Prussian government to establish schools to help prepare women for high school and university study (1887); was co-founder and first president of the German General Teachers' organization (1889); began a "practical" curriculum of study for women (1889); transformed the "practical" curriculum into a high school curriculum (1893); founded Die Frau (1893); was a co-founder of the League of German Women's Associations (1894); became president of the League (1901); engineered election of Gertrud Bäumer to presidency of the League (1910); served in the upper house of the Hamburg legislature (1919–20); awarded a medal by Prussian government for patriotic service to the state (1928).

Major works:

(editor with Bäumer and others) Handbuch der Frauenbewegung (5 vols., Berlin: Moeser, 1901); Die Frauenbewegung in ihren modernen Problemen (Leipzig: Quelle and Meyer, 1908); Lebenserinnerungen (Berlin: Herbig, 1928).

Born in 1848 into a family which was conservative and evangelical in many ways, Helene Lange recalled that, paradoxically, her childhood bedroom was decorated with pictures of 19th-century liberal heroes, including the Italian nationalist Guiseppe Garibaldi. Her mother died when she was seven years old, leaving Lange to be raised with two brothers. When she became an employee at age 16 in the house of a Protestant minister in southern Germany, and when she worked as an au pair in Alsace during the following year, she was startled to discover that her word, as a woman, was taken less seriously than the word of any man.

Lange chose to enter the only professional career open to German women at the time, teaching. She started her own intensive study of philosophy, literature, history, religious history and ancient language. In 1872, she began taking private instruction to prepare for the teacher's examination, and in 1876 she accepted her first teaching job, at a private woman's secondary school in Berlin. There, she became prominent in the "conservative" wing of the Berlin feminist movement, in contrast to "radicals" such as Helene Stoecker , Anita Augspurg , and Lida Heymann .

Lange believed that each sex had its special "claim on culture" and that motherhood was the special claim of women. She argued that marriage, as the "victory of women over the polygamous instinct of men," was an unquestionable good. The wife was not only the center of the family's education but was also a coworker with her husband, filling the "occupation" of motherhood. But Lange added that marriage was also the source of much suffering and pain. While being given the responsibility for keeping up the home, the wife had no claim on the family finances.

I have the feeling that the education of women will not be really improved through a system controlled by men.

—Helene Lange

The solution, she wrote, was education. To Lange, "education is everything." For women, education was "self-emancipation and self-realization," opening doors to occupations in which few women were represented. When Lange joined and was elected president of the German General Teachers' organization in 1889—a position she would hold for more than 30 years—she began a course which would make her the major crusader for women's educational reforms in Germany. "I do not see how the time can become more favorable for women by patient waiting and ominous silence," she wrote. Central to all of her speeches and writing was the belief that in order to maximize the potential of women, "the education and refinement of women should be placed in the hands of women."

Lange argued that an entirely new system of schools, separate from education for men, should be created to prepare women for occupations and for university study, as they wished. Arguing that German girls were "raised mostly to be much too dependent on others," in 1889 she created a "practical" curriculum designed to prepare women for the business world. In 1893, she transformed her "practical curriculum" into a curriculum for a women's high school, including Latin, mathematics, the sciences, and basic economics.

Lange became a leader in efforts to create women's high schools throughout Germany. In 1887, she was part of the "Yellow Brochure" petition to the Prussian Government, asking for the establishment of schools to prepare women for high school and university study. Her work quickened after 1908, when the Prussian government decided to support efforts to increase the number of schools for women. Among the products of her efforts were a new women's high school in Hamburg, founded in 1910 but later renamed the Helene Lange High School, and two institutions she founded in 1917 in Hamburg, the Social Women's School and the Social Pedagogical Institute.

Helping German women enter universities was a more difficult problem. At the turn of the century, women could attend, but not graduate from, German universities; individual states in Germany paid their tuition to universities out of the country, such as Switzerland. Lange noted that "women could take classes in universities, but they are excluded on principle from passing the examination for graduating; not even a private examination is allowed them." This situation elicited from Lange the bitter observation that "Germany is the only and the last great nation of culture which leaves its women under the oppression of medieval fetters … keeping doors closed to them at the institutions of higher learning." "This murder of the mind," she added, "is committed daily in our country."

Declaring that "the time of the covert war of German men against women is over," Lange called for the "intellectual emancipation" of women. "Those who intellectually hunger should be offered the best food in Germany," she said of the university problem. Her work was a factor in the broadening of opportunities for women in German universities. In 1876, there were only about 100 women students in German universities; by 1913, the figure had reached 36,000.

Asked about the effect these changes would have on German men, Lange replied that "capable men need fear nothing." "As in the past," she predicted, "the majority of women will live their lives for their families." While unmarried women would select the same occupations that "they now select," a larger number of married women "will pursue their studies than is now the custom, perhaps even entering the professions," she predicted. She appealed to German men's sense of fairness, noting that "when men compete among themselves or with each other, only one thing is taken into consideration—the position is given to him who is most competent. Why is this not extended to both sexes?"

In 1893, Lange founded Die Frau, the major journal of the bourgeois (non-Marxist) women's movement. Never married, Lange called the teachers' organization which she headed her "dearest child" but described Die Frau as her "first love." Lange was also a cofounder of the League of German Women's Associations in 1894. In 1901, she became president of the League and would be its intellectual leader for some 30 years. In 1910, she engineered the election to that position of Gertrud Bäumer , whom she had met in 1897 and who became her lifelong companion. (Bäumer would be the editor of Die Frau from 1921 to 1944.)

Within the League, Lange clashed with the "radicals" of the organization such as Stoecker, who wanted to give women the same sexual freedom accorded to men, and Augspurg and Heymann, who combined feminism and pacifism. Lange and Bäumer believed that German women had to "prove themselves fit" for leadership and trust in Germany. She said that the women's movement should stress "fundamentals" rather than "agitation," adding that the work of women in schools, the universities, and "the various occupational groups" should be directed toward showing that "women can do it."

Lange never belonged to a right-to-vote or suffrage society; she regarded voting not as an end in itself but as a means to the end of protecting women's interests. She feared that suffragists or "radical" efforts would provoke a backlash which would eradicate the progress German women had made. "The women's movement," she lectured her audiences, "must be politically neutral. Organizations which commit themselves to our work must content themselves with advancing causes and dare not make themselves political, or they will not be able to represent all streams of the women's movement."

When Minna Cauer attempted to have the League declare itself in favor of women's suffrage, Lange—while admitting that "a quarrel within our group is particularly unpleasant"—ruled Cauer out of order. She also opposed the abolitionist movement—the campaign of women's groups to end the tradition that each major German city contained a municipally sponsored bordello. Still, when a ban forbidding German women to join political associations was lifted in 1908, in 1909 Lange joined the Progressive Association, a liberal group based on the ideas of Friedrich Naumann, a political writer who was instrumental in the rightward shift of German liberalism in the years leading up to World War I.

Lange regarded World War I as a perfect opportunity to show that women would devote a year of service to Germany, matching men's military service through women's work on the home front. During the war, she led the women's movement into the National Service campaign, cooperating with the Red Cross, religious associations, and other organizations in enrolling women in factory jobs and other war-related occupations. At the end of the war, she served from March of 1919 to September of 1920 in the upper house of

the Hamburg legislature where, by virtue of her age, she was president of the body. She resigned from her legislative post when she and Bäumer moved their residence back to Berlin.

Honors began to flow to her in post-World-War-I Germany. Her 70th and 80th birthdays, in 1918 and 1928, were marked by special celebrations at some of the women's schools she had worked to found. She was made an honorary citizen of her native city of Oldenburg. In 1923, she received an honorary doctorate in law and economics from the University of Tübingen. The Prussian government recognized her as a patriotic German in 1928, when it awarded her a medal inscribed with the words "for service to the state."

Helene Lange died in 1930, three years before the Nazi accession to power in her country. She thus escaped the fate of her companion Bäumer, who was regarded by American and British troops, occupying her part of Germany after World War II, as a possible Nazi sympathizer. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, at a time when Bäumer was forbidden to publish by the military occupation, Lange was eulogized by German political leaders and, in ceremonies held at many of the schools she had helped to found, was lauded as Germany's premier school reformer of the 20th century.


Baumer, Gertrude. Studien über Frauen. 3 vols. Berlin: Herbig, 1924.

Frandsen, Dorothea. Helene Lange. Stuttgart: Herderbucherei, 1980.

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

Schultz, Hans Jürgen. Frauen: Porträts aus zwei Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart and Berlin: Kreuz, 1981.

suggested reading:

Evans, Richard J. The Feminist Movement in Germany 1894–1933. London and Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications, 1976.

Lange, Helene. Higher Education of Women in Europe. Translated by L.R. Klemm. NY: Appleton, 1901.


Correspondence, notebooks, diary, and other materials are contained in the Helene Lange Archiv, Berlin, Germany.

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

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Lange, Helene (1848–1930)

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