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von Richthofen, Else (1874–?)

von Richthofen, Else (1874–?)

German intellectual and social activist, sister of Frieda Lawrence, who was the first woman appointed by the state to monitor the rights of women factory workers. Born in the French city of Metz, in Lorraine, in 1874; eldest of three daughters of Friedrich von Richthofen (a civil engineer) and Anna (Marquier) von Richthofen; sister of Frieda Lawrence (1879–1956) and Johanna "Nusch" von Richthofen ; attended boarding school in Freiburg; Heidelberg University, Ph.D., 1901; married Edgar Jaffe, in 1902 (died 1921); children: (with Edgar Jaffe) three; (with Otto Gross) one son.

The eldest and brainiest of the three von Richthofen sisters, Else was a beauty as well—tall and blonde, with elegant, fine features. She aspired early to an intellectual life, becoming a schoolteacher at 17 in order to pay for her advanced studies. As a young woman, she was a student and disciple of sociologist Max Weber and also attended lectures by sociologist Georg Simmel and economists Adolph Wagner and Gustav Schmoller in Berlin. She received her doctorate degree in economics from the University of Heidelberg in 1901, where she was one of only a handful of matriculating female students at the time. Her doctoral thesis, which examined the changes in attitude since 1869 of the authoritarian political parties in Germany toward worker-protection legislation, was suggested by Weber, and he was also instrumental in her pioneering appointment as a factory inspector. The first woman appointed to such a post, Else was mandated to monitor factory conditions and to protect the rights of women workers. As a social activist, she won the respect and admiration of the country's feminists (among them Gertrud Baümer, Helene Lange , and Alice Salomon ), and as a scholar, she was a respected member of the intellectual community.

Many of Else's feminist friends and admirers were surprised and disappointed when, in 1902, she gave up her career to marry Edgar Jaffe, a wealthy but rather dull teacher of political economy. It seemed that she did not love him, and in a letter to a woman friend she later described their relationship as "freundschuftlich," a kind of friendship. As early as 1905, Else had an affair with Freudian psychologist and free-love advocate Otto Gross, who was also involved with her sister Frieda LawrenCE at the time. Else had a son with Gross in 1907, which caused a rift between the sisters that lasted several years. In 1910, Max Weber declared his love for Else, and though it was evident that she loved him, she could not betray his wife Marianne Weber , who also exercised great influence over her life. Spurning Max, Else formed an alliance with his unmarried brother Alfred Weber (also a sociologist), with whom she traveled to Italy twice a year, assisting him in his study of culture. Despite her relationships with other men, Else remained married to Jaffe, giving birth to their third and last child in 1909.

After the deaths of Max Weber (1920) and her husband (1921), Else eventually went to live with Alfred Weber, becoming his reader, translator, and traveling companion until his death in 1958, at the age of 90. She spent the last years of her life in a Heidelberg nursing home, not wishing to become a burden to her family.

Aside from their brief estrangement around 1907, Else remained close to her sister Frieda, supporting her both emotionally and financially throughout Frieda's tumultuous relationship with D.H. Lawrence. Like all the von Richthofens, Else occasionally turns up in a Lawrence story: as Mary Lindley, for example, in "Daughters of the Vicar" ("a long slim thing with a fine profile and a proud, pure look of submission to a higher fate"), which also explores the Jaffe marriage. In "The Sisters," Lawrence examined the complex relationship between Frieda and Else.


Green, Martin. The von Richthofen Sisters: The Triumphant and the Tragic Modes of Love. NY: Basic, 1974.

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