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Information bulletin
No. 135 (May 1948)

Zahn-Harnack, Agnes von
German women's organizations,   pp. 3-5 PDF (1.7 MB)

Page 3

THIS ARTICLE could begin with
the year 1893, when the initiative
for uniting the German women's
organizations into one body came
from the United States (the unifica-
tion movement began after the German
delegation returned from the Inter-
national Council of Women, which was
held in Chicago); or it could start
from 1945, when the German women
had to make a new beginning and
rebuild what the Hitler regime had
destroyed. But 1893 is too long ago,
and 1945 is too near. It will be better
to go back to the end of the first
world war, to 1918. Germany then
was covered with a fine network of
active women's clubs-from East
Prussia to the last small town on the
Swiss frontier, from the Rhine to
Posen and Breslau.
The majority of these organizations
had united to form the Council of
German Women (Bund Deutscher
Frauenvereine). This council consisted
of about 800,000 members from all pro-
fessions, all walks of life, and all
Political parties: housewives as well
as women doctors, business women,
artisans and artists.
Besides the Council of Women,
there were women trade unions which
were very active in feminist problems,
and two big welfare organizations of
Protestant  and  Roman   Catholic
women, respectively. All of these
women had done social and welfare
work  together  during  the  first
world war.
T HE INFLUENCE of women had
1grown immensely in Germany,
but they still lacked the right to vote.
The suffrage movement had never
been very strong here. The Council of
Women held regular big congresses
that were in themselves a sort of
women's parliament. Here laws were
proposed, worked out, and discussed;
new social methods were propagated,
and drives were started to interest
women in public affairs. But the effect
of this work was limited.
Then, in 1918, the right to vote was
given to German women, and in Jan-
uary, 1919, they voted for the first
time in German history in the election
for the Weimar National Assembly.
Women grasped their new potentiality
with enthusiasm; more women than
men voted. Young women especially
were fired with their new respon-
sibility, and proved more keen to cast
their votes than men of the same age.
The Weimar National Assembly,
after that election, included about
10 percent of women delegates. In the
following years the percentage de-
creased slowly. But, though few in
number, the women in Parliament
were very successful.
The years 1920 to 1928 brought a
rich harvest of laws, called Women's
Laws because they had been prepared
by women or in close cooperation
with women legislative leaders, and
because they fulfilled special wishes
and ideals of women.
The Youth Welfare Law, in its time
the most progressive law of its kind
in all Europe, and in fact a children's
Magna Charta, was passed in 1922.
At about the same time, a law was
passed which modified existing laws
on the religious education of children,
and gave the mother the same right
in making a decision on the matter
as the father had.
A law was also passed permitting
women to enter all branches of the
legal profession, prompting the Min-
ister of Justice to express the hope
that 'the law of men would now be-
come a law of humanity."
A law providing protection for
home workers was passed a year
later, and it was called Lex Behm in
honor of the member of Parliament,
Margarete Behm, who had fought for
this legislation for many years.
A most important law dealing with
juvenile courts was also established.
In 1927 a law was passed designed
to aid in the battle against venereal
diseases. Dr. Marie Elisabeth Lueders,
now an officer in the Frauenbund, had
Voluntary women's organizations, which were abolished during the Nazi
regime, are making a postwar comeback in the occupied territory of
Germany. Dozens of these clubs have been formed since 1945.
In the following article, Dr. Agnes von Zahn-Harnack traces the history
ot German women's organizations from 1918, when women won the right
In Germany to vote, until 1933 when Nazi pressure forced the groups to
disband. She then tells how women's clubs have been revived In Berlin
since the end of World War I.
Dr. von Zahn-Harnack Is the president of the Berliner Frauenbund, 1947.
She Is the author of the 'History of the Feminist Movement In Germany,"
and of a biography of her father, Adolf von Harnack, after whom Harnack
House in Berlin is named.
Harnack House was presented to von Harnack as a gift by the Kaiser
Wilhelm Institute for the Advancement of Science, to be used as a guest
house for scientists and research workers from other countries.
By Dr. Agnes von Zahn-Harnack
President, Berliner Frauenbund, 1947
MAY 18, 1948

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