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Military government weekly information bulletin
Number 97 (June 1947)

Hartshorne, Elsa Fay
The women and reconstruction,   pp. 5-6 PDF (1.2 MB)

Page 5

After years of suppression, German
women's groups again are meeting
together, gradually developing powers
of discussion and a sense of respon-
sibility for activities in their country.
Because the first steps of reorganiza-
tion are difficult after years of no
practice, the conference of German
women held last month at Bad Boll
was partially a success and somewhat
a disappointment.
Representatives of women's organi-
zations from all over Germany met to
acquaint each other with activities
now in progress, pool their experience
and ideas, and discuss the part that
women could and should play in the
reconstruction of Germany. Their first
objective was realized; the second
and third only to a limited degree, and
the Germans felt this more keenly
than the British and American guests
whose expectations had been set
less high.
The effort to form a German-wide
group was unsuccessful because many
delegates believed that they did not
come provided with that authority.
They felt that such a decision would
be too sudden and that such an or-
ganization should be built more slowly
on firmer foundations. It was the
general opinion that the true and very
great value of the conference lay in
the mutual acquaintance of a large
number of leading women in different
zones from different walks of life and
political viewpoints, and that the
foundations for co-operation and un-
derstanding were being laid through
this acquaintance.
The number of delegates was deli-
berately set at only 85, the capacity
of the conference buildings at Bad
Boll, so that the women could live
together in the country and continue
their discussions unhampered between
meetings. Actually interest was so
By Elsa ray Hartshorne
great that 204 delegates appeared,
some without invitations, and managed
to find places to stay in the neigh--
Delegates from all four zones ap-
peared, although those representing
the Soviet Zone were zone workers
living in Berlin. Forty-two organizati-
ons were represented, including some
of the largest of the non-partisan
women's organizations, such as the
Sueddeutsche Frauenarbeitskreis and
the Frauenverband Hesse. Represen-
tation was predominantly on the side
of church workers and professional
women, with only a scattering from
whitecollar, labor, and farm workers.
All political parties within Germany
were represented. Efforts to bring in
women from outside Germany were
The speeches, for the most part, did
not get beyond generalizations, on
which all parties agree, but a few
offered  concrete  applications,  on
which they do not agree. The ori-
ginal plan of dividing into several
discussion groups for part of the pro-
gram, as suggested by the American
guests at the planning committee
meeting, was abandoned. Discussion
as a technique leading to action has
not been fostered in Germany. Opin-
ions were expressed with freedom
and received with tolerance, but there
was very little real discussion. It
was an encouraging sign, however,
that there seemed to be a general
realization of this lack which is the
first step towards improvement.
The proportion of younger people
and the share they were given in the
conference were too small despite
much talk about the important part
they must play.
The principal speaker at the first
day's meeting on "Peace and Inter-
national Understanding" was Frau
von Zahn-Harnack, founder and presi-
dent of the "Wilmersdorfer Frauen-
bund 1945" and one of the early work-
ers for woman suffrage. Inserted into
the middle of her speech, to under-
line the absolute necessity of avoiding
any future war, was a description of
atomic energy and the atomic bomb
given by the physicist Freda Wuest-
hoff, from Lindau. The immense popu-
larity of this talk showed how thirsty
the women were for precise knowledge
about atomic energy, and their re-
actions indicated that widespread in-
formation might be the best preven-
tive of war.
In the afternoon, Katarina von Kar-
dorff of Berlin spoke. She is a for-
mer member of the Reichstag and her
husband was for many years its vice-
president. Hers was a plea for the
unification of Germany, for edonomic
recoveryan appeal to women that the
fault for the past lies with men, that
the women have let themselves be
ruled too long.
A most effective talk was delivered
by Frau Thea Baehnisch of Hanover,
the only woman president of a Re-
gierungsbezirk in Germany. A woman
of about 45, a direct, efficient, and
forceful personality, she said she had
not intended, when elected, to con-
cern herself with women's problems,
but was soon forced to do so, standing
as she did "in splendid isolation"
among the men. She had to decide
whether to execute her job as a man
(for which she had the preparation),
but chose instead to work from the
point of view of a woman and found
that her influence showed as little as
a spring in a desert. Women have
come through the war less damaged;
they are tougher, and they comprise
almost two-thirds of the votes. These
facts make the small part women now
play in public life something to be
ashamed of, she insisted. Somehow
women's interest in this work must
be captured.
Frau Baehnisch saw in non-partisan
women's organizations the solution to
this need, and said that work only
through the parties is entirely in-
sufficient. This is one opportunity to
16 JUNE 1947

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