Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/January 1900/Woman's Struggle for Liberty in Germany

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IT is during the latter part of the present century that a general movement has arisen to give women their rights in business life and in political and social affairs. It is the intention of this article to treat of this movement, especially in its relation to education, in Germany, where, of all civilized lands, it has had apparently the smallest results. Progress in the direction indicated has been, however, far greater than appears on the surface, and the movement is slowly taking shape in a form that will gain official recognition and support, and the way is being prepared for scholarly attainments among the women of Germany, superior, possibly, to those of the women of other nations.

There is, moreover, an ideal side to this movement in Germany not altogether found in other lands. The motive for advanced study is more largely joy in the study itself, and desire to supply the spiritual needs of an idle life. In order to understand this ideal tendency it is necessary to cast a glance backward over nearly three hundred years.

Let us begin with the contest which was waged so successfully for the development and protection of the German language, first against the Latin and later against the French. In this struggle women took a prominent part, especially through membership in the society called the "Order of the Palms," which, before the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, united the strongest spirits of Germany for this purpose. The first woman to join this society was Sophie Elizabeth, Princess of Mecklenburg, married in 1636 to the Herzog of Braunschweig. She was followed by many others, both of the nobility and the common people, and was named by virtue of this leadership "The Deliverer."

In the eighteenth century we have the founder of the German theater, Caroline Neuber. In the artistic sense she was the first director of the German stage, the first to turn the attention of the greatest actors of her day to the ideal side of dramatic presentation. Early in the eighteenth century women began to take up university studies. A certain Frau von Zingler received a prize from the University of Wittenberg for literary work, and the wife of Professor Gottscheds entered upon a contest for a prize in poetry with her husband.

We find some old verses published in Leipsic, in a book of students' songs, in 1736, recognizing the fact that women attended lectures in the university there, although the reference is rather sarcastic, speaking of "beauty coming to listen in the halls of learning."

In 1754 the first woman received her degree of Doctor of Medicine in Halle—Dorothea Christine Erxleben, née Leborin, a daughter of a physician, who attained to this result only after many years of painstaking effort. With her father's help she studied the classics and medicine, and gradually, in spite of the objections of his brother physicians, began to practice as a doctor under her father's protection. She is said to have cured her patients cito tuto, jucunde, and in 1742 she published a book on the right of women to study, the title of which, according to the custom of the day, included the full table of contents. This book passed through two editions, and enabled her to gain the attention of Frederick II, who was persuaded to order the University of Halle to grant her the privilege of taking her examination there. The day arrived, and the hall was crowded for the occasion; the candidate passed the ordeal in a brilliant manner, and took the oath for the doctor's degree amid a storm of applause from the listeners present.

In the present century the germ of the movement for educational rights for women came into consciousness in Germany in the stormy year 1848, and first found expression and life through the work of two women—Louise Otto Peters and Auguste Schmidt.

The former founded the Universal Association for Women in Germany, and through this society both these women worked for thirty years and did much toward preparing the way for the broader efforts of the present time.

It is a fact granted by all the educational world that scholarship attains a depth and thoroughness in Germany not found in other lands, and this very perfection has been in part the cause of the backwardness of the educational movement among the women, for a high degree of scholarship has often been acquired by the men at the expense of the devoted service of the women connected with them. Yet when the women of Germany demand their educational rights it will be to share also in the rich intellectual inheritance of their land.

The majority of the men thus far regard the movement with distrust and suspicion, but are powerless to crush it out. An amusing instance occurred last year in the family of an official in one of the large university towns. He was a conservative man who had his immediate family in a proper state of subjection, but his mother-in-law, alas! he could not control, and to his dismay she enrolled herself at the university as a Hospitant, and, in spite of the protestations of her son-in-law, she was a regular attendant upon the courses of lectures that she had elected.

The regular schools for girls in Germany, above the common schools attended by girls and boys together, are of two grades—the middle schools and the high schools. The avowed object of these schools is to fit girls for society and for the position of housewife, as Herr Dr. Bosse, the Minister of Public Instruction for the German Empire, states in his report on the condition of girls' schools in Germany, and as he publicly declared before the German Parliament in the discussion regarding the establishment of a girls' gymnasium in Breslau, referred to later on in this paper.

The girls' schools established by the Government provide well for the study of the modern languages, and it is the exception to find women in the upper classes who do not speak French and English. Literature, religion, gymnastics, and needlework are also well taught. The course of study in the high school includes a little mathematics, offered under the name of reckoning, and sufficient to enable a woman to keep the accounts of a household, and also a little science of the kind that can be learned without a knowledge of mathematics. Let me quote a paragraph from the report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the year 1898 in regard to the aim of the mathematical course in the girls' high schools: "Accuracy in reckoning with numbers and the ability to use numbers in the common relations of life, especially in housekeeping. Great weight is laid upon quick mental computations, but in all grades the choice of problems should be such as especially apply to the keeping of a house." This is the opportunity which is offered to girls by the Government in the department of mathematics! In addition to the two grades of schools mentioned there are seminaries in many of the large cities for the purpose of educating women teachers. The instructors in these seminaries are well prepared for their positions, are mostly men, and the instruction given is very superior to that given in the girls' high schools. Latin and Greek are, however, not studied in these seminaries, and mathematics and science are expurgated, we might say, of points that might prove difficult for the feminine intellect.

The ability to learn Latin and Greek seems in the German mind to especially mark the dividing line between the masculine and feminine brain. The writer was at one time studying a subject in Greek philosophy, in the City Library of Munich, requiring the use of a number of Greek and Latin books, and it was amusing to notice the astonishment of the men present that a woman should know the classic languages!

The women who hold certificates from the seminaries are allowed, according to a new law passed in 1894, to continue their studies and to take the higher teachers' examinations. This is considered a great step in advance, for a woman who has successfully passed this latter examination can hold any position in the girls' schools, and can even be director of such a school.

That German women have long been discontented with the education provided for them by the Government is proved by the fact that the number of higher institutions offering private opportunities to girls is constantly increasing. As far back as 1868 the Victoria Lyceum was founded by a Scotch woman—Miss Georgina Archer—at her own expense and on her own responsibility, and this institution was well sustained from the beginning. It is now under the patronage of the Empress Frederick, and offers courses to women that run parallel to a certain extent with those given on the same subjects in the university. Professors from the university lecture in the Victoria Lyceum, but a young woman who had listened to the same professor in both places informed me that he (perhaps unconsciously) simplified his lectures very much for the Victoria Lyceum. Fraulein Anna von Cotta is the director of the institution. Among the women who teach there we note the name of the well-known Fraulein Lange, who lectures on psychology and German literature.

There are several girls' gymnasia in Germany which testify to the demand for higher education. These institutions are all but one private, and three of them—one in Leipsic, one in Berlin, and a third, opened in October, 1898, in Königsberg—are called "gymnasial courses," and are for girls who have finished the girls' high school, and who must pass entrance examinations in order to be received into them.

There has been for some time a girls' gymnasium which corresponds exactly to those for boys in Carlsruhe, under the auspices of the "Society for Reform in the Education of Women," which receives girls of twelve who must have finished the six lower classes of a girls' school. This society, to which the girls of Germany owe much, is planning to open another gymnasium in Hannover, to which girls will be received from the junior class of the girls' high school; the course of study will occupy five years, and will fit girls for the same official examinations as the boys' gymnasia. The language courses in the highest class will be elective, providing either for Greek or the modern languages, but Latin is obligatory in all the classes. The girls from all these gymnasia are debarred from taking any of the official examinations for which their studies have prepared them.

The next step in the matter of gymnasial education for girls was what might have been expected. The people of the wide-awake city of Breslau voted, by an overwhelming majority, to establish a girls' gymnasium under the same laws and furnishing the same advantages as the boys' gymnasia. The completed plan was sent to the Minister of Public Instruction in Berlin in January, 1898, for approval, with the intention of opening the gymnasium at Easter, for which twenty-six girls were already enrolled. Herr Dr. Bosse, however, foreseeing the results such an undertaking would involve, consulted the other departments of the ministry, and two months later a decided refusal came like a thunderbolt upon the people of Breslau. On the 30th of April, 1898, Herr Dr. Bosse was called to account in the Reichstag for his action in the matter, which he justified on the ground that Government approval of girls' gymnasia would mean the acceptance of the diploma for matriculation in the universities and the opening to women of all Government professional examinations, and that to have granted it would have been to take a step in the direction of the modern movement for women which could never have been recalled, and would open the lecture rooms of Germany in general to women. He contended, further, that the founding of official gymnasia for girls would delegate the existing girls' high school to a secondary place, an institution which had been planned thoughtfully by the Government for the purpose of educating women in the best manner, not to become rivals of men, but help-meets and able housekeepers.

The demand of the people of Breslau, Dr. Bosse said, was an unnatural one, and his refusal was founded on the fear that such a movement would increase and threaten the social foundations of all Germany, as the idea that women can compete with men in all careers is a false one.

The petition of the magistrate of Breslau was supported in the discussion by some of the national-liberal, free-conservative, and Polish representatives. These took the broad ground that girls have a right to equal education with boys, and that the educational institutions of Germany which have so long stood at the head of those of the world should not, in the matter of education of women, leave the question to be decided according to the whims of private individuals.

Some of the arguments of those who spoke in favor of the enterprise were amusing. One said that the girls of Germany would be grateful if the Minister of Public Instruction would furnish them with husbands, but, as there were not enough to go around, the others should have some career provided for them. Another, that about forty per cent of the girls of the higher classes no longer marry, and they should not be allowed to suffer the consequences of the fact that young men of the present day do not care to marry, but they have a right that the way be shown them to such careers as are suited to their feminine nature.

An objector said that he could not understand how any man of pedagogical culture could approve of a girls' gymnasium, for it is evident that any such progress for women as that would imply must be at the expense of the men, who would gain less on account of the increased number of candidates for work of all kinds and would more seldom be able to offer the best of all existences to a woman—that of wifehood. The city of Breslau was obliged, therefore, to give up the undertaking for the present, but the agitation of the question has probably prepared the way for more extended plans in the future in the same direction in Prussia.

A similar undertaking in Carlsruhe, in Baden, has met with better success, and resulted in the opening of the first official gymnasium for girls in Germany, in September, 1898. This gymnasium was planned about the same time as that of Breslau, and as the permission of the Minister of Public Instruction in Baden was obtained without difficulty, the institution came into existence according to the will of the people of Carlsruhe. Seventy-nine of the members of the Bürgerauschuss voted in favor of the undertaking in the meeting in which the final action was taken early in the summer of 1898. The Christian-conservative party only decidedly opposed it. The leader of this party was very much excited over the matter, and called out, when the action was taken, "I ask you, gentlemen, on your honor, if any of you would marry a girl from a gymnasium?"

The opening of the Government gymnasium will remove the necessity for continuing the private one in Carlsruhe, under the society in charge of it, and leave that society free to direct its efforts elsewhere.

There had already been several references to the general subject of the education of women in the Reichstag before the question of the gymnasium in Breslau came up. In January, 1898, Prince Carolath spoke in favor of founding several girls' gymnasia, and admitting women legally to the universities and to pedagogical and to medical state professional examinations, remarking that in all other civilized lands the universities are more open to women than in Germany.

Coming now to the present attitude of the universities to the higher education of women, we find that a great change has taken place during the last few years. While it is still the fact that no German woman can matriculate in any university in Germany, yet the problem of the stand which the universities should take is working out its own solution in the right direction.

The University of Berlin, the largest and in many respects the leading one, has made progress in the matter, although women still work there under great limitations. The cause was injured at the outset in Berlin by the fact that women, often foreigners, who had not the required preparation, rushed into lecture rooms which were open to them from motives of curiosity. This caused such strong feeling among the professors that in one instance a professor, on entering his classroom, saw a lady sitting in the rear, walked up to her, offered her his arm, and led her out of the room.

The first step in the right direction has been to demand either a diploma from some well-known institution, or, as that could not be complied with by German women, the certificate of the teachers' examinations. The possessors of such credentials may attend lectures in any course, where the professor is willing, as Hospitants. The conditions under which women may attend the University of Berlin are the following:

1. A written permission must be obtained from the curator of the university on presentation of a satisfactory diploma, a passport, and, by Russian applicants, a written permission from the police authorities to study in Germany.

2. Written permission from the rector.

3. Written permission from the professors or docents whose lectures the applicant wishes to attend.

4. The permission from the rector must be obtained each semester, but from the curator only when a new subject is chosen.

5. The same fee is demanded from women as from men, and women are requested to always carry with them, in attending lectures, the written permission from the rector.

At the public installation of Rector Waldeyer, in October, 1898, both in his address and in that of the resigning rector, Geheimrath Professor Schmoller, the subject of education of women received attention.

Geheimrath Schmoller said that the first condition of further concessions in the matter must be better preparation on the part of the women, and when this deficiency should be provided for the faculty of the university could make the conditions of their attending lectures lighter, perhaps even the same as those for men. Geheimrath Waldeyer made the subject one of three to which he gave equal space, and which he said called for immediate attention in the educational affairs of Germany. The other two subjects were the relation of technical schools to the universities, and university extension. Geheimrath Waldeyer said that he had formerly been opposed to the higher education of women, but had been led to change his mind from seeing that the movement is not an artificial one, but rather the natural result of the present social condition of society, and on the simple ground of right should be forwarded in a legitimate manner. He spoke strongly, however, in favor of the establishment of separate universities for men and women, on account of the natural differences in the working of their minds and the necessity of adapting methods in both instances to their needs.

The number of women in the University of Berlin has increased very rapidly, being in the autumn of 1896 thirty-nine, in the winter of the same year ninety-five. The next year the largest number was nearly two hundred, and in 1897-'98 three hundred and fifty-two were in all inscribed. Nearly half of these were German women. Most of the women in the University of Berlin are in the department of philosophy, but several are pursuing courses in theology and law. These women are of all ages. One from Charlottenburg was sixty-two years old, and, besides this honored lady, there were five others whose white hair testified to an age of from fifty to fifty-five, while the youngest of all was a Bulgarian girl of seventeen.

The first woman to take her degree in the University of Berlin was Dr. Else Neumanu, in December, 1898, in physics and mathematics, who succeeded, notwithstanding the difficulties to be contended with in the absence of preparatory study and the necessity for private preparation.

It is not, however, only in Berlin that the desire for university study has taken a strong hold on the German women, but it is shown in other places, not simply by the fact that many of them attend the universities of Switzerland, which are everywhere open to them, but by their also obtaining the advantages in their own land which have so long been denied them.

Heidelberg was the first university in Germany to grant the doctor examination to women, and this was done several years before lectures were open to them. The writer called upon Prof. Kuno Fischer one day in the summer of 1890 to ask permission to attend a lecture which he was to give that afternoon on Helmholtz. He said that he was very sorry indeed, but he was obliged to refuse women the privilege of listening to him, as they were not admitted to the university. I asked when they would probably be admitted, and he replied, speaking in French, "Jamais, mademoiselle, jamais!" Four years later, however, a friend of mine took her degree there in the department of philosophy, thus proving that the wisest of men sometimes make mistakes.

Women have for years studied as Hospitants in the Universities of Leipsic and Göttingen, but since November, 1897, the conditions of their admission in Göttingen have been made more difficult.

In Kiel the professors who are not willing to allow women to attend their lectures put a star opposite their names in the university programme of the lecture courses, and this star is unfortunately seen opposite the names of all the professors of theology and many of those of medicine. Women began to attend the University of Tübingen in the autumn of 1898, Dr. Maria Gräfin von Linden being the first, who was soon followed by many others.

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa has been conferred on two women by the University of Munich—in December, 1897, on the Princess Theresa, and in October, 1898, on Lady Blennerhassett, an author, for her researches in modern languages. The Dean of the Philosophical Faculty, accompanied by three professors, visited her in her home in Munich to communicate to her the honor which she had received.

The University of Breslau offers better conditions to women than are provided elsewhere, as might naturally be expected, especially in the department of medicine.

Germany was represented in the International Council of Women, held in London in June of this present year, by Frau Anna Simson, Frau Bieber Boehm, and Frau Marie Stritt, of Dresden.

It was also decided at this congress that the next Quinquennial International Council of Women should be held in Berlin, and it will without doubt be an occasion that will mark an era in the history of the progress of liberty for the women of Germany.