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Gender, Citizenship, and the Welfare State: Social Work and the Politics of Femininity in the Weimar Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Young-Sun Hong
State University of New York, Stony Brook


In a talk delivered on 20 September 1918, Gertrud Bäumer, the president of the League of German Women's Associations (BDF) likened the political status of German women to mothers who were forced to nurse their children with their hands tied behind their backs. They were thoroughly frustrated by the destructiveness of the war and were only able to fulfill their duties toward family and nation because they believed that the experience of the war would make the nation stronger.

Women and the Welfare State in the Weimar Republic Articles
Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 1997

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1. Untitled talk, 20 September 1918, Evangelisches Zentralarchiv, Berlin 51/W VI a. However, Bäumer contended that the war had broadened the horizons of German women and extended them beyond the individual family to embrace the entire national community.

2. Bäumer, , “Politik und Frauenbewegung,” Frauenfrage 21, no. 4 (1 04 1919): 2627Google Scholar, and Bäumer, , “Auf neuem Boden,” Die Frauenfrage 21, no. 9 (1 09 1919): 66.Google Scholar

3. For a broader theoretical discussion, see Phillips, Anne, Democracy and Differences (University Park, 1993), 107–8Google Scholar, Pateman, Carole, The Disorder of Women. Democracy, Feminism and Political Theory (Stanford, 1989), 179209Google Scholar, and Sassoon, Anne Showstack, “Women's New Social Role: Contradictions of the Welfare State,” in Women and the State, ed. Sassoon, Anne Showstack (London, 1987), 158–88.Google Scholar For recent comparative studies on gender and the welfare state, see, Koven, Seth and Michel, Sonya, eds., Mothers of a New World: Matemalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare State (London, 1993)Google Scholar; Bock, Gisela and Thane, Pat, eds., Maternity and Gender Politics: Women and the Rise of the European Welfare State, 1880s–1950s (London, 1991)Google Scholar; Gordon, Linda, ed., Women, the State, and Welfare (Madison, 1990)Google Scholar; and Koven, and Michel, , “Womanly Duties, Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, 1880–1920,” American Historical Review 95 (10 1990): 1076–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. Salomon, Alice, “Der Völkerbundsgedanke und die Frauen,” Frauenfrage 21, no. 5 (1 05 1991): 35.Google Scholar See also Bäumer, , “Die alte und die neue Macht der Frauen,” Die Frau 28, no. 5 (02 1921): 137–39Google Scholar, and Kempf, Rosa, “Frauenbefreiung und Mannesmut,” Die Frau 29, no. 4 (01 1992): 115–18.Google Scholar

5. Verhandlungen der Nationalversammlung, 11th session, 19 Febuary 1919, 178. See also Juchacz, , “Die Aufgaben der sozialdemokratischen Frauenbewegung,” Bericht über die Frauenkonferenz der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (Berlin, 1919), 461.Google Scholar

6. Schöfer, , “Soziale Frauenarbeit in der Gemeinde,” in SPD Frauenkonferenz (1921), 20.Google Scholar

7. Frevert, Ute, Women in German History (New York, 1993), 170–71.Google Scholar For an excellent survey of this issue, see Paletschek, Sylvia, “Das Dilemma von Gleichheit und Differenz,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 33 (1993): 548–69.Google Scholar

8. On the centrality of social work for the development of the bourgeois women–s movement in the Kaiserreich, see Peters, Diedinde, Mütterlichkeit im Kaiserreich: Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung und der soziale Beruf der Frau (Bielefeld, 1984)Google Scholar; Sachsse, Christopher, Mütterlichkeit als Beruf: Sozialarbeit, Sozialreform, und Frauenbewegung 1871–1929 (Frankfurt, 1986)Google Scholar; Hong, Young-Sun, “Femininity as a Vocation: Gender and Class Conflict in the Professionalization of German Social Work,” in German Professions, 1800–1950, ed. Cocks, Geoffrey and Jarausch, Konrad (Oxford, 1990), 232–51Google Scholar; and Schröder, Iris, “Wohlfahrt, Frauenfrage und Geschlechterpolitik,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 21 (1995): 368–90.Google Scholar

9. See also Harvey, Elizabeth, “The Failure of Feminism? Young Women and the Bourgeois Feminist Movement—Weimar Germany 1918–1933,” Central European History 28, no. 1 (1995): 128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10. For more on these developments, see Hong, Young-Sun, “The Contradictions of Modernization in the German Welfare State: Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform in First World War Germany,” Social History 17, no. 2 (05 1992): 251–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11. Since Peukert's, Detlev pioneering work, Grenzen der Sozialdisziplinierung: Aufstieg und Krise der deutschen Jugendfürsorge von 1878 bis 1932 (Cologne, 1986)Google Scholar, historians have focused more on the question of social discipline as well as on the role of gender and religion in the making of the welfare state than on class relations. See Usborne, Cornelie, The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women's Reproductive Rights and Duties (Houndmills, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Harvey, Elizabeth, Youth and the Welfare State in Weimar Germany (Oxford, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gläser, Marcus, Der blockierte Wohlfahrtsstaat: Unterschichtjugend und Jugendfürsorge in der Weimarer Republik (Göttingen, 1995)Google Scholar; Grossman, Atina, Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920–1950 (Oxford, 1995)Google Scholar; and Dickinson, Edward Ross, State, Family and Society in Modern Germany (Cambridge, 1996).Google Scholar See also Hong, Young-Sun, The Contradictions of Modernity and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Welfare, Citizenship and the Formation of the Weimar State, 1919–1933 (Princeton University Press, forthcoming).Google Scholar

12. Alice Salomon, a leading social work educator believed that this therapeutic turn represented a decisive break with social policy, which idolized the beneficial omnipotence of instrumental reason and the manipulation of the external environment: “To educate does not only mean to create a favorable milieu, but also to strengthen the will of the young person, through which he [sic] can overcome the influences of the milieu.” Salomon, , “Die inneren Grundlagen der Jugendwohlfahrtspflege,” Soziale Berufsarbeit (SBA) 2, nos. 5–6 (10/11 1992): 1718.Google Scholar

13. Achinger, Hans, “Zur Theorie der Fürsorge,” Fürsorge als Persönliche Hilfe, ed. Polligkeit, Wilhelm, Scherpner, Hans, and Webler, Heinrich (Berlin, 1929), 124.Google Scholar

14. See Heinze, Rolf and Olk, Thomas, “Die Wohlfahrtsverbände im System sozialer Dienstleistungsproduktion: Zur Entstehung und Struktur der bundesrepublikanischen Verbändewohlfahrt,” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 33 (1981): 94113Google Scholar; and Rinken, Alfred, Das Öffentliche als verfassungstheoretisches Problem (Berlin, 1971).Google Scholar For more on the contemporary debate on corporatism, see Berger, Suzanne, ed., Organizing Interests in Western Europe: Pluralism, Corporatism and the Transformation of Politics (Cambridge, 1981)Google Scholar, and Alford, Robert and Friedland, Roger, Power of Theory: Capitalism, the State, and Democracy (Cambridge, 1985), 161268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

15. Reichsgestzblatt (RGBI) 1 (1923): 494–506, especially 505, and “Entwurf vorläufiger Richtlinien für die Verwendung der Vorschüsse zur Unterstützung von Anstalten und Einrichtungen der Wohlfahrtspflege auf Grund des $61 des Finanzausgleichgesetzes,” (no date) Archiv des Deutschen Caritasverbandes (ADCV [Freiburg]), CA XX 49. These seven Spitzenverbände were the Caritasverband, the Inner Mission, the Central Welfare Bureau for German Jewry, Workers' Welfare, the Central Welfare Committee for Christian Workers, the German Red Cross, and the Fifth Welfare League.

16. “Die Gründung eines allgemeinen Wohlfahrtspflegeverbandes ‘Humanitas,’” Soziale Praxis (SPr) 33, no. 46 (1924): col. 979, and Gierke, Anna von, “Humanitas,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Verbandes des Sozialbeamtinnen 4, no. 3 (08 1924): 174.Google Scholar

17. Stadtarchiv Düsseldorf (StADf), XX 388. Gierke feared that the establishment of welfare Spitzenverbände along particularistic religious and political lines and the aggressive expansionism of the Catholic and Protestant welfare Spitzenverbände were hollowing out the broader idea of humanitarian charity.

18. Gierke, “Der Fünfte Verband und seine Bedeutung im Rahmen der Wohlfahrtspflege,” (no date), Helene Lange Archiv (HLA [Berlin]), 1–4/1, circular to BDF members (2 September 1924), HLA, 6–29/3, and Bäumer to Fifth Welfare League (22 January 1925), Bundesarchiv Potsdam (BAP), RAM 9149. Although these organizations had originally considered affiliating with the Red Cross, they rejected this idea partly because of the conservative, partiarchal nature of the Red Cross. “Niederschrift über die 1. Verwaltungsratssitzung [of Humanitas]” (4 October 1924), HLA, 6–29/3.

19. Langstein to Labor Ministry (no date), BAF RAM 9149. This claim was dropped from the final version of the statutes.

20. On the tentative agreement between the two organizations and the claims advanced by Langstein, see Langstein to Gierke and Wronsky, 16 July 1924, cited in Langstein to Labor Ministry (no date), BAP, RAM 9149, and Niederschrift der Landes- und Provinzialvertreter des Fünften Wohlfahrtverbandes, 27 April 1924, StADf, XX 469. The official publication of Humanitas was Die Frau in der sozialen Arbeit.

21. Minutes of the conference of the Fünfter Wohlfahrtsverband, 27 April 1924, and Niederschrift der Landes- und Provinzialvertreter des Fünften Wohlfahrtverbandes (27 April 1924), both StADf, XX 469. It also changed its name to the Association of German Voluntary, Non-Profit Welfare Institutions (Vereinigung der freien gemeinnützigen Wohlfahrtseinrichtungen Deutschlands) to reflect these broader ambitions.

22. Humanitas to Labor Ministry, 4 July 1924, Archiv des Diakonischen Werkes in Berlin (ADW), CA 1184, and Gierke to Labor Ministry, 25 October 1924, BAP, RAM 9149. This request was repeated several times in the following months.

23. Ernst Ranft, the director of the Saxon branch of the Fünfter Wohlfahrtsverband, to Langstein, 24 February 1925, BAP, RAM 9149.

24. Wölz to Hannes Kaufmann of the Hamburgische Gesellschaft für Wohltätigkeit, 2 & 11 August 1924, BAP, RAM 9149, and Humanitas to Langstein, 8 July 1924, cited in undated letter from Langstein to Labor Ministry, BAP, RAM 9149. This opposition to Humanitas by Langstein was reinforced by the confessional welfare organizations, who were concerned about the anticonfessional orientation of Humanitas. In contrast, Langstein had repeatedly confessed his willingness to work closely with these religious organizations. See Berlin Caritas director van Acken to Kreutz, 29 November 1924, ADCV, 460.1.

25. Langstein to Labor Ministry (no date), BAP, RAM 9149. See also his critical letter to Martha Dönhoff, the chair of the Rheinish-Westfälischer Frauenverband and delegate to the Prussian Landtag, 4 February 1925, BAP, RAM 9149.

26. Circular from Langstein to the state and provincial directors of the Fünfter Wohlfahrsverband, 24 March 1925, StADf, XX 471.

27. The organization adopted this colorless name because it was generally named fifth—after the three confessional organization and the Red Cross—in any listing of the welfare Spitzenverbände. In 1932 the name of the Fifth Welfare League was changed to its present Deutscher Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband. For the final negotiations between the two organizations, see the minutes of the meeting, 9 Febuary 1925, and minutes of the special joint committee, 7 March 1925, both in StADf, XX 469.

28. See Munich Stadträtin Kiesselbach to the Rhenish branch of the Fünfter Wohlfahrtsverband, 21 September 1927, StADf, XX 471 and Langstein to Labor Ministry, 23 April 1927, BAP, RAM 9149.

29. Wolf, , “Entwicklungstendenzen in der kommunalen Frauenarbeit, Die Frau 30, no. 11 (08 1923): 340.Google Scholar

30. Kempf, “Lehrplankonferenz der Wohlfahrtsschulen im Preussischen Wohlfahrtsministerium,” and Kraus, Hertha, “Gedanken zur sozialen Frauen-Arbeit,” Die Frau 40, no. 6 (03 1933): 370–77.Google Scholar

31. Marie Baum, Familienfürsorge, Schriften des Deutschen Vereins für öffentliche und private Fürsorge (SDV) N.F. 12, 2d ed. (1928), 119. Social workers had varying degrees of autonomy. While social workers were voting members of district welfare committees in Breslau, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, and Nuremberg, in numerous other cities they had only consultative rights. Baum, a bourgeois feminist welfare reformer, demanded that the case worker be responsible for every significant aspect of the case from beginning to end and that she be permitted to participate in all decisions which were directly related to the case work. Baum, , “Füsorge und Verwaltung,” Soziale Arbeit 7, no. 1 (1930)Google Scholar, cited in Zeller, Susanne, Volksmütter: Frauen im Wohlfahrtswesen der zwanziger Jahre (Düsseldorf, 1987), 144.Google Scholar

32. “Ein Beitrag zu der Frage ‘Innen- und Aussendienst in der Wohlfahrtspflege,’” SBA 7, nos. 5–6 (MAy/June, 1927): 6–7.

33. DrJourdan's, address to the 1924/1925 DVS conference, cited in Beerensson, “Warum ist die Wohlfahrtspflege nicht volkstümlich?Die Fürsorge 2, no. 12 (20 06 1925): 180–83.Google Scholar

34. S. L., “Zur Frage der Oberfürsorgerin,” SBA 8, no. 5–6 (05/06 1928): 4.Google Scholar

35. DrJacobi, , “Familienfürsorge in der Amtshauptmannschaft Dresden-Altstadt,” SPr 30, no. 52 (1921): col. 1349.Google Scholar

36. Zadow, Emilie, Kinder des Staates (Hamburg, 1929), 17.Google Scholar

37. Stieve, Hedwig, Tagebuch einer Fürsorgerin (Berlin, 1925), 123.Google Scholar

38. Baum, Familienfürsorge, 94; Bäumer, , “Die sozialpädagogische Erzieherschaft und ihre Ausbildung,” Handbuch der Pädagogik, ed. Nohl, Hermann/Pallat, Ludwig, 5 vols. (Langensalza, 1929), 5: 209–26Google Scholar; and Bäumer, , “Die Fürsorgerin in der öffentlichen Meinung,” SBA 10, no. 3 (03 1930): 12.Google Scholar

39. Gierke, Anna von, “Gemeinsame Kündigung aller Gubener Fürsorgerinnen,” Soziale Arbeit 6, no. 33 (24 08 1929): 23.Google Scholar See also the articles in Soziale Arbeit 7, nos. 2–3 (11 & 18 February 1930); Wachenheim, Hedwig, “Guben,” Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AW) 5, no. 3 (02 1930): 9092Google Scholar, “Die Fürsorgerin in der Verwaltung,” SBA 10, no. 3 (March 1930): 32–34, and Wachenheim, , “Guben,” AW 5, no. 5 (03 1930): 156–57.Google Scholar

40. Statistik des Deutschen Reiches, vol. 421: Die öffentliche Fürsorge im Deutschen Reich in den Rechnungsjahren 1927 bis 1931 (Berlin, 1933), 237.

41. Verhandlungen des Deutschen Vereins, SDV N.F. 7 (1926), and Beerensson, Adele, “Zehn Jahre soziale Berufsarbeit,” SPr 35, no. 19 (1926): cols. 481–85.Google Scholar See the survey of social worker compensation, “Zur Besoldungsreform,” SBA 8, nos. 3–4 (March/April 1928): 6–10; and E. R., “Berufsschwierigkeiten der Wohlfahrtspflegerinnen in Bayern,” SBA 9, nos. 1–2 (01/02 1929): 910.Google Scholar Nor could it be said that there was a clear trend toward granting social workers civil servant status. “Berufsfragen in der Wohlfahrtspflege,” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Wohlfahrtspflege (DZW) 1, no. 3 (June 1925): 122.

42. Bäumer, “Die Fürsorgerin in der öffentlichen Meinung,” 2.

43. Salomon, , “Hat die Frau die Wohlfahrtspflege überspannt und verweichlicht?Freie Wohlfahrtspflege (FW) 6, no. 2 (05 1931): 6970.Google Scholar

44. Bäumer, , Die Frau im deutschen Staat (Berlin, 1932), 70.Google Scholar

45. It has been suggested that the Social Democratic Workers' Welfare lacked a distinctly socialist conception of social work and that its own intellectual bankruptcy was reflected in an uncritical adherence to the ideas of the bourgeois women's movement centered on motherhood and women's separate sphere. However, the organization underwent a process of intellectual maturation and generational change during the second half of the 1920s. Workers' Welfare harbored a deep antipathy toward existing social work organizations because it categorically rejected that bracketing of politics through which the bourgeois and church welfare groups had attempted to constitute a purely affective sphere of community.

46. See the two excellent studies of the social work profession in the 1920s by Münchmeier, Richard, Zugänge zur Geschichte der sozialen Arbeit (Weinheim, 1981)Google Scholar and Dudek, Peter, Leitbild: Kamerad und Helfer, Sozialpädagogische Bewegung in der Weimarer Republik am Beispiel der “Gilde Soziale Arbeit” (Frankfurt am Main, 1988).Google Scholar

47. Lohalm, Uwe, “Die Wohlfahrtskrise 1930–1933: Vom ökonomischen Notprogram zur rassenhygienischen Neubestimmung,” in Zivilisation und Barbarei: Die widersprüchlichen Potentiale der Moderne ed. Bajohr, Frank, Johe, Werner, and Lohalm, Uwe (Hamburg, 1991), 193225Google Scholar; Crew, David, “‘Eine Elternschaft zu Dritt’—staatliche Eltern? Jugendwohlfahrt und Kontrolle der Familie in der Weimarer Republik 1919–1933,” in Sicherheit und Wohlfahrt: Polizei, Gesellschaft und Herrschaft im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert ed. Lüdtke, Alf (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), 267–94.Google Scholar

48. Fischer, Aloys, “Die Problematik des Sozialbeamtentums,” in Leben und Werk vols. 3/4, (Munich, n.d.), 322–23.Google Scholar

49. Baum, Familienfürsorge, 30.

50. Kempf, , “Massennot und Wohlfahrtsarbeit,” SBA 5, nos. 5–6 (05/06 1925): 12Google Scholar, from which the following citations are taken.

51. Salomon, , “Der Einfluss des Fürsorgers auf den ‘Klienten,’FW 1, no. 3 (06 1926): 105–9, citation 107–8.Google Scholar

52. Zillken, , “Berufsideal und Berufsschwierigkeiten der Wohlfahrtspflegerin,” in Ungelöste Fragen der Wohlfahrtspflege, ed. Weber, Helene, Veröffentlichungen des Vereins katholischer deutscher Sozialbeamtinnen, 1 (1929): 5155.Google Scholar

53. Ulrich, , “Fürsorge und Seelsorge,” in Fürsorge und Seelsorge, ed. Ulrich, Friedrich (Berlin, 1928), 8694Google Scholar; Steinweg, , “Fürsorge und Seelsorge,” Die Innere Mission 22, no. 1 (01 1927): 15Google Scholar; and Wiesen, Wilhelm, “Christliche Liebestätigkeit und Proletariat,” Caritas 32, no. 3 (03 1927): 7176.Google Scholar

54. Solltmann, , “Die Wohfahrtspflege als Beruf und die Frau,” FW 1, nos. 6–7 (1926): 255.Google Scholar

55. Solltmann, “Sollen und können weltanschauliche Kräfte und Überzeugungen in der Familienfürsorge wirksam werden?,” in Ungelöste Fragen der Wohlfahrtspflege, ed., Weber, 14–38.

56. Beckmann, Joachim, “Wohlfahrtspflege und Kirche im Weltanschauungskampf der Gegenwart,” Gesundheitspflege 10, no. 5 (1931)Google Scholar; Stahl, Adolf, “Evangelische Liebestätigkeit im Wandel der Wohlfahrtspflege,” Die Innere Mission 27 (1932)Google Scholar; and Baeck, Leo, “Neutralität,” Blätter des Deutschen Roten Kreuzes 8, no. 12 (12 1929): 16.Google Scholar

57. Salomon, , “Typenwandel der Sozialbeamtinnen und Struktur des sozialen Berufs,” FW 5, no. 1 (04 1930): 18, from which the following citations are taken.Google Scholar

58. Ibid., 7, emphasis added.

59. Sachsse, Mütterlichkeit als Beruf, 306–7.

60. The Akademie's publications included monographs by Bäumer, Hilde Lion, and Marianne Weber, and the research series “Bestand und Erschütterung der Familie in der Gegenwart,” which included 13 volumes up to 1933. For an overview of this project, see Salomon's, introduction to Salomon, Alice and Baum, Marie, eds., Das Familienleben in der Gegenwart. 182 Familienmonographien (Berlin, 1930).Google Scholar

61. Bäumer, , Familienpolitik: Probleme, Ziele, und Wege (Berlin, 1933)Google Scholar, and Bäumer, , Die Frau im deutschen Staat (Berlin, 1932).Google Scholar

62. Bäumer, Familienpolitik, 73.