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Maternalism and Citizenship in Weimar Germany: the Gendered Politics of Welfare

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Geoff Eley
University of MichiganColumbia University
Atina Grossmann
University of MichiganColumbia University


The three papers collected here present important arguments concerning the gendered context and content of the Weimar welfare state. They unsettle our abilityto judge the origins, the efficacy, and the abstract political value of the welfare state and its democratic claims; they have much to say about twentieth-century women's history and the coordinates of feminist politics in the period between the early 1900s and the 1960s; they have vital lessons for a politics of democratic citizenship; and they all demonstrate the payoff of taking gender seriously as a useful category of historical analysis. In fact, gender seems to have acquired particular salience, in especially public and visible ways, in the period dealt with by these papers.

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. Parenthetically, we might remark that these papers also show how social history and discursive analysis need to be fruitfully linked, if we are to understand the range of women's claims to citizenship and how they are constrained, within their parties and within the state.

2. See Riley, Denise, “Am I That Name?” Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History (Minneapolis, 1988)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 3, “‘The Social,’ ‘Women,” and Sociological Feminism,” and its succeeding discussion in chap. 4, “The Womanly Vote,” 44–66, and 67–95.

3. Adelheid von Saldern, “Modernization as Challenge: Perceptions and Endeavors of German Social Democratic Women,” in Women and Socialism in Interwar Europe, ed. Helmut Gruber and Pamela Graves, forthcoming.

4. See Peukert, Detlev J. K., The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity (New York, 1992), esp. 274–82.Google Scholar See also Crew, David F., “The Pathologies of Modernity: Detlev Peukert on Germany's Twentieth Century,” Social History, 17, 2 (05 1992): 319–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5. See p. 14 of the Hong article. David Crew also notes the ways in which frontline female social workers, as agents of the failing welfare state, bear the brunt of a popular fury that might have been more usefully directed toward the state of employers. See his forthcoming study of the Weimar welfare state, Crew, David F., Germans on Welfare, 1918–1933 (New York, 1997).Google Scholar

6. See Grossmann, Atina, “German Women Doctors from Berlin to New York: Maternity and Modernity in Weimar and in Exile,” Feminist Studies 19 (Spring 1993): 6587.Google Scholar

7. See Weitz, Eric, Creating German Communism, 1890–1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State (Princeton, 1997), 188232.Google Scholar

8. This is paralled, for example, in the KPD campaigns against Paragraph 218, when the Sex Reform groups function in a sense as a substitute for the more autonomous women's deleate conference movement. See Grossman, Atina, Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920–1950 (New York, 1995), esp. 78106.Google Scholar

9. Pateman, Carole, “Equality, Difference, Subordination: The Politics of Motherhood and Women's Citizenship,” in Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, Feminist Politics and Female Subjectivity, ed. Book, Gisela and James, Susan (London and New York, 1992), 19.Google Scholar

10. See Daniel, Ute, Arbeiterfrauen in der Kriegsgesellschaft (Göttingen, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Davis, Belinda, “Food Scarity and the Empowerment of the Female Consumer in World War I Berlin,” in The Sex of Things: Gender and Consuption in Historical Perspective, ed. Grazia, Victoria de and Furlough, Ellen (Berkeley, 1996), 287310Google Scholar; Davis, Belinda, “Reconsidering Habermas, Gender, and the Public Sphere: The Case of Wilhelmine Germany,” in Society, Culture, and the State in Germany, ed. Eley, Geoff (Ann Arbor, 1996), 397426.Google Scholar

11. David Crew's book also insists on this point. See Germans on Welfare.