Traveling to visit relatives around 1900, the young painter Gabriele Munter, later a founder of the “Blue Rider” group, confirmed what her repatriated German mother had often recalled: American women were self-assured, full of initiative, athletic, and strong-willed. Most significantly, they had equal status with men. Münter was not alone in her praise for American gender relations. On her return home from the 1909 meeting of the International Alliance of Women, the wellknown social policy expert Alice Salomon confessed, “If I am reincarnated as a woman, my only wish is to be an American.” Other German feminist travelers to the United States in the years before World War I lauded the country as the land of the future. Women's equality seemed more advanced there than anywhere else in the world, especially than in Wilhelmine Germany.
In contrast, Americans noted that German women slept “silently in a homespun cocoon,” “content” to be a “leaderless and hopelessly domesticated group.” In 1915, feminist Katharine S. Anthony countered this impression in the first English-language account of the German women's movement. Notions of women trapped by “children, kitchen, and church,” she argued, misrepresented an educated group of activists who fought for women's rights and for better maternal and child welfare. Indeed, Progressive women reformers, like anti-sweatshop crusader Florence Kelley and settlement founder Jane Addams, relied on German models in developing an American welfare state. Yet, the equation of German womanhood with the Hausfrau persisted into the twentieth century, temporarily replaced in the 1930s and early 1940s by a portrait of Nazi baby machines no less devoted to Kinder, Kirche, and Küche. After World War II, the Fräulein eager to fraternize with GI Joe and the plain but strong communist woman driving a tractor presented additional contrasts to the All-American Mrs. Consumer, unhappy housewife, and Hollywood vixen. Similarly, the German pater familias and Nazi storm trooper, no less than the greedy American businessman and sexually aggressive GI, provided diverse portraits of masculinity, subject to class and racial/ethnic differences, which both modernizing nations embraced. Gender performances in each were more complex, however, than such representations of womanhood and manhood suggest.
Historians of women have shown that Western capitalist societies generally shared a similar understanding of gender. These societies assigned wage-earning to men and caregiving to women, linking the first with employment and the second with unpaid domestic labor.