Helene Stöcker – Fighting for Women’s Control Over Their Lives

Helene Stöcker c. 1900 (source)

Helene Stöcker c. 1900 (source)

From time to time in women’s rights protests you see signs saying something along the lines of “Didn’t my Grandmother fight for these rights?” It’s true, the battles aren’t new, or confined to any particular country. One of the earliest champions for women’s rights, including control over their own bodies, was Helene Stöcker of Germany.

Born November 13, 1869 in Elberfeld, Germany, Helene grew up in a strict Calvinist household. She was the oldest of eight children born to Peter Heinrich Ludwig Stöcker and Hulda Bergmann Stöcker. Her father had wanted to be a missionary, but had to take over the family business, still Bible reading and daily prayer were part of the family routine. Helene eventually rejected her father’s religion, but acknowledged his influence on her values, including personal integrity, charity, and a sense of justice.

Her mother also influenced her future concerns. Like Margaret Sanger, Helene saw the toll that eight births had taken on her mother. Only five of Hulda’s children survived to adulthood, and when there were complications at the birth of her only son, Helene had to take on the responsibilities of the household. This (along with Gretchen’s situation in Goethe’s Faust, as she later said) led her to consider the consequences related to reproduction for women in traditional relationships.

Helene was a voracious reader and an independent thinker. She attended a girls’ school and in 1890 a teacher’s seminary, preparing to be a teacher. But, instead of following this path, she moved to Berlin and began to attend classes at the university in literature, philosophy and economics. At the time, the university didn’t allow women to obtain degrees, so she moved on to Glasgow and finally to the University at Bern where she received her doctorate in Literature in 1902, becoming one of the first women in Germany to do so.

In 1905, Helene became the head of the League for the Protection of Mothers (Bund für Mutterschutz) which had been founded in Berlin in 1904 by Ruth Bré. The change in leadership was due to a conflict over the direction of the organization. Bré was primarily concerned with the situation of single mothers and their children. In addition to promoting equality of illegitimate children under the law and establishing homes for unwed mothers, Helene also promoted sex education, access to contraceptives, and the legalization of abortion. In 1908 the League was renamed the League for the Protection of Mothers and Sexual Reform (Bund für Mutterschutz und Sexualreform).

The League was engaged in practical solutions, but also political activism and debate. It included many well-known intellectuals both men and women, including Lily Braun, Marie Stritt, Adele Schreiber, Max Weber, and Friedrich Naumann. Their activities and theoretical debate were publicized through two journals, edited by Helene, called Mutterschutz and Die Neue Generation. According to Allen, Stöcker was the intellectual leader of the group. One of her colleagues, Grete Meisel-Hess said that “Her personality expresses a calm self-confidence; no attack can intimidate her or deter her from her chosen course of action.”

One attack common to many feminist groups of the time was the accusation that they promoted “free love.” While the focus of the group was traditional heterosexual relationships, they insisted on the need for equality between men and women in marriage, but also legal recognition of what they called “free relationships,” which included not only support for single mothers, but homosexuality, and the right to divorce.

Beginning during WWI, Helene shifted much of her energy to the Peace movement. She had long been a pacifist having joined the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society, DFG) in 1892 while in Berlin. And in 1921, she was involved in the founding of the organization named Paco which later was known as the War Resisters’ International and is still in existence.

Helene never married. In 1899, she spent one semester in school at Glasgow. There she met and fell in love with a German lecturer named Alexander Tilly. Tilly was married with children, but when his wife died in 1902, Helene briefly returned to care for him and his children. She found, however, that maintaining her professional life while being a wife and step-mother was too difficult and she returned to Berlin. In 1905, she met Bruno Springer, a lawyer with whom she had a relationship until his death in 1931. They never married, but kept separate apartments on the same floor to be near each other.

Helene’s written works were extensive, as was her political support for her ideas, including her anti-war efforts. For this reason, life in Germany became difficult during the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party. In 1937, she was stripped of her German citizenship and her doctorate degree. Her bank account was seized, her writings blacklisted, and her manuscripts burned. She first fled to Switzerland and then England. Attending a conference in Sweden when the war broke out, she decided to stay, but when Norway was invaded, she left Europe and eventually ended up in the United States where she died of cancer on February 24, 1943.

Note: Most of Helene Stöcker’s works don’t seem to have been translated into English, but the journal article in Signs by Ann Taylor Allen gives an excellent analysis of her ideas and how they contrasted with other men and women both in and outside of the League. If you’re interested in her ideas I highly recommend it.

Helene Stöcker (1869-1943) (link to pdf file)

Allen, Ann Taylor. “Mothers of the New Generation: Adele Schreiber, Helene Stöcker, and the Evolution of a German Idea of Motherhood, 1900-1914”. Signs 10.3 (1985): 418–438.(Behind a subscription wall at Jstor, but you can read three articles free every 14 days.)

Braker, Regina, “Helene Stocker’s Pacifism in the Weimar Republic: Between Ideal and Reality“, at Project Muse. (The full text is available only through institution subscription, but the summary has good information.)

Women in Law: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook by Rebecca Mae Salkar and Mary Volcansek (excerpt from Google Books)

Helene Stöcker, “The Modern Woman” (1893, at German History Docs

Frederika Charlotte Riedesel: Following the Hessian Army During the American Revolution

Fredrika Charlotte Louise von Massow, Baroness von Riedesel (source)

Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, Baroness Riedesel by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tiscbein (source)

During the American Revolution, armies on both sides of the conflict had camp followers. Mostly women, they were often reviled even though their services were needed by the armies. The women cooked, did laundry, nursed the wounded, and transported gear from one battlefield to another. There were mistresses and prostitutes among them, but many were the wives and families of soldiers.

These women came from all walks of life. Among the Americans, we have all heard of Martha Washington’s visits to her husband’s winter camps. There were other officer’s wives who joined her and they made life in camp, if not luxurious, at least bearable. Other women were not so lucky, they often followed the army because their homes had been destroyed or were unsafe because of the location. Frequently their only source of income was the small salary received (intermittently) by their husbands. This was true for both revolutionary and loyalist families. In fact, many American women followed the British army, either because they were loyal to the cause, or simply because the British troops were better provisioned.

Senior British officers didn’t usually bring their wives over from England. However, they often had “camp wives” who took care of their needs, including sex. Sometimes these were the actual wives of non-commissioned officers. One of the more famous examples is Elizabeth Loring, wife of Joshua Loring, who kept General William Howe company for three years.

“Sir William he, snug as a flea
Lay all the time a snoring;
Nor dreamed of harm as he lay warm
in bed with Mrs. Loring” ~ Francis Hopkinson

This was not the habit of the Hession officers, however, and Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, Major General of the Brunswick troops, wanted his wife with him. Frederika had married Friedrich in 1762, when she was 16 years old and he 24, after she nursed him back to health following a wound he received during the Seven Years War. By the time the Duke of Brunswick signed a treaty to provide soldiers to the British for the American Revolution in 1776, they had two little girls,  Augusta and Frederica, and she was pregnant with their third.

Friedrich Adolf Riedesel c. 1790 (source)

Friedrich Adolf Riedesel c. 1790 (source)

Friedrich left in February of 1776, expecting Frederika to follow after the baby’s birth, however, it was April of 1777 before she was able to set sail for America. Two months after the birth of a third daughter, Carolina, she began her journey, traveling to England to meet the wife of another officer, Captain Foy. When she arrived in Bristol, she didn’t speak the language and was laughed at because of her clothes. Mrs. Foy also refused to leave until she had written permission from her husband, even though they needed to leave before the winter set in. This didn’t happen, so Frederika used the time to learn English and adjust her clothing choices.

“I discovered soon after my arrival in Bristol, how unpleasant it is to be in a city when one does not understand the language…I wept for hours in my chamber, until, finally, I gathered courage and resolved to surmount all difficulties. I took great pains to learn the English language, and in six weeks made such progress as to be able to call for what I wanted, and to understand the newspapers…”

Frederika’s father was a lieutenent general in the Prussian army. As he moved with the army he kept his family close, so Frederika knew what to expect as a camp follower. Still, it was a sacrifice to leave her comfortable home with small children in tow and evidence of her affection for her husband. The journey went well with the exception of seasickness among all her servants and at times the children. Friedrich was well-regarded, and she was treated well because of this and her good nature. In June, two months after leaving England, they arrived in Quebec.

“When it was known in Quebec that I was nearing the city, I was saluted with cannon by all the ships in the harbor; and at twelve o’clock, noon, we saw a boat approaching us, containing twelve sailors dressed in white, and wearing silver helmets and green sashes. These seamen had been sent to fetch me from the ship, and they brought me a letter from my husband, in which he wrote that he had been obliged to set out for the army.”

Frederika and the children had to travel for four days via carriage and canoe to reach Friedrich, but they finally had their joyous reunion. They were separated two days later when the troops left, and Frederika settled in at the convent of the Ursulines at Quebec to wait. Finally, at the end of the summer, Friedrich received permission from General Burgoyne to have Frederika and the children join him in route to capture Albany. They had a pleasant two weeks before hostilities broke out again.

Now at the scene of the fighting on the Hudson river, Frederika spent time comforting and helping the sick, wounded and dying. With her children and servants tucked “safely” in her carriage, she followed the army doing what she could to help. She was an eyewitness to the Battle of Freeman’s Farm in September, and present at the Battle of Bemis Heights where she had to clear the dinner table to make a bed for the wounded and dying General Simon Fraser. He had requested burial at 6:00 pm at a particular spot, this was carried out the next day, even though “cannon balls flew continually around and over the party.”

After serious fighting on October 7th, they marched through cold and wet weather to Saratoga. She had no place to change her wet clothes, but dressed her children and put them to sleep on the ground before the fire. The next day fighting resumed, but Frederika was able to find a house for shelter, where she organized the other wives and began to take in wounded and sick soldiers. They remained there for six day under siege and artillery bombardment.

“We were at last obliged to resort to the cellar for refuge, and in one corner of this I remained the whole day, my children sleeping on the earth with their heads in my lap; and in the same situation I passed a sleepless night. Eleven [cannon balls] passed through the house, and we could distinctly hear them roll away. One poor soldier who was lying on a table for the purpose of having his leg amputated, was struck buy a shot, which carried away his other; his comrades had left him, and when we went to his assistance we found him in a corner of the room, into which he had crept, more dead than alive, scarcely breathing”.

The Marshall House in 1867. Although in private hands, the house has been preserved to show the signs of its service during the war. (source)

The Marshall House in 1867 (in present day Schuylerville, New York.) Although in private hands, the house has been preserved to show the signs of its service during the war. (source)

On October 17, 1777, the British troops surrendered at Saratoga and Frederika joined her husband in being taken as a prisoner of war. She was frightened as they entered the American camp, but noticed looks of compassion on the faces of the men when they saw her with small children. When they stopped, a man helped the children down from the carriage and told her not to be afraid. Later, the same man offered to let Frederika and her children eat in his tent rather than with all the men. She accepted and had the best meal she had had in a long time. She then found out that he was the American General Schuyler, who also extended to her an invitation to stay at his home.

The Riedesel family stayed with the Schuylers for three days, unfortunately during that time all of Friedrich’s camp equipment was stolen. All they had left was the baggage Frederika had carried in her carriage for the children. It was three years before they were able to replace most of it. Three days later, the defeated army was moved to Boston and later to Virginia. The generals agreed to a “convention” rather than a “surrender”, so technically they were not prisoners of war, but neither were they free to return to Germany.

In November of 1779, Friedrich expected to be exchanged for an American prisoner and the family was allowed to go to New York City. The exchange fell through, but they were treated well by the American officers, and the governor of New York, William Tryon. In spite of this, life wasn’t easy. Although the army officers treated them well, they met with hostility from ordinary citizens and Friedrich’s health wasn’t good. While in Virginia, he suffered from an apparent heart attack and later in New York Friedrich, Augusta, and most of the servants came down with smallpox during an epidemic.

Three of the Riedesel daughters (source)

Three of the Riedesel daughters (source)

In July of 1781, the family left New York for Canada, finally headed for home, although it would be 1783 before they boarded a ship to sail back to Europe. A fourth child had been born in New York, a daughter they named America, and after their arrival in Canada a fifth daughter arrived who didn’t survive. (After the birth of America, Thomas Jefferson sent his condolences on the birth of another female.)

Life had been difficult for Frederika Riedesel and her family, but it was far more difficult for the lower class women and families who followed the army. Not only was their very survival at stake, but they were treated with disdain by many of the soldiers and citizens. Berkin suggests that the lower class women who did the laundry of the troops and scavenged clothing from the dead “were part of the military life that these men hoped would soon come to an end.” However, the general’s wives “served to distinguish masculine roles from feminine” and reminded them of “a world far removed from the brutality and violence of warfare.”

Christmas, 1781 in Canada. The Riedesels are credited with popularizing the German traditional Christmas Tree in the Americas. (source)

Christmas, 1781 in Canada. The Riedesels are credited with popularizing the German traditional Christmas Tree in the Americas. (source)

Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin
The Women of the American Revolution by Elizabeth F. Ellet, Volume I
Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga by Fredrika Riedesel, translated by William L. Stone, 1867.
Frederika Baroness Riedesel” by Lina Sinnickson, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1906.
Marshall House (Schuylerville, New York). (2014, October 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:15, April 8, 2015.

Madame Mathilde Anneke – Revolutionary

Mathilde Anneke (source)

Mathilde Anneke (source)

In her older years, Madame Anneke was described as tall, rigid and erect, with a “white silk cloth at her wrist where her right hand had been amputated.” She presided gently, but firmly, over her students at the girl’s school she founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But in spite of her gentle demeanor, her fighting spirit could be seen in her opposition to slavery and her fight for women’s rights. This spirit and her considerable skills had been developed at the printing press and on the battlefield of her native land.

Mathilde Franziska Giesler was born April 3, 1817, to a wealthy, noble family in Lerchenhausen, Westphalia, in the Ruhr Valley of present day Germany. Her father owned coal and iron mines and extensive lands where she was raised in luxury. Mathilde was educated by private tutors and showed an interest and ability in writing as a girl as well as a love for nature.

Mathilde’s happy life ended when she married Alfred von Tabouillot at the age of nineteen.The marriage ended in divorce one year later and was followed by a bitter custody battle over their daughter. This experience gave her first hand knowledge of the injustice of laws related to the rights of married women and she became a staunch advocate of women’s rights.

After the divorce, Mathilde turned to her writing skills to support herself. She did well, writing and editing, publishing a volume of poems and short biographies. She even wrote a play, Oithono oder die Tempelweihe, “The Inauguration of the Temple”, which was successfully performed in both Germany and later in the United States.

Fritz Anneke c. 1870 (source)

Fritz Anneke c. 1870 (source)

In 1847, Mathilde married Fritz Anneke, a Prussian artillery officer. They shared common political ideas and together began publishing a daily paper for working class people in Cologne. This was during a time of increased desire for freedom among the people of the German Confederation, and eventually, Fritz was imprisoned for his political activities, but Mathilde continued publishing their paper until it was banned. Unwilling to have her voice silenced, the next year she started the first German feminist newspaper, Frauen-Zeitung.

When Fritz was released from prison, he joined the revolutionaries fighting against the Prussian invasion of the Palatinate. Mathilde cut off her long hair, donned trousers and went with him to serve as his adjutant. She was nearly six feet tall, courageous, and an excellent horsewoman. She also handled a gun well as one stranger found when he tried to sneak into camp late at night. Coming face-to-face with Mathilde’s pistol he said “My God, a woman!” Fortunately for him, he was able to explain his presence in the camp.

When the revolutionaries were defeated, Mathilde and Fritz were force to flee and joined many Germans who fled to the United States. In the US, Mathilde was faced with many of the same social conditions for women and she was also appalled at the conditions of African Americans. In 1852, she started the first feminist journal published by a woman in the US, Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung, and spoke out against slavery. She was an eloquent speaker and spoke and wrote in support of the Union cause. She and Fritz were in accord on this matter and he served in the Union Army as colonel and commanding officer of the 34th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

While other publishers conspired against her in Milwaukee, possibly out of professional jealousy, Mathilde went on a speaking tour to raise funds for her own printing shop. The tour was very successful and the next month she began publication in New York, Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey. She traveled abroad to report on international events as well as news within the United States. Mathilde worked hard and was successful for three years until ill health forced her to stop the paper.

After the Civil War, separation from her husband, and his death in 1872, Mathilde Anneke continued to speak out for women’s rights, the vote, and economic opportunities. She had also continued to bob her hair since the war in Germany. In spite of her strong opinions and commanding presence, she was known for her tact and the ability to win others to her way of thinking. This skill was very useful to her when she began her career as a teacher.

In her final years, Mathilde, now usually called Madame Anneke, chose to pass on her knowledge and ideals to young girls. She opened a school where she instructed about 40 girls at a time (and over the years a few boys.) Her style was unusual and surprisingly modern. Instead of standing to recite, the girls sat around a long table with their teacher at the head. In a newspaper article from the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1930, one of her former students, Miss Ida Fernekes had this to say: “It was not her idea to pour knowledge into a child. She drew out, removed obstacles, gently led the way. She allow a child to grow, standing by only to give the growth guidance and purpose.”

For roughly 18 years, Mathilde Anneke imparted wisdom, bolstered confidence, and encouraged talents. I’m sure she was greatly missed when she died November 25, 1884.Madame Anneke was buried beside her husband and wrote the words which adorn the headstone. A loose translation says the following:

“We have never bent the knee
before false gods,
We have never cowered in
stormy weather,
Be we have always had faith
in a divinity
That ever consecrates a
shrine to love.
 – From “Ruins and Ivy”

Mathilde Anneke's headstone by Michelle Woodham (source)

Mathilde Anneke’s headstone by Michelle Woodham (source)

National Honor Sought for Madame Anneke: Older Residents Recall Fight for Women’s Rights, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 27, 1930, retrieved from Wisconsin Historical Society website
Anneke, Mathilde Franziska (Giesler) 1817 – 1884 (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Madame Mathilda Franziska Anneke: An Early Wisconsin Journalist, The Wisconsin magazine of history: Volume 21, number 2, December 1937