Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Frauen-Zeitung [Women's Newspaper]

Frauen-Zeitung [Women's Newspaper] Begun in April, 1849, Louise Ott o's Frauen-Zeitung was a direct outgrowth of the 1848 revolution. It is a remarkable document for a number of reasons. As the first journal in Germany to focus primarily on social and political issues concerning women, it did not at all resemble its belletristic and philanthropic predecessors, which emphasized the prescribed gender role of women and totally avoided any involvement with politics or any confrontation with the patriarchy. In addition, the life span of the Frauen-Ze itung - it continued at least until mid-1852 (and some claim until mid-1853) - not only differentiated it from other liberal political journals edited by German women in the 1840s (such as Louise Aston's Der Freischärler, which managed nine issues, or Mathilde Franziska Anneke's Frauenzeitung, which produced only a single issue, or the far more radical Soziale Reform, later re-named Wesen der Ehe, edited by Louise Dittmar, which appeare d only during a part of 1849), but also showed how even in the face of a growing political reaction Louise Otto still succeeded in circulating her liberal ideas. Despite house searches, overt threats, and newly-passed restrictive local laws (that forced her, for example, to move the paper in 1851 from Grossenhain to Gera), Otto persisted, never really compromising except when absolutely necessary.

The journal appeared on a weekly basis, almost always on Saturdays. Its length was consisten tly eight pages. Although Louise Otto was obviously responsible for the message and format, she gained the assistance of a number of regular contributors who supplied her with fiction, letters, poetry, book reviews, and occasional articles. Otto's name as editor was prominently displayed, but many of her contributors remained anonymous or pseudonymous, indicating the perceived level of danger involved in appearing in print in a liberal journal. An additional problem was no doubt the clash between p ublic role expectation and personal perception of self that was apparent when women chose to publish their writings. In the frequent anonymity of its contributors, then, the journal, despite its brave stands, represents a telling reminder of the limitations placed on women's public actions in mid-19th-century Germany.

Although the Frauen-Zeitung has been re-discovered (and in part even reprinted) in recent years, it has been less the focus of scholarly investigation and far mo re a valuable source of cultural and social-historical information for scholars in history and literature. Its contents presented a wide range of topics that emphasized middle-class German women and their role in the events surrounding the revolution. But in addition to the supplying of information, there was an ideology presented that was apparent throughout: in this journal, Louise Otto essentially shaped the women's movement that was to emerge in organized form in 1865, setting its priorities, its demands, and also its limits. The journal's major concerns and demands centered on increased work and educational opportunities for German women, as well as on broadened participation for women in the public life of the hoped-for new regime.

At the same time, there was a clear division between these demands and the maintenance of a proper role as women. In the initial editorial, Louise Otto stressed the separation between her position and that of the so-called "emancipated women," who m she viewed as mere caricatures of men, women who had abandoned their gender roles and thus ended up looking ridiculous. This moderate tone was maintained throughout: revolution, yes, but evolution was preferable; expansion of the rights of women, yes, but an equal emphasis on responsibilities. Louise Otto was no separatist, no radical; her Frauen-Zeitung remained firmly on the side of progressive change, but it was also cautious in its suggestions and recommendations. Yet the mere fa ct that Otto's emphasis was on women's rights, an issue that was discussed in public on only a very limited scale even in the 1840s, makes her journal's focus and its reasonably prolonged existence remarkable.

There is little evidence on the extent to which the journal was known, subscribed to, read. On the basis of the contributors and Otto's own comments, the indication is that its popularity grew and expanded as the years passed. Although many of the contributors were totally obscure, b etter-known writers also supplied material, young revolutionaries like Louise Dittmar, Hermann Semmig, and Benno Haberland, reformist educators like Johanna Küstner and Karl Fröbel, the theologian and founder of the German-Catholic Church Johannes Ronge, publicists like Minna Zimmermann. But it is the anonymous writers, or those who signed their contributions with first names or with initials, that tended to characterize the Frauen-Zeitung best: this was a journal that wishe d to represent the voice of (middle- class) German women, the majority of whom at mid-century tended not to be public figures whose names would be recognized.

Although the journal retained its fiery motto, "I am recruiting women for freedom's realm!" ["Dem Reich der Freiheit werb' ich Bürgerinnen!"], once the Frauen- Zeitung had to move its location to Gera in early 1851, the exclamation mark was removed and the journal acquired a more sedate descriptive subt itle, "An organ for loftier female interests" ["Ein Organ für die höheren weiblichen Interessen"]. There was a further sign of unsettling change: because of a new law in Saxony restricting journal editorship to men, Louise Otto was no longer listed as the editor, but rather as the person who founded and would continue the journal under the editorship of the publisher in Gera. Yet the expressions of liberal political sentiments remained, if the number of anonymous contributo rs grew. Strong liberal opinions also tended to be more masked: thus Louise Otto cloaked a message about women's longing for independence in a fairy tale. Others selected allegory or historical fiction to present their messages. Still others hid their editorializing behind the benignity of a book review. In essence, however, the general pattern of moderate protest presented in a variety of forms remained consistent.

Except for a period of something over a month (mid-December 1850 to early February 1851), the Frauen-Zeitung appeared continuously at least until late June of 1852. The final extant issue gave no indication that the journal might well have concluded its run. Louise Otto was not to attempt another journal until 1866 when, having founded the National Organization for German Women in 1865, she began its official organ, New Paths (Neue Bahnen), which she co-edited with Auguste Schmidt until her death in 1895 (and which continued to appear until 1919 ). The later newspaper was, unlike the Frauen- Zeitung, the voice of an organization; its tone was studied, ordered, exact. It had little or none of the spontaneity of the earlier journal; it represented a collective, increasingly powerful voice, a specific viewpoint, a recognizable agenda. The Frauen-Zeitung, on the other hand, presented the voices of many individuals who were moving tentatively toward common ground. They were diverse, struggling to find a variety of ways to express their excited responses to the political events of the revolution; the contributors to the Neue Bahnen were, in contrast, consistent, directed, experienced, and considerably more knowledgeable.

The public role of German women in the 1848 revolution was marginal, less expected than unique, remarkable by the oddity of its presence. The Frauen-Zeitung best represented that uniqueness, a mix of radical voices that seemed emboldened by the times and could t ell their stories or make their comments in an analogous fashion to what the male revolutionaries were doing, and the worried, cautious voices that were trapped by gender role expectations, but that still refused to remain silent. No consistent debate between these and other factions emerged; the journal remained instead a colorful palette of opinions and ideas and impressions, of women from the provinces as well as the cities, probing into the issues that might well end up uniting them.
Ruth -Ellen B. Joeres


Geiger, Ruth-Esther, and Sigrid Weigel, eds. Sind das noch Damen? Vom gelehrten Frauenzimmer-Journal zum feministischen Journalismus. Munich: Frauenbuchverlag, 1981.

Gerhard, Ute, Elisabeth Hannover-Drück, and Romina Schmitter, eds. "Dem Reich der Freiheit werb' ich Bü;rgerinnen" Die Frauen-Zeitung von Louise Otto. Frankfurt a/M: Syndikat, 1980.

Joeres, Ruth-Ellen Boetcher, "Louise Otto an d her Journals: A Chapter in Nineteenth-Century German Feminism," Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur, 4 (1979): 100-29.

Joeres, Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Die Anfänge der deutschen Frauenbewegung: Louise Otto-Peters. Frankfurt a/M: Fischer, 1983.

Prelinger, Catherine, "Religious Dissent, Women's Rights, and the Hamburger Hochschule für das weibliche Geschlecht in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Germany," Church History XXXV, 1 (March 1976): 1-14.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( on October 14, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1997, 2004 James Chastain.