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Louise Otto-Peters

Louise Otto-Peters, 1819-1895 The "Speech of a German Girl" (1848), no doubt her best-known contribution to the events of 1848, was actually only one of many published expressions of her thoughts on the revolution. Its impassioned description of the oppression of German women workers and its demands for action on their behalf are unusual, given their source: a decidedly middle-class young woman, born and raised in the provincial town of Meissen. Her upbringing as the daughter of an enlightened jurist and a mother whose family was involved in Meissen's porcelain industry did not indicate radical potential. Yet circumstances - among them the early death of her parents and her resulting independence, her decision to become a writer, and the general liberalizing trends that emerged in the 1840s - led her to political and social action. By the time of her death near the end of the century, she was widely acknowledged as the founder of the organized German women's movement, a leading proponent of the legal rights of women, and an occasional spokeswoman for working-class women.

Louise Otto's role in the pre-1848 Vormärz and the revolution was primarily publicistic, as writer and as speaker. In the early 1840s she first began to write novels, short stories, poetry, and a steady stream of polemic articles in journals edited by Robert Blum, Ernst Keil, and others. Under a pseudonym of Otto Stern as well as her own name, she discussed the role of women in politics, the need to organize women workers, and the value of political poetry. By 1849, she founded the weekly newspaper, Frauen-Zeitung (Women's Newspaper), which continued to exist until 1852 despite censorship and frequent harassment. Although the German women's movement was not formally organized until 1865, this early paper, with contributors from throughout Germany, allowed group of progressive women to reach the general public with their own gender-based demand for reform.

Feminist scholars in history and literature have re-discovered and recognized Louise Otto. German women, especially her work in the revolutionary decade, despite Otto's long career as novelist, feminist activist, and public figure. As founder of the bourgeois German women's movement, especially after her founding of the National Organization for German Women in 1865, her outspoken liberal stance in the 1840s was remarkable. Although Clara Zetkin considered her an ideological prisoner of her class, Louise Otto was unique among her feminist contemporaries, keenly interested in working-class women, which reflected her broad democratic commitments. Pimarily interested in middle-class women, she supported the rights and privileges of all women, most directly seamstresses, about whom she wrote several articles. She also delivered public lectures which in in 1869 led to the founding of a women workers' organization in Berlin.

Like other progressive German women who began their careers in the 1840s as writers and publicists, the liberalization of 1848 allowed Louise Otto a limited public prominence was limited; women were not permitted to be members of revolutionary clubs and organizations, and they remained observers at most political functions. But they managed to progress, especially with their involvement in the German-Catholic movement. In general, however, Otto's role in print established her as a spokeswoman for women's rights. For her, the revolution of 1848 clarified the focus of her lifelong pursuits, making her a feminist, specifing her interests, prompting her to speak for women. She, contributed women's issues to the concerns of the 1848 German revolutionaries, forced them to acknowledge the significance of women's rights and broadened their political and social engagement.
Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres


Adler, Hans. "On a Feminist Controversy: Louise Otto vs. Louise Aston," in Joeres, Ruth-Ellen B. and M.J. Maynes, eds., German Women in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: A Social and Literary History. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986: 193-214.

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

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

Koepcke, Cordula. Louise Otto-Peters. Die rote Demokratin. Freiburg: Herder, 1981.

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