chapter  11
20 Pages

Housework and motherhood: debates and policies in the women's movement in Imperial Germany and the Weimar Republic

From the late nineteenth century, the German women's movement discussed the issues of women's domestic work and of maternity, mothers' rights and mothers' protection, in the context of female emancipation. In 1905 Kiithe Schirmacher, a prominent member of the Verband Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine (VFF, League of Progressive Women's Associations), the umbrella organization of the left or radical wing of the burgerliche (meaning civic as well bourgeois) women's movement, argued at a meeting of the VFF that women's domestic work was 'real work', 'value-creating work', 'productive work', even though 'it may look like nothing'; that it includes many different activities, and that 'there is no more "productive work" than that of the mother who, all by herself, creates the value of values, called a human being'. She protested against 'the exploitation of the housewife and mother' and asked for an economic, legal and social re-evaluation of this work, including its payment.1 Later on and somewhat surprisingly, the issues of housework and of motherhood were discussed rather separately. This chapter presents the two strands of this debate. It will be argued that the heated debate on the value of women's domestic work was subdued by incorporating this value into the older concept of women's more general 'cultural contribution' (Kulturleistung), the social recognition of which became the main emancipatory goal; that physical mothers took second place to 'spiritual motherhood' and that, during the Weimar Republic, women's common efforts to raise the level of maternity welfare were conspicuous but their results remained limited, because of economic crises, lack of response on the part of the political world at large, but also because of the concept of 'spiritual motherhood' itself.