Skip to main content

“Womanly feelings were above all race hatreds and that German women stretched out their hands for friendship and international love” – New York Times, April 28, 1915

Anita Augspurg (1857-1943) was a female activist of the left-liberal wing of the German middle-and upper-class women’s movement. She fought for universal women’s suffrage, opposed militarism and war and promoted international peace. Augspurg was a co-founder of several national and international women’s organizations, including the German branch of the International Abolitionist Federation  and the Union of Progressive Women’s Associations (Verband Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine) in 1898, the German Union for Women’s Suffrage (Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht) in 1902, the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in 1904, and the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace in 1915, which became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919.

Anita Augspurg was born into an academic upper-class family in Munich. Her father worked as a Landgerichtstrat (a senior officer in the justice system) and her mother came from an affluent intellectual family. Augspurg spent time working in her father’s office until she completed an apprenticeship for teaching at a girls school and began taking acting classes. After five years of struggling to find work as an actress, she then worked with her friend and partner Sophia Goudstikker to set up a photography studio in Munich in 1887. Using her connections made during her career as an actress, her studio quickly became known and prosperous. The two women wore short hair, unconventional reform clothing, and frequently were a subject of public news because of their support for the struggle for the liberation of women and their free lifestyle. Because of that unusual lifestyle, Augspurg was exposed to personal attacks by anti-feminists far more than were other personalities of the women’s movement.

After becoming enraptured by with the women’s movements in Munich, Augspurg decided to pursue her law degree. In 1791, she moved to Zurich to study law, as many universities in Germany still did not allow women equal access to university study. She graduated in 1897 with a doctorate in law which made her the first female doctor of law in the German Empire. In 1895, together with Marie Stritt (1855-1828) and Minna Cauer (1841-1921), she rose to the leadership of the Federation of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF), the umbrella organization of the middle- and upper-class women’s movement in Germany. They led a radical campaign against the new Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB), to be implemented in 1900, and its patriarchal provisions for women in family and marriage, holding huge public meetings in Berlin and elsewhere.

By 1898 she split from the moderate BDF and founded the Union of Progressive Women’s Associations and founded the first German branch of the International Abolitionist Federation in Hamburg. This organization primarily fought for rights and civil liberties of prostitutes. In 1902, with Minna Cauer, Lida Gustava Heymann (1868-1943), Marie Stritt and others, Augspurg founded the German Union for Women’s Suffrage (Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht, DFV), and became its first president. At this time, only the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) had advocated for universal women’s suffrage. This organization fought through public events and campaigns drawing attention to the issue of unrepresented women in electoral contexts. In 1903 the DFV joined the BDF and a year later Augspurg represented the organization at an international meeting of women’s suffrage organization in Washington DC. This meeting established the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance and Augspurg became its vice president.

Five years after the Civil Code was implemented, Augspurg published an open letter, in which she discussed the patriarchal marriage and family laws of the BGB and called for “free marriages”. This was seen as a boycott against marriage which brought a lot of attention and backlash in Germany. Augspurg became more and more disillusioned with the “men’s political parties.” She admired Emmeline Pankhurst (1859-1928) and her militant Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1908 she spoke at a large WSPU demonstration for women suffrage in London’s Hyde Park, invited by Pankhurst. Augsburg was so impressed by the WSUP that she adopted its colors of green, purple and white for the German women’s suffrage movement and pushed for a more militant approach to its suffrage campaign too. But the new President of the German Union for Women’s Suffrage opposed such ideas. In 1913, after much quarrel, Augspurg and Heymann finally left the organization to set up a more radical association, the German Women’s Suffrage League (Deutscher Frauenstimmrechtsbund). Augspurg became its president.

In 1914, after World War I had started, Augspurg realized that the focus on war had diminished the support for women’s suffrage even inside the middle- and upper-class women’s movement in Germany, which in its vast majority supported the German war effort. As an ardent pacifist she turned her focus on the opposition against war. Together with the Dutch feminist, suffragist and pacifist Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929), she planned the International Congress of Women that took place in The Hague, in the neutral Netherlands, in April 1915. She led the German delegation. The Congress resulted in the founding of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), which changed its name in 1919 to Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Lida Gustava Heymann and Auguspurg became influential leaders in the German branch of the WILPF and edited the pacifist-feminist journal Die Frau im Staat (Woman in the State), which they had founded in 1919, until 1932.

After the Nazis took power in January 1933, Augsburg and her partner Heymann had to leave Germany and moved to Switzerland where they co-wrote their memoires ErlebtesErschautes (Experienced—Seen). The book was not published until 1972, decades after their death in 1943. Women in Germany today can thank Augsburg for her struggle got equal civil and political rights of women by using the right to vote in elections for the furthering of social just and civil rights.

Steven Potter, Global Studies Major, Class of 2018


Literature and Websites


Dr. Anita Augspurg after achieving her doctoral degree, 1897
Anita Augspurg, c. 1899
Suffrage Alliance Congress with Millicent Fawcett presiding, London 1909. Top row from left: Thora Dangaard (Denmark), Louise Qvam (Norway), Aletta Jacobs (Netherlands), Annie Furuhjelm (Finland), Madame Mirowitch (Russia), Käthe Schirmacher (Germany), Madame Honneger, unidentified. Bottom left: Unidentified, Anna Bugge (Sweden), Anna Howard Shaw (USA), Millicent Fawcett (Presiding, England), Carrie Chapman Catt (USA), F. M. Qvam (Norway), Anita Augspurg (Germany)
Anita Augspurg in later years of her life