Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht (German Association for Women’s Suffrage, DVF) (1902-1916)
“Reliance is only on our own power!” – Lida Gustava Heymann
The Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht (German Association for Women’s Suffrage (DVF) was founded in Hamburg, Germany on January 1, 1902 by Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), Minna Cauer (1841-1921), and Lida Gustava Heymann (1868-1943). The main aim of the association were equal political citizenship rights of women and the active and passive right to vote for all women. Although the women who created the association were all members of the middle- and upper-class class, they held the minority opinion among other bourgeoisie suffragists because they demanded suffrage for women all classes, i.e. called for universal suffrage. The DVF was created at a time when women’s suffrage movements in Western Europe were catching their stride. Unlike the militant suffragettes in England, though, the DVF advocated a more moderate, nonviolent approach, winning them the support of prominent conservative feminists like Helene Lange (1848-1930) and Gertrude Bäumer (1853-1954).
The early focus of the DVF was on the Association Law in Germany, which prevented political activities of women in many German states until it was amended in 1908. The DVF used publications like its journal Die Frauenbewegung (The Women’s Movement), lectures, and public petitions to spread their ideas in Imperial Germany. After 1908, the ADF focused on the struggle for equal voting rights for women and started campaigns in state and city elections for candidates that supported women’s voting rights. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was one of these parties, because she demanded universal suffrage for both sexes since 1891.
The founders of the organization, Augspurg, Cauer, and Heymann, had similar backgrounds and, in turn, similar aims for the organization. All three women were highly educated and pro propertied women, who earned their living themselves: Augsburg as one of the first female lawyers in Germany, Heymann and Cauer as educators and teachers. They prioritized the struggle for women’s citizenship education and women’s suffrage, but also supported reform of the patriarchal Civil Code of Imperial Germany, implemented in 1900, who discriminated women in family and marriage and made them second class citizens without legal autonomy. Although the DFV generally received support from more conservative feminists, the demand of their leaders of universal suffrage and their insistence on prioritizing suffrage over all else, led to conflicts with the BDF leadership and in inside the DVF. In 1913, the DVF founders Augspurg, Cauer und Heymann, left the association and created their own group, the Deutschen Bund für Frauenstimmrecht (The German Association for Women’s Suffrage, DBF), to pursue their agenda of equal voting rights for all women, regardless of class.
Throughout the association’s tenure, the founders participated in many international conferences. In 1904, they even organized the Second International Women’s Voting Rights Conference in Berlin under the presidency of the American suffragette Susan B. Anthony. This conference, founded the World Federation for Women’s Suffrage, helping to launch the international women’s suffrage movement.
During World War I, the committed pacifists Augsburg and Heymann belonged to the small group of German middle-class women who helped to organize and participated, in the International Congress of Women at The Hague in April 1915. The conference discussed peace and women’s political rights and established the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace, since 1919 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In 1916, the DVF united with the Vereinigung für Frauenstimmrecht (German Union for Women’s Suffrage, founded 1911), forming the largest German suffrage organization. But suffrage activism during the war was difficult, because all attention, both political and social, of the majority of the women’s movement was turned to the support of the war effort and any opposition against the war was suppressed. At the end of the war, during the Novemberrevolution 1918, when Germany became a democratic republic, universal suffrage was finally granted to men and women on the national, regional and local level all over Germany.
The efforts of the DVF and its founders remain relevant in today’s society, because it is always important to recognize the way in which rights were gained, so that it may also be recognized if those same rights are being taken away. The work the DVF, put into gaining women’s suffrage in Germany, is exemplary of the type of work done all over Europe for women’s suffrage. Their efforts are relevant for determining how we maintain and sustain that other progressive rights today. It is also relevant to note that the women who founded this organization were of the upper class and thus had the time and resources to do this sort of work. Recognizing the impact of class on association and activism is important when examining how we associate ourselves and the causes we care about today.
Jessica Thompson, Chemistry, Class of 2020
Literature and Websites
- “Anita Augspurg.” Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_Augspurg (Accessed 20 April 2018).
- “German Association for Women’s suffrage.” Wikipedia, at: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutscher_Verband_für_Frauenstimmrecht (Accessed 20 April 2018).
- “Lida Gustava Heymann.” Wikipedia, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lida_Gustava_Heymann (Accessed 20 April 2018).
- “Minna Cauer.” Wikipedia, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minna_Cauer (Accessed 20 April 2018).
- Braker, Regina. “Bertha Von Suttner’s Spiritual Daughters: The Feminist Pacifism of Anita Augspurg, Lida Gustava Heymann, and Helene Stöcker at the International Congress of Women at The Hague, 1915.” Women’s Studies International Forum 18, no. 2 (1995): 103-111
- Fuchs, Rachel and Victoria Thompson. Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe, 162-176. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
- Sharp, Ingrid. “Overcoming Inner Division: post suffrage strategies in the organised German women’s movement.” Women’s History Review 23, no. 3 (2013): 347-264