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“To him are open all the many places in the civil service, where life-long maintenance is awaiting him; to women places are open to such limited extent that they almost disappear from sight”

Helene Lange (1848-1930) played a crucial role in the bourgeois women’s movement of Germany from the 1880s to the 1920s. She was a dedicated advocate of women’s rights, who dedicated her to the improvement of the education of girls and women and their training for professional work in teaching and social welfare. The most important women’s organizations she helped to found were the General German Women Teachers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Lehrerinnenverein, ADLV) in 1890, and the League of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF) in 1894. Together with her partner Gertrud Bäumer (1853-1974) she was also the long-term editor of the BDF journal Die Frau (The Woman), which came out from 1893 until 1944.

Lange was born in Oldenburg, in Northern Germany to a middle-class family; her parents were the merchant Carl Theodor Lange and his wife Johanne Dieck. Orphaned at sixteen, Lange was forced to become financially independent early in her life. In 1866, when Lange’s wish to pursue a teacher training her legal guardian did not allow this to her, so she took an au pair position at a boarding school in Petit Château, Alsace, where she gave lessons in German literature and grammar and thus was able to teach. She began an intensive self-study in philosophy, history of literature and religion, historical science and the ancient languages. In 1867, Lange took the job of governess in the private household of an industrialist-family in Osnabrück and continued to safe money for her teacher training.

In 1871 she moved to Berlin to prepare for her teachers’ certification, After she had passed the examen, she started teaching as a private tutor. In 1874 she got a permanent position as a language teacher at the Krahmersche Höhere Mädchenschule (Krahmersche High School for Girls) in Lichtenberg near Berlin, where she worked for nearly twenty years. But Lange continued to take classes herself at the Victoria Lyceum, a school designed to provide more opportunities for higher education to women. She never once expressed an interest in marriage, a choice almost unheard of for the time. Instead she lived since 1898 until her death together with her partner “in live and work” Gertrud Bäumer.

Lange focused her political work in the 1880s and 1890s on the reform of the education of middle- and upper-class girls and women. She believed that it was necessary to prepare young women from the educated strata for their unsecure future by training them for a “proper” job. Because of the “surplus” of women, not all middle- and upper-class girls and women could hope to marry. Furthermore, she argued that girls and women needed to be taught by female teachers. Asa relational feminist she believed in the natural differences between the sexes. For her all women, because of their maternal nature, were ‘spiritual mother,’ who were much better suited to guide the development of girls and young women than men. Vice versa the profession as a teacher would give single women a sense of purpose and allow them to live their “maternal nature,” even without marriage. She summarized her ideas about the reform of the higher education for girls in the Yellow Brochure (Gelben Broschüre), a periodical published since 1887 dedicated to increasing the presence of female teacher and scientific training for women.

In 1889, she offered together with Franziska Tiburtius (1843-1927) and Minna Cauer (1841-1922) the first Realkurse (middle high-school courses) for women in Berlin, which were converted in 1893 to Gymnasialkurse (high school courses) to prepare women for a training as teachers and university study. However not after the turn to the twentieth century women slowly got access to university study in the federal state of the German Empire, starting in 1900 in Baden and ending in 1908 in Prussia. Until then, German women determined and wealthy enough to strive for a university education, had to go to a university in Britain, Switzerland or France.

In 1890, Helene Lange and Marie Stritt (1855-1928) co-founded the General German Women Teacher’s Association. The organization worked towards its founders’ goals of changing the curriculum of girls’ schools, improving the education of female teachers and increasing their work opportunities. In 1894, Lange helped found the League of German Women’s Associations, the BDF, as a national umbrella organization of the bourgeois women’s movement in Germany and started as the editor of its journal Die Frau. In 1901 Lange was elected president of this association. In 1906, she was summoned as advisor to the Prussian  Administration for Education and Culture (preußischen Kultusverwaltung), leading in 1908 to the Prussian girls school reform.

During World War I, Lange actively supported the National Women’s Service (Nationaler Frauendienst, NFD), initiated by her partner Gertrud Bäumer, who was since 1910 the leader of the BDF. The NFD organized German women’s war support at the “homefront.” In 1917, Lange and Bäumer moved from Berlin to Hamburg, where Lange started a Soziale Frauenschule (Social Women’s School) and worked as one of its teachers. The aim of this school was to provide middle- and upper-class girls and young women a professional training as kindergarten teachers, health and social workers. Arguably, Helene Lange’s largest personal accomplishment came near the end of her life, when she was elected into the parliament of Hamburg in January 1919 as a representative of the liberal German Democratic Party (DDP). Her placement of the list of DDP candidates was a recognition of her support of the Liberals since 1908, when women were allowed to join political parties, and an attempt of the DDP to win female voters in the first elections of the Weimar Republic, after women final had gained the right to vote.

Helene Lange’s legacy lives on in the prominent presence of women and girls in education and social work today. Girls and women access to both comprehensive and higher education could not have been achieved without the passionate dedication to this cause by relational feminists like Helen Lange. Women with careers in scientific fields and the overwhelming number of female teachers in public schools also have Lange and her sisters in the bourgeois women’s movement to thank for their opportunities. Although there is clearly still work to be done in the realm of equality of the sexes, so much progress has been made since the nineteenth century.

Rachel Arenas, Exercise and Sport Science, Class of 2021


Literature and Websites


Helene Lange, leader of the bourgeois women’s movement and founder of the BdF and the ADL.
The emblem of the Fwederation of German Women#s Associations (Deutscher Frauenvereine), which Lange helped to found in 1894.
The cover of Die Frau (The Woman), the BDF journal edited by Helene Lange.
Helene Lange 1919