Marie Juchacz (1879-1956)
“Gentlemen and ladies… This is the first time that a woman has been allowed to address the people in the parliament on free and equal terms”
Marie Juchacz (1879-1956) was a dedicated social reformer and activist for women’s rights in Werimar Germany (1919-1933). During during World War I, she became the leader of the social democratic women’s movement, when theSocial Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) split over the issue of the war support and in April 1917 the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) was founded by the growing war opposition inside the SPD. Between 1917 and 1922, two large social democratic parties existed in Germany, the MSPD and the USPD. Juchacz lead the (M)SPD women’s organization until it was dissolved by the Nazis in 1933. In addition, she was the founder and leader of the social democratic welfare organization Workers Welfare (Arbeiterwohlfahrt) from 1919 to 1933 and one of the first female parliamentarians elected on January 19, 1919 in the National Assembly, the first democratically elected parliament, together with 40 other women from different parties. She stayed in the Reichtag, the national parliament until it was dissolved by the Nazis in 1933.
Marie Juchacz was born in March 1879 in Landsberg, Warthe, in Prussia as the daughter of the carpenter Theodor Gohlke and his wife Henriette. Her whole childhood was marked by poverty; she had to leave school in the age of 14 and first worked as a maid, and then, briefly, in a factory that made curtains and fishing nets. Her father suffered from a lung infection and since he had no health insurance, the wage packet of his daughter was important for the family income. From 1896 to 1898 she worked as a nurse in a local psychiatric institution. Later she completed an apprenticeship as a dressmaker, and took a job with the taylor Bernhard Juchacz whom she married in 1903. Their daughter Lotte was born in the same year, their son, Paul, two years later. The marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce in 1906. Marie Juchacz moved to Berlin, accompanied by her two children, her younger sister, Elisabeth Kirschmann-Röhl (1888-1930) and her children. The sisters set up house together in Berlin with their children, forming out of necessity what was seen as an unconventional family unit. Marie worked at dressmaking until 1913.
Already as a young girl, her older brother Otto Gohlke exposed her to the ideas of the Social Democracy and encouraged her to read August Bebel’s bestsellerDie Frau und der Sozialismus (Women and Socialism) published in 1879. This book inspired her, like many other German working-class girls and women to strive for social justice and more rights for women. She became politically active and joined the social democratic women’s organization and the trade unions. Once the Old Prussian Law was repealed in 1908, and women were finally allowed to join political parties, Juchacz became a members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and soon made a career in the party as a moderate, reform oriented social democrat.
In 1913, she was appointed to a paid position by the party as the Cologne women’s secretary. Her children remained in Berlin, looked after by her sister. She was nominated for the job, which she retained till 1917, by the national women’s secretary of the SPD, Luise Zietz, (1865–1922) who had been appointed in 1908 to the SPD executive committee. Much of Juchacz’s attention in her new post was devoted to the organization of female textile workers in the region.
During World War I, Juchacz supported the decision of the majority of the female SPD leadership to the support the National Women’s Service (Nationaler Frauendienst, NFD), initiated by 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 (1894-1933). The NFD supported the war at the homefront in multiple ways, mainly by war charity. Together with her sister, Elisabeth Röhl, who had moved with the children to Cologne in 1914, Juchacz organized the NFD work in Cologne and the surrounding Rhine region. In November 1914, she gave a series of public speeches on behalf of the NFP entitled, “The Social Obligations of Women in Wartime.” Marie Juchacz’s name became well known during the war as a female speaker and organizer far beyond Cologne.
In 1917, when the SPD split, and the two national leaders of its women’s movement joined the USPD, Marie Jucacz became the leader of the MSPD and the editor of the journal Die Gleichheit (Equality), since 1892 successfully edited by Clara Zetkin (1875-1933). Die Gleichheit, which was published until 1923, when the party could not afford it any longer because of the hyperinflation.
In 1919, Jucacz became also responsible for the founding of the Social Democratic welfare organization Arbeiterwohlfart (AWO), originally called the “The Social Democratic Party Main Committee for Worker Welfare”. The AWO’s short term aim was to aid those displaced and depressed by the war. The organization provided temporary assistance and aid for working class families in need, often in the form of self-help by and for working class women. But its long-term goal was the implementation of welfare state laws in the Weimar Republic, because for the AWO welfare was a right of workers in need, when they were sick, unemployed and old. They should never depend on charity by the rich. The AWO worked successfully until 1933, when it was dissolved by the Nazis. It offered especially social democratic women an important space for social and political action.
The Novemberrevolution1918 led not only to the Weimar Republic, but brought German women also active and passive universal suffrage. Marie Jucacz belonged to the group of 41 female parliamentarians that were elected in the first election on January 19, 1919. The vast majority of them were members of the MSPD or USPD. On 19 February, exactly a month after the first national election. Marie Juchacz became the first woman to make a speech before the parliament, the National Assembly, which was named since 1920 the Reichstag. During the Weimar Republic Marie Juchacz worked intensively for social justice and women’s equality in the parliament, the SPD and the AWO.
When the Nazis were bought into power in January 1933, they soon dissolved not only all parties and organization of their enemies, but persecuted also their leaders and members. Marie Juchacz an her sister first fled to Saarbrücken, which was until 1935 under French control, and later to Paris. In 1940, when the German Wehrmacht, the Nazi army, occupied Northern France, they fled together to the southern part of France, reaching Marseilles at the end of 1940. From their they migrated to the United States. In 1949, Juchacz returned to Germany from her exile in New York and was made honorary chairwoman of the re-founded Arbeiterwohlfahrt. Marie Juchacz inspired many working class women to fight for equality; she also raised awareness of the social inequities they experienced in their daily lives.
Damaris Osorio, Global and Latin American Studies, Class of 2018
Literature and Websites
- Hagemann, Karen. “Men’s Demonstrations and Women’s Protest: Gender in Collective Action in the Urban Working-Class Milieu during the Weimar Republic,” Gender & History 5, no. 1 (1993): 101-119.
- Hagemann, Karen. “Equal but not the Same: The Social Democratic Women’s’ Movement in the Weimar Republic,” in Bernstein to Brandt: A Short History of German Social Democracy, ed. Roger Fletcher, 134-145. London: Edward Arnold, 1982.
- Thönnessen, Werner. The Emancipation of Women: The Rise and Decline of the Women’s Movement in German Social Democracy 1863-1933. London: Pluto Press, 1976.
- “Marie Juchachz.” Wikipedia, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Juchacz (Accessed. 23 April 2018)
- “AWO Historie.” Arbeiterwohfahrt, at:https://www.awo.org/ueber-uns/awo-historie/jahr/1919 (Accessed. 23 April 2018)