Minna Cauer (1841-1922)
“The ideal ‘woman of the future’ is the woman who also operates outside of the family, who invests time and power in acquiring skills to work for the common welfare”
Minna Cauer (1841-1922) was a German educator, journalist and radical feminist of the middle- and upper-class women’s movement. She fought for equal rights for women’s in secondary and higher education and the work force and demanded universal women’s suffrage. She became the founder of one of the first female trade unions; in 1889 she formed the Commercial Union of Female Salaried Employees (Kaufmännischer Verband der weiblichen Abgestellten) and pioneered a professional education for female social work by co-founding the Girls and Women’s Group for Social Assistance Work (Mädchen- und Frauengruppen für Soziale Hilfsarbeit), founded in 1893.
Cauer was born in November 1841 in Freyenstein in the German Ostprignitz to a Lutheran pastor and his wife. In 1862, she married the left-wing educator and physician, August Latzel, but was already widowed in 1866. She then trained as a teacher, working in Paris for a year before marrying Eduard Cauer, a school inspector, and moving with him to Berlin. It was not until the 1880s that she became politically active. Her second husband died in 1881, giving her time to further her own education and to engage in the rising middle- and upper-class women’s movement of the German Empire.
To achieve better educational and employment opportunities for female employees, Cauer formed the Commercial Union of Female Salaried Employees (Kaufmännischer Verband der weiblichen Abgestellten) in 1889, which was the first women’s trade union just for female white-color workers. This union blossomed and grew to represent over 100,000 working women in Germany by the 1920s. In the same year, Cauer aided Helene Lange (1848-1930), like her a rising leader of the bourgeois women’s movement, who cared deeply about women’s education and professional training, in establishing a secondary school for girls in Berlin called the Realkurse (middle high-school courses), which were converted in 1893 to Gymnasialkurse (high school courses). They offered women the opportunity to prepare for the Abitur, an examination that allowed to study at a German university. The school offered female students courses in math, science, history, languages, and economics. Since the secondary school education of girls and thus their access to universities were still very restricted in Imperial Germany, these Gymnasialkurse were a large step forward in women’s education.
In 1893, Cauer co-founded in addition the Girls and Women’s Group for Social Assistance Work (Mädchen- und Frauengruppen für Soziale Hilfsarbeit), which trained young middle- and upper-class women in professional social work and organized their volunteering in this field. She also worked to organize the German delegation to the World’s Fair which was held in Chicago in 1893. Three years later, she presided over the International Congress of Women’s Work and Women’s Endeavors in Berlin, which marked the first international women’s conference to be held in Germany.
In 1894, Cauer worked with other feminists including Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), Helene Lange and Marie Stritt (1855-1928) to establish the Federation of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF). This association sought to promote unification among the various middle- and upper-class women’s groups by working on the shared goal to further women’s economic, social, and political standing. To support the unification of the women’s movement in Germany and offer a national forum for information and communication, Cauer published from 1895 to 1919 the journal Die Frauenbewegung (Women’s Movement).
Cauer always possessed a more radical left-liberal view on women’s rights than most women in the German bourgeois women’s movement. To give the more radical position a national voice, she formed along with Anita Augspurg an alternative umbrella organizations to the BDF, the League of Progressive Women’s Associations (Verband Fortschrifttlicher Frauenvereine, VFF), in 1898 and was its president until 1907. While serving as president, she also continued her work in the BDF and the Commercial Union of Female Salaried Employees. In addition, in 1902 she co-founded with Anita Augspurg and Lida Gustava Heymann the German Union for Women’s Suffrage (Deutscher Verband fur Frauenstimmrecht, DFV). Different than the BDF, which only the demanded equal suffrage, i.e. the extension of the existing franchise system that privileged propertied men in all federal states, the DFV called for universal suffrage for all men and women on the national and local level. The DFV operated in Hamburg, which was the only German city which allowed women to be politically active before 1908. In 1906, Cauer tried in vain to add herself to the electoral roll in Berlin. She argued that under the law which referred to “persons”—non specifically “men”— she would be eligible, but was rejected. Until 1911 Cauer belonged to the leadership of the DFV, but then resigned and left the organization with Augspurg and Heymann because the DFV majority wanted to limit their demands now to equal women’s suffrage. Instead they to set up in 1913 a more radical association, the German Women’s Suffrage League (Deutscher Frauenstimmrechtsbund).
When the laws of the German Empire finally allowed women to be organized and active in political parties in 1908, Cauer joined the liberal Free-Minded People’s Party (Freisinnige Volkspartei), which she left very soon, due to its refusal to add woman’s suffrage into its program. Instead, she joined the small left-liberal party, the Democratic Union (Demokratische Union).
During World War I, she turned like Augspurg and Heymann to pacifism. She attended the International Congress of Women that took place in The Hague, in neutral Netherlands, in April 1915 as part of the German delegation and joined the newly founded International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), which changed its name in 1919 to Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Cauer died in 1922 in Berlin. Her energetic work for social justice, women’s equality and peace was long forgotten in Germany.
Steven Potter, Global Studies, Class of 2018
Literature and Websites
- “Cauer, Minna [Wilhelmine].” In The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women’s Biography, ed. Jennifer S. Uglow, Frances Hinton, and Maggy Hendry, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/macdwb/cauer_minna_wilhelmine/0?institutionId=1724
- “Cauer, Minna.” In Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers, ed. Helen Rappaport. ABC-CLIO, 2001. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/abcwsr/cauer_minna/0?institutionId=1724
- Sklar, Kathryn Kish., Anja Schüler, and Susan Strasser, eds. Social Justice Feminists in the United States and Germany: A Dialogue in Documents, 1885-1933. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.