The Schirmacher Project

The project “Commitment and Professionalization. Käthe Schirmacher (1865-1930)” deals with discourses and fields of conflict that were negotiated around 1900 under the topos of the “women’s question”. Using the example of Käthe Schirmacher, a transnational women’s rights activist and later völkisch nationalist, it examines demands for equal political and social participation by women as well as new models of female individuality. The examination of the Danzig-born writer, travelling lecturer and politician also opens up perspectives on the history of sexuality as well as on the history of education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and permits conceptual and theoretical developments in the fields of women’s and gender history of social and political movements, biographical research and nationalism research.

The project explores specific constellations in which Käthe Schirmacher designed herself as a “modern woman” and examines the path of a young teacher from a middle-class family who was looking for education and career development opportunities by not only studying in Paris and Zurich, but also becoming a transnationally known agitator for women’s educational rights. The project explores the networks of relationships and practices that have shaped Schirmacher’s life, focusing on family contexts as well as broad transnational connections. A particular focus is on the transgression of hegemonic relationship patterns. Schirmacher, who lived in intimate relationships with women, was one of the few activists from the women’s movement who publicly expressed her views on homosexuality.

Käthe Schirmacher’s political actions, her changing positions and her strategies as a publicist and speaker are examined on several levels. On the one hand, the focus is on arenas of the women’s movement and fields of agitation such as the fight against prostitution, women’s work or (women’s) suffrage. On the other hand, addresses nationalist arenas and discusses Schirmacher’s activities in the ultra-nationalist war goal movement during the First World War, as well as her anti-democratic activism in the Weimar Republic. 

In addition to Käthe Schirmacher’s numerous literary, scientific and journalistic publications, her extensive papers kept in the University Library of Rostock form a central basis not only for research on her biography, but also for a variety of further studies on the history of the women’s movement, the history of nationalism, and a number of other fields of research. Biographical research has held that autobiographers as well as archivists of one’s own personal papers are key contributors to any biographical work about them. Following on from this the project develops an innovative cooperative approach to working with autob/biographical sources. Its methodological and biographical-theoretical reflections contribute to the development of new concepts of biographical research in the historical sciences. 


This project resulted in a comprehensive biography of Käthe Schirmacher (published 2018 by Böhlau and available open access). It was completed in 2018. However, the three participating scholars continue to work with Käthe Schirmacher's papers in their subsequent projects and develop further research on issues that emerged from the original project. (For more information on the following projects, see Team/Network.) This website will be updated at irregular intervals.


New Publication

"Käthe Schirmacher: Agitation und autobiografische Praxis zwischen radikaler Frauenbewegung und völkischer Politik" was published in April 2018 in Böhlau Verlag.

Under this LINK the book is now available online as Open Access!

You can find the book announcement HERE.

Press reactions and book reviews can now be found HERE.



 "Die Frau im öffentlichen Leben" - Repertoire Lecture by Käthe Schirmacher now online!

In the course of our book presentation, a so-called repertoire lecture by Käthe Schirmacher, which was shown at the Wiener Urania in 1903 and 1908 respectively, was performed again. The lecture manuscript as well as the coloured skiopticon pictures, which are kept in the Volkshochschularchiv, can now be found - together with contextualising materials - under this link.


Publications of project members on this topic can be found HERE.