(Dr. Elisabeth Gnauck–Kühne, geb. Kühne)
Born on January 2, 1850 in Vechelde (near Braunschweig)
Died on April 12, 1917 in Blankenburg (Harz)
German women’s and female workers’ rights advocate, leader of the German Protestant and Catholic women’s movements
The story of Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne's life shows interesting parallels with the lives of Helene Lange and Simone Weil. Like Helene Lange, who lived with Gertrud Bäumer, 25 years her junior, Gnauck-Kühne lived with someone with the same difference in age: Ida Ernst. For the venerated older friend, Ernst was “first and foremost a daughter, then a closest confidante ..., a selfless adviser and candid critic, but also a housekeeper and secretary.” For 14 years, until Gnauck-Kühne's death in 1917, Ida Ernst “was someone the sensitive woman could lean upon, a valuable support for her maternal friend. She created the framework that made it possible for the world, especially women, to benefit from the scientific, socially revolutionary achievements of Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne.” (I. Böhm in Pregardier 1997).
Both Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne and Simone Weil share the experience of having commiserated in the hardship of women workers – unusual for a “middle class” person at the time – up to a “self-experiment”: Both worked in factories in order to experience the cruel working conditions first hand. And both found Catholicism in their search for spiritual depth and security.
Elisabeth Kühne started out as a teacher and, together with her sister, founded a school for girls from upper class families in Blankenburg in 1875. She was its director for 13 years, until she married the Berlin neurologist Dr. Gnauck. After only four months she decided to get divorced, at the time an outrage for a middle-class woman. Gnauck-Kühne studied economics with the socialist-minded economist Gustav Schmoller. The astute, committed, and eloquent woman rose rapidly in the Protestant women's movement. In 1895 she gave the keynote speech at the 6th Evangelical Social Congress in Erfurt, which proved to be a sensation. A year later she supported the women garment workers’ strike in Berlin. Charity was not enough for her – emulating Christ meant helping people to help themselves.
In 1900 Gnauck-Kühne converted from the “bare poor-house of Protestantism” to “the rich palace of Catholicism,” in which celibacy was also a respected way of life, while Protestantism only had “wives and unhappy spinsters.” She helped found the Catholic German Women's Association, and in her uncompromising advocacy for women workers she emerged as the “Catholic Zetkin.” Her most important work, Die deutsche Frau um die Jahrhundertwende (The German Woman at the Turn of the Century), appeared in 1904.
“Germany's first female social advocate” (Helene Weber) died in 1917 from the complications of a cold she had caught on one of her lecture tours.
(Text fom 1999; transl. Tyler Langendorfer 2020; ed. Joey Horsley 2020)
Author: Luise F. Pusch
“Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne has not been forgotten. In the first place, because she … represented the cause of women objectively, passionately, and without fear of displeasing others with her pointed formulations, and secondly, because she is still regarded as a kind of fig leaf that both the Protestant and the Catholic Churches use to cover their wary relationship – both then and now – to the women's movement.” (Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel)
Literature & Sources
Budke, Petra & Jutta Schulze. 1995. Schriftstellerinnen in Berlin 1871 bis 1945: Ein Lexikon zu Leben und Werk. Berlin. Orlanda.
Dauzenroth, Erich. 1964. Frauenbewegung und Frauenbildung: Aus den Schriften von Helene Lange, Gertrud Bäumer, Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne. Bad Heilbrunn/Obb. Klinkhardt.
Hellwig, Renate. Hg. 1984. Frauen in der Politik - Die Christdemokratinnen: “Unterwegs zur Partnerschaft”. Stuttgart; Herford. Seewald.
Prégardier, Elisabeth & Irmingard Böhm. Hg. 1997. Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne (1850 - 1917): Zur sozialen Lage der Frau um die Jahrhundertwende. Annweiler. Plöger.
Schmidt:, Anna-Maria. 2018. Katholisch und emanzipiert. Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne und Pauline Herber als Leitfiguren der Frauen- und Mädchenbildung um 1900 (SOFIE. Schriftenreihe zur Geschlechterforschung, Bd. 22). St. Ingbert. Roehrig Universitätsverlag.
Schmidt–Biesalski, Angelika. Hg. 1981. Lust, Liebe und Verstand: Protestantische Frauen aus fünf Jahrhunderten. Gelnhausen; Berlin; Stein, Mfr. Burckhardthaus-Laetare-Vlg.
Schmücker, Else: 1963. Frauen in sozialer Verantwortung : Luise Otto-Peters, Helene Lange, Pauline Herber, Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne, Hedwig Dransfeld, Selma von der Gröben, Alice Salomon, Elly Heuss-Knapp. Paderborn. Schöningh.
Simon, Helene. 1928-1929. Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne. Gladbach. Volksvereins-Verlag.
Speuser, Maria. 1926. Elisabeth Gnauck-Kühne und ihre Stellung zur Frauenfrage unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Arbeiterinnenfrage. Düsseldorf. Tönnes.
Walter, Karin. Hg. 1990. Sanft und rebellisch: Mütter der Christenheit - von Frauen neu entdeckt. Freiburg; Basel; Wien. Herder.
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