A German-American Feminist and her Female Marriages: Mathilde Franziska Anneke (1817-1884)
by Joey Horsley
Little known in Germany today, even less so in the United States, Mathilde Franziska Anneke was a New Woman before the fact. She published the first feminist newspaper in Germany, participated in the failed German Revolution of 1848-49 and escaped to America, where she continued her radical writing and speaking in defense of freedom, justice and equality, especially for blacks and for women. She became a valued colleague of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and in her later years ran a progressive school for girls in Milwaukee. Although she married her comrade-in-arms Fritz Anneke and bore a total of seven children, Mathilde Anneke is also a striking example of the importance of female relationships during the nineteenth century. In the second half of her life her marriage deteriorated, and she turned to women as her primary partners in life and love. She found emotional fulfillment and literary inspiration in her six-year “marriage” to the American poet Mary Booth, and the common educational project she launched with her second woman partner Cecilie Kapp provided her with a mission and source of income during her later years. Mathilde remained attached to her husband during many years of separation; they contined to regard each other as family and left a rich store of letters to posterity. Their correspondence, plus letters from Mathilde’s women lovers, make up the “lifewriting” (Marcus) that forms the basis for the present essay. Recent research is expanding our knowledge of the breadth and variety of historical women’s relationships; the publication of letters between Rebecca Primus and Addie Brown, for example, contemporaries of Mathilde Anneke, opens up the realm of relationships between black women of the period (Primus 1999). With my essay on the life and loves of an immigrant woman from Germany I hope to contribute in a similar way and add to the emerging narrative of women’s love for women through history.
I. 1817-1847: The Making of a Rebel
Raised in a privileged Westfalian household, Mathilde Giesler was schooled by her mother and by a tutor. A lively, gifted girl, she enjoyed a happy, relatively free early upbringing. By the time she was 17, however, her father had lost his wealth. Mathilde did her bit for the family by marrying a rich aristocratic wine merchant, ten years her senior, whose parents took on her family’s debts. Her husband turned out to be a tyrant who did not shrink from striking his pregnant wife. Shortly after the birth of their daughter in 1837 Mathilde showed her unusual strength of character by filing for divorce, an act almost unheard of at the time. She was eventually granted the divorce and custody of her daughter, but in a final court proceeding was found to bear the sole guilt for the divorce because, as the judge proclaimed, “she had maliciously left her husband.” She later wrote: “With the outcome of the unfortunate divorce proceedings for my first marriage, in which I became a victim of Prussian justice, I came to consciousness, and I recognized that the situation of women is an absurd one, equivalent to the debasement of humanity.”
Now a single mother with a sickly child to support, Mathilde tried to earn money through writing. She published two prayer books for Catholic women, wrote for newspapers, and gained contributions from prominent writers, such as Ferdinand Freiligrath and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, for her literary almanacs. During these years Mathilde also had close emotional relationships with at least two young women. Her “Herzensfreundin” (bosom friend), the gravely ill Klementine Amelunxen, wished to leave her entire fortune to Mathilde upon her death. (Unfortunately the Catholic bishops prevented her will from being carried out, citing Mathilde’s departure from the Catholic faith.) And her cousin and lifelong friend, “Herzensengel” (heart’s angel) Franziska Rollemann Hammacher, would later say she had never loved anyone so deeply as Mathilde, not even her husband. As we have learned from Smith-Rosenberg, Faderman, Donoghue, Vicinus, Marcus and others, the phenomenon of “romantic friendship” – intense, often passionate relationships between women – was not only common, but socially valued in Europe and America during the 19th century.
Mathilde’s divorce case had attracted some sympathetic public attention, but also earned her the disapproval of “better society,” especially its female members (including poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff), who shunned her. Faced with rejection by the class of her upbringing, Mathilde evolved from a pious Catholic, royalist subject and proper young lady into a radically freethinking democrat sympathetic to the working class. She traded upper-class salons for the liberal Rhineland debate clubs of the 1840’s, where she discussed ideas with other dissidents. One of these was Fritz Anneke, an idealistic young army officer who had been given a dishonorable discharge because of his democratic views. The two were married in 1847, and the household they set up in Cologne soon became a meeting place for revolutionary thinkers and writers such as Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle.
II. 1846-1849: Early Feminist and Budding Revolutionary.
Having read the 18th-century proponents of woman’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft and Ernst Theodor Hippel, Mathilde Anneke did not hesitate to create a stir with a bold polemical essay in 1847. Das Weib im Conflict mit den socialen Verhältnissen (Woman in Conflict with Social Conditions) was both a defense of Louise Aston, an author who had been banished from the city of Berlin for her emancipated behavior and freethinking ideas, and a clarion call to women:
We must stand up for the position of woman in society. We must boldly defend the rights of woman against the powers of this earth!
Alone among feminist women of her day, she defended Aston, who had been largely condemned for her atheistic views, and produced a burning critique of religion as a mechanism of the oppression of women. Anneke called upon women to open their eyes and realize that they were being deceived by religion. “They want to cloud your senses with their incense, delude you with slick words,” she warned. She saw that if women began to challenge the authority of religion, it would inevitably lead them to reject their subordinate status in all realms of life along with the false promise of a reward for their suffering and serving in heaven.
Mathilde Anneke’s determination and courage were put to the test when her husband was brutally arrested in June 1848 and confined for six months by the Prussian authorities for his activities in support of a social democratic republic; Fritz Anneke was a founder and leader of the Kölner Arbeiterverein (Cologne Workers Organization), the largest workers’ organization in Germany at the time. Expecting her second child – little Fritz was born July 21 – and with her husband in prison, Mathilde single-handedly took over the pro-working class newspaper the two had started, the Neue Kölnische Zeitung. When it was halted by the official censors she began her own revolutionary Frauen-Zeitung, the first feminist women’s newspaper in Germany, until it too fell to the censors. Believing women’s rights to be part of human rights in general, she tried to win more women to the democratic movement. “And why should woman be the silent sufferer?” she asked. “Why any longer remain the humble maid who washes the feet of her lord and master?” 
In 1849 revolution against Prussian rule broke out in the state of Baden, and Fritz Anneke was in the thick of it, serving as an artillery officer. Not to be outdone, his wife, a skilled horsewoman, followed him into battle as his orderly and mounted courier. The Annekes barely escaped when the uprising was beaten down; they eventually fled with their two children to the United States, to join a wave of German emigrés, the so-called Forty-Eighters.
III. 1849-1858: Beginnings and Transitions in the New World
After seven weeks at sea the little family reached New York, poor but hopeful at their prospects in the “land of freedom.” Although they enjoyed a certain celebrity at first as Forty-Eighters, the Annekes, like many immigrants, soon encountered difficulties. The next ten years brought successes as well as terrible losses and put their marriage to a hard test.
Mathilde would have preferred to remain in New York, where the couple had promising opportunities and good contacts to newspapers and publishers. But her husband insisted on starting out for Cedarburg, Wisconsin; a cousin residing there had given him hopes for success in business. Initial disappointment in Cedarburg was followed by a number of moves and more false starts. Fritz Anneke seemed unable to find a foothold in America. Eventually the family settled in Milwaukee, a city with a significant German population. Mathilde Anneke gave lectures on German literature and politics and worked as a correspondent for various German newspapers. In March 1852 she began her Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung (German Women’s Newspaper), “the first feminist newspaper published entirely by a woman on American soil” (Anneke/Wagner 315). As yet unaffiliated with the incipient U.S. women’s rights movement, Anneke was determined to awaken German-American women to the importance of fighting for equal rights. Between 1852-54 her newspaper appeared first on a monthly basis, then twice per month and finally as a weekly, reaching up to 2000 subscribers (Roethke 42). Mathilde hired women as typesetters for her paper, a move which was vehemently and effectively opposed by the male typesetters of Milwaukee. The men promptly founded a book printers’ union to protect their interests “against encroachments by unauthorized persons” (Koss 382 f., cit. in Anneke/Wagner 76). The women were required to be dismissed, and Anneke could no longer publish her paper in Milwaukee.
The family decided to return to the east coast in hopes of finding better conditions for their work, and Fritz Anneke went on ahead to look for suitable housing near New York City and to found his own paper. With him gone and the children cared for by relatives, Mathilde embarked on an ambitious, seven-month-long lecture tour. The charismatic orator inspired German-speaking audiences in cities from Chicago and Louisville to Boston and Philadelphia with her defense of women’s rights. She later commented:
I spoke in public gatherings about the elevation of woman; I demanded improvement of her social condition, the right to work and above all the right to vote.
I tried to found an organization of German women; I started associations which were to stay in constant contact with each other, and I offered my newspaper as their voice. (Anneke/Wagner 323)
Anneke’s lectures were apparently highly popular, and she wrote her family from Boston: “I’m doing fine here. People don’t want to let me leave at all. […] My two lectures caused a tremendous sensation” (Anneke/Wagner 84).
In New York in 1853 Anneke spoke before a large American women’s rights convention for the first time. She was introduced as a representative of Germany, and the Polish-born feminist Ernestine Rose translated her address, which cited America as the model of freedom for oppressed German women. Anneke’s appearance at this convention marked the beginning of her participation in the U.S. women’s rights movement; she was soon counted among the most valued collaborators of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and was later included in their History of Woman Suffrage. Anthony is later supposed to have said, “I became a suffragist through the influence of a German woman, Madame Mathilde Franiska Anneke” (Anneke/Wagner 410).
The six years spent in Newark, New Jersey (1852-1858), were, apart from the last few months, relatively happy ones for the Annekes. Mathilde continued to produce her Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung until Fritz began publication of his own paper, Newark’s first German-language daily, made possible through his wife’s financial and competent practical support (Anneke/Wagner 85). She later wrote how “family worries and sickness” had forced her to abandon her paper, temporarily, as she first hoped. But then, “a series of adversities” prevented her from taking it up again (Letter to Jonas, cit. in Anneke/Wagner 322).
Between 1850 and 1855 Mathilde had borne five more children. Two daughters had died young; then the smallpox epidemic of 1858 took both first-born Fritz and his little sister Irla. After these terrible losses, the Annekes no longer wanted to remain in Newark and returned with their remaining children Percy and Hertha to Milwaukee, where Mathilde’s mother and two sisters had now also settled. Fanny, Mathilde’s daughter from her first marriage, had married and stayed in Newark.
IV. 1858-1865: A Milwaukee and a Zurich Marriage – with Mary Booth
The return to Milwaukee brought many changes to the Annekes. Not only was the family made smaller through the deaths of the children, the relationship of the marriage partners seems to have undergone a fundamental change. Mathilde was repeatedly disappointed by her husband’s inability to find a foothold in America and by his difficult, self-righteous personality; he may also have had other loves. Most importantly, she did not feel that he loved or valued her as she wished. When he left the family for Europe in May, 1859, intending to work as a newspaper correspondent in the Italian war of liberation, she apparently felt hurt and ignored, and wrote him:
We should never have married, we should have remained friends, dear Fritz. [.…][W]e now love each other more as friends, we love each other […] through our children – but we don’t love each other as lovers […]. (Anneke/Wagner 97)
After 1859 the two lived mostly apart, though they still maintained a sense of solidarity with each other; in fact, their continuing correspondence through the years of separation is the primary source of information about their lives, characters and feelings. In 1864 Mathilde poured out her resentment to her husband at being continually “undervalued” by him and proudly declared her emotional liberation: “This heart has finally regained its independence after a long period of testing” (Anneke/Wagner 206). To be sure, by that time Mathilde had found ample compensation for the unfortunate Fritz.
In Milwaukee the Annekes had been invited to live in the household of the prominent abolitionist Sherman Booth (1812-1904) and his young wife, the poet Mary Humphrey Corss Booth (1831-1865). In the beautiful and gifted Mary, Mathilde found the devoted companion she had missed in her husband. With Fritz away in Switzerland, the two women became very close. “I do not leave my dear Mary for an instant; we love each other and share joy and sorrow like sisters,” she wrote him (June 1859, Heinzen 44). A few months later she elaborated on their life together:
I sit all day at my writing table or at my mending; […] I don’t go out without Mary; we don’t desert each other even for an hour, she sits beside me when we work, and we are happy that we have found each other never to separate again. Into this good, lovely soul I look deeper daily, and her little weaknesses in everyday life are as dear to me as her virtues. I know she loves me too, and I feel happy once more to be loved and understood…. (23 September 1859, Heinzen 46)
Mary’s affection allowed Mathilde to feel at home in America for the first time since leaving Germany: “Since I’ve found a heart in this country I no longer feel as though I were in exile. Now I can feel the air of home blowing here” (Anneke/Wagner 112). Mary must have been a very charming young woman, lively, witty and above all devoted to her friend, who was enchanted, for example, by her efforts to entertain Mathilde’s convalescent mother: Mary “speaks such adorable German” with her (Anneke/Wagner 115).
Even as a young woman in Germany Mathilde had called herself “the old lady” or “mother communist” vis-à-vis her younger friends; now, in the relationship to Mary, 14 years her junior, she took on the role of teacher, mentor, and protector. She would defend her against the blandishments of the philandering Booth, who was eventually put on trial for seducing the family’s 16-year-old babysitter. Mary wished to get free of her husband and his “passions” (Anneke/Wagner 108). So when a lonely Fritz Anneke asked Mathilde to bring the family and join him in Switzerland, she agreed, in part because it might offer Mary temporary respite from her sensual, bullying husband (Heinzen 47).
Despite difficulties finding the money for the trip the two friends left Milwaukee with their children on 21 July 1860 and arrived in Zurich on 27 August. The ménage à trois plus children seems to have functioned harmoniously for a time. Mathilde wrote her mother in January, 1861:
Since I’ve had another serious talk with him [Fritz] has been transformed, to the happiness of the whole family. He’s very affectionate and courteous toward me and if it lasts I wish for nothing more. Our intellectual bond and our common strivings will have to preserve our friendship, since it couldn’t be love. He accepts that and is making every effort. (Anneke/Wagner 139)
And again in April: “While we sit in our study in the south wing Fritz sits in his in the north wing and works” (Anneke/Wagner 141). Mathilde, Mary and Fritz were all writing for various newspapers and magazines in Europe and America and for a time had a relatively comfortable income. But hardly a year after the family had reunited Fritz set off again; in April, 1861 civil war had broken out in America, and he was eager to show his mettle as an officer in the Union Army. Unfortunately his efforts to command a regiment and attain recognition as well as the corresponding income would be frustrated. Through a combination of bad luck, possible intrigue and incompetence within the Union Army and his own rigid and sensitive character, he ended up being imprisoned and eventually discharged. Fritz Anneke would never succeed in living up to his potential in his adopted country.
Meanwhile Mathilde and Mary struggled to support themselves and the three children – in addition to Percy and Hertha there was Mary’s younger daughter Lily – through their writing; neither woman could expect much support from her husband. But it was a productive period for both: Mathilde composed journalistic reports for European newspapers about events in the United States, while Mary wrote and translated poetry (including Mathilde’s). Under Mary’s influence Mathilde tried her hand at fiction, and the two collaborated on short stories and a novel which portrayed American society at the time of slavery and highlighted the twofold exploitation of female slaves based on both race and gender. Mathilde wrote her husband in 1863:
Mary and I want to publish jointly a little volume of American stories with the title Gebrochene Ketten [Broken Chains]. She’s good at thinking up ideas but not in executing them. I’m better at that, as the Sklavenauktion [Slave Auction] showed, which appeared in several magazines. (Anneke/Wagner 180)
In fact, in terms of literary production, Mary’s collaboration and inspiration made these years Mathilde’s most creative.
Culturally and socially, it was a rich time as well; the two women associated with liberal literary and political élites, including the Swiss author Gottfried Keller and German political exiles Georg and Emma Herwegh. Mathilde’s old friend, the German educator Ottilie Kapp had also emigrated to Zurich with her husband, school director Alexander Kapp and daughter Cecilie, a special dévotée of Mathilde’s. The political philosopher and activist Ferdinand Lassalle and his long-time companion, Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt were also in Zurich during 1861. The dazzling and cultured woman of 56 became enamored of both Mary and Mathilde and paid frequent visits to their household.
Countess Hatzfeldt spirited Mary, who suffered from heart disease, away for a three-week rest cure in the mountain hotels and elegant spas of Engadine and Ragaz, while Mathilde struggled alone with the children, the household and financial worries. Mary wrote Mathilde daily, trying to allay her friend’s jealous worries that Lassalle or the Countess or both might replace her in her affections. “I think of you every night – and of the bell rope, and all.” (One wonders what the mysterious bell rope might portend—was it a way to call the beloved to the bedroom after the children had retired?) Later the same day she writes her “Sweet Franziska Maria” (as she liked to call Mathilde Franziska): “Be at rest about my heart in regard to Lassalle—much as I like him, & great as my pure friendship is for him it could be nothing more. [….] Good night – I kiss you” (26 July 1863; Heinzen Ch. VII, n. 2, letters in appendix). And an undated, exaggeratedly devoted and poetic note in pencil to Mathilde reinforces the impression that Mary felt a need to smoothe ruffled or jealous feathers:
Pardon me, my dear for writing you such a miserable little note saying I was unhappy – I am indeed very happy when I think of your sweet love – it glorifies every even, and illuminates the darkest midnight – You are the morning-star of my soul, the beautiful, auroral glow of my heart; the saintly lily of my dream, the deep dark rosebud unfolding in my bosom day by day, sweetening my life with your etherial (sic) fragrance – dearest, you are the reality of my dreams, my life, my Love – I have no more sorrow – I love you – my dear and dearest friend – good night
The years in Switzerland were also increasingly a time of illness and financial woe. Mathilde suffered from painful and debilitating jaundice, gall bladder and gout; Mary Booth had heart disease. Word had gotten around that Fritz Anneke had been given a commission as colonel in the Union army, and the two women were constantly overcharged; in fact they received almost nothing from their husbands (Anneke/Wagner 156). Newspapers and publishers paid sluggishly if at all for their work. Finally Mathilde and Mary had to resort to loans and charity from friends such as Friede and Franziska Hammacher to survive.
For both health and financial reasons Mary decided in 1864 to return with her young daughter to the U.S.; she also wished to see her older daughter Ella, living with her grandmother in Connecticut, again. Mathilde planned to follow her friend as soon as she had amassed enough money. Anticipating Mary’s departure, Mathilde summed up their life together in letters to Fritz:
Our little family life during these years has been the most beautiful that you can imagine. We had unspeakably much sorrow and worry, but the harmony, the love which adorned our living together can never again be attained. (9 February 1864; Heinzen 148)
The years she [Mary] has spent with me she counts among the most beautiful of her sorrowful life. I can say the same. (14 April 1864; Heinzen 148)
In July, 1864 the fragile Mary and her daughter began their journey to New York; Mathilde accompanied them as far as Basel, not knowing whether she would ever see her beloved again. She lamented that she had forever lost the precious shared life in Switzerland.
Grief seized me so for the last few hours that I had to lay down my pen.…– I don’t know where I shall look for what I have lost for all eternity. Yes, […] even if we should see each other again – the dream is over […]. (Letter to Fritz Anneke 2 July 1864; Anneke/Wagner 202)
In America Mary was able to visit her daughter Ella in Hartford, then did not travel on to Milwaukee as originally planned, but to New York, where she lived in a boarding house. Sherman Booth, with a new love in Milwaukee, had made no arrangements for his impoverished and ailing wife to return there; he was apparently waiting for her to die so that he could remarry. But Mary, still appealing despite her illness, found sympathetic well-wishers in New York, among them an artist she had met on the ship. Louis Wuest had fallen in love with her and cared for her in her last illness. From faraway Zurich Mathilde fumed over Booth and worried about Wuest; she feared that Mary was getting involved in something that would end in catastrophe (Heinzen 154-56). Mary’s letters reveal that Mathilde’s worries were compounded by anxious jealousy:
Think you that any thing on earth could, or can ever fill your place in my heart? If you do you are very much mistaken. That cannot be. […] Be assured that I love you most truly and sincerely, and that I do not, for I could not, say it merely to please you, as you seem to think I might. (3 January 1865; Heinzen, Ch VIII, n. 24, Appendix)
Mathilde also feared that given her “harmloses Herz,” her naïve, innocent heart, Mary would suffer harm alone in the “poisonous” atmosphere of America (letter to FA, 2 July 1864; Anneke/Wagner 203). And she began to admit that Mary’s stubborn and foolish (as she saw it) belief in God might have come between them (Ibid.). It appears that Mathilde was also not entirely in support of Mary’s decision to return to America. Although she could partly appreciate Mary’s reasons, she was, after all, being left once again by a person to whom she had been devoted. Weeks before Mary’s departure, Mathilde had written a poem to her beloved which suggests that the separation was not entirely harmonious.
So wär’ es verklungen mit grellem Ton
Das Lied unsrer Liebe im blühenden Mai?
So wär’ sie zersprungen die Saite schon
Und wäre der Traum und die Liebe vorbei?
O war es nicht süßer wie Lied und Mai
Und klang sie nicht reiner wie reines Gold –
O sag ist der Traum und die Liebe vorbei,
Die Liebe, die ewig zu leben gesollt?
Und hat es gestürmt auch auf Meeresflut
Und hat uns die dunkelste Schlucht auch gedräut –
Einst hast du doch sorglos im Arm mir geruht,
Im Arm einst, – nur anders wie gestern und heut.
So musst du denn fort und musst du denn fort,
Und scheiden auf ewig? – So scheide noch heut.
So scheide! – Mit dir nur der Liebe Hort –
Doch mit dir auch all meine Seligkeit.
(Heinzen, Ch. VIII, n. 20)
So it’s faded away in a harsh tone
The song of our love in blossoming May?
So then it’s broken, already, the string
And it’s over, the dream and the love?
Oh, wasn’t it sweeter than song and than May
And sounded not purer than purest gold –
Oh, say, is it past, the dream and the love,
The love we thought forever should hold?
And though it might storm on the flood of the sea
And the darkest of gorges would threaten –
Once, you would rest in my arms carefree,
In my arms then, – but different from now,
So you must leave and leave you must,
And part forever? – Then leave today.
Then leave! – With you alone love’s treasure –
But with you too all my bliss.
The poem shows Mathilde to be bitterly disappointed that her dream of lasting love and a life together with Mary was ending. Another poem, which she mentions for the first time in November, 1864, reveals a view of their relationship in which she herself is the active, human lover, Mary the passive flower whom she nurtures and awakens to life and full blossom. Once again, there is a sense of bitter frustration at the conclusion of the idyll.
(An Mary Booth)
„Du meine schöne dunkle Rose,
Die mir ans Herz das Schicksal warf!“
Als der Frühling noch in der Wiege lag
Und blütengeschmückt war der junge Tag
Und Knospen – nur Knospen die Rosen –
Als Veilchenduft, von der Heimat ein Gruß,
Herüber kam mit des Zephyrs Kuss,
Mit den spielenden Winden, den losen:
Da ward mir ´ne Rose, ´ne dunkle, gesandt,
Wie´s der Dichter sagte, von Schicksals Hand.
Ich hab´ sie am Herzen getragen;
Es war wohl zur Zeit nicht, zur rechten Zeit,
Dass sie sich erschlossen zur Freudigkeit,
Zu wonnigen Rosentagen.
Doch hab´ ich gebracht sie zum Sonnenstrahl
Am kühlen Tage, im März zumal,
Im rauhen Westen da drüben.
Ich habe mit meinem Hauche lau
Erwärmt und genetzt sie mit Tränentau,
Geschützt sie mit meinem Lieben.
Dann hat sie entfaltet sich langsam und sacht,
Geleuchtet, die dunkle, in Wunderpracht,
Die wunderseltsame Rose.
Ich hab´ sie gehalten am Herzen fest,
So wie man sein Lieben nicht von sich lässt,
Mit trautem und treuem Gekose.
Ich hab´ nicht gezittert in dunkler Nacht,
Wenn einsam bei ihr ich hielt treu die Wacht
Und wenn es gestürmt und gewettert.
Ich habe getragen von Land zu Land
Die dunkle, die mir von Schicksals Hand
Geknickt nun – zerschmettert – entblättert! –
(Heinzen, Ch VII, n. 20, in appendix)
The Faded Rose
(To Mary Booth)
When the spring-time still in the cradle lay,
And fragrant with flow’rs was the new-born day,
And blossoms, but blossoms, the roses; –
When violets’ scent, – like a greeting from home, –
With the Zephyr’s Kiss, with its gentle moan,
On the soft-playing breezes came floating: –
There was sent me a rosebud, so dark and so grand,
As the poet says, – from Fate’s kind hand.
I took it with joy to my bosom.
It was not yet the time – the season ripe –
For blossoms t’unfold their petals bright,
In the beautiful days of the roses.
But still to the light of the sun’s warm rays
This bud I brought in those chilly days,
In far western lands o’er the ocean.
With breath of my own and with loving tears
I warmed and I watered it, through all my fears,
And sheltered it with my devotion.
Then did it unfold itself, gently and slow,
So radiant, the dark one, in wondrous glow,
This wonderful, delicate flower.
I held it fast to this heart of mine,
As one will not part from love divine, –
With endless and warmest caresses.
I faltered not in the gloomy night,
When by it I watched till the morning light,
And when storms their fury exhausted.
This dark one I’ve carried from land to land –
This beautiful gift from Fate’s kind hand –
Now faded – and shattered – and broken!
(Trans. I. Remington Fairlamb, Heinzen 153-54)
Mary Booth died in April, 1865, while Mathilde was still in Europe. The two women had shared their lives for some six years, and in spite of occasional differences, theirs was clearly a “union” in many senses of the word. Similar to the case for Victorian female marriages discussed by Vicinus (2004) and Marcus (2007) and anticipating the later “Boston marriage,” both women avowed that their love brought them far more happiness than any other relationship. They were devoted to each other in word and deed, cared for each other and each other’s children in sickness and in health. They collaborated and inspired each other in their work, sharing ideas and joint projects. For both, their years together were the most productive in terms of literary output (Stuecher 131, 139). The more dominant Mathilde, like Henry James’s Bostonian Olive Chancellor, saw herself as the cultural mentor and shaper of the younger, less intellectually defined Mary Booth. Like Olive also, she saw their life together as the “dream” she would have preferred to live out for the rest of her life. Unlike the well-off Olive, however, Mathilde was constantly engaged in the bitter struggle to support herself, her children and her beloved; in this her middle-class “respectability” was at times more a burden than an asset, as when she felt pressure to “keep up appearances” as the wife of a U.S. army colonel (Anneke/Wagner 223).
The fact that both women also had husbands did not diminish the emotional priority of their relationship to each other. For his part, Fritz Anneke realized that Mary had replaced him in Mathilde’s heart, and seems to have accepted her as a member of the family. He and Mary corresponded in friendly, often teasing fashion. (To be sure, Fritz occasionally expressed resentment that Mary and her daughter Lily were an added financial burden.) The facts that Mathilde writes so openly to Fritz and others of her love for Mary, and that friends and family viewed their devoted friendship and common household as nothing out of the ordinary indicate the widespread acceptance of such female bonds at the time; in fact, as Marcus argues for Victorian England, female friendships were viewed as important and complementary to family life (e.g. 32). The positive admiration elicited by Mathilde’s poem “The Faded Rose” is further evidence that a woman’s love for another woman was appreciated as sensitive and beautiful and within the cultural norms.
V. 1865-1884: A Paris and a Milwaukee Marriage – with Cecilie Kapp
Although she had seen it coming, Mathilde was devastated by Mary’s death. But by the time she actually received word that Mary had died, she was already planning her future with another woman. Cecilie Kapp, a teacher and the daughter of Mathilde’s close friend Ottilie and her husband Alexander Kapp, German expatriot educators, had admired Mathilde since she had arrived from America (cf. CK to MFA, Anneke/Wagner 206). In an undated letter she gives vent to her feelings of anger that Mathilde, probably some ten years her senior, will not, out of loyalty to Mary, return her affection, though she has obviously acknowledged it already:
– And you never, ever want to be unfair to “someone” again – never ever again, even in your thoughts – God forbid – no, for goodness’ sake not unfair. If the “someone” is Mary, then you can relax – you’ve never been unfair to her, only to me – and never disloyal either – not even a tiny bit – if you want me to, I’ll swear to that with a sacred oath. She is the lucky one.
[….] Submerse yourself in Mary’s heart – ach, has it ever loved you as much as – but no – I don’t love you – and I won’t come to you again unless you call me – – –
With Mary gone Cecilie had more opportunity for intimacy with her beloved, writing in September, 1864: “Your heart often radiates such overpowering fragrance to mine that I think I’ll pass away, because all my love won’t be enough to comprehend you and hold you tight and make you happy.[…] good night, dear Mathilde, dear, beloved Mathilde” (Anneke/Wagner 207). Perhaps Mathilde at first tried to persuade her friend to adopt a more spiritual and less personally passionate feeling. But Cecilie would have none of it, writing in October 1864:
In you I love the ideal of a human being, to whom my whole soul draws me powerfully and mightily – all ideals […] which pass through the universe and float through the imagination – all are shape and form in you – you I loved – and you wanted to carry me beyond you or past you? – Oh, you wouldn’t have succeeded – it borders somewhat on the Platonists, that you wish to lift me above myself and my nature, in that you want to suppress their intrinsic demands –
[….] That time lies behind me. [….] They have breathed their last, the beautiful, the useless, the sweet – unfruitful dreams – the uncertain sighs of longing for unattainable vanished ideals. – What I need is an ideal person – whom I must not only admire but love…….
Now good night, the moon shines in on me full and clear [….] All day your words had covered me with a veil – there you stood all at once before me and everything was clear – clear that we trust each other and rely on one onother – clear the courage with which we shall steer the ship past the cliffs […], for the rudder is love and the goal is love, and the sea is love and the sky and everything is love – love, love, Beloved! And my whole heart is love in you.
Sleep sweetly! – – – C.
Clearly, Cecilie had moved beyond a purely idealistic, sentimental friendship and desired a committed love relationship that would do justice to her “self and [her] nature and ... their intrinsic demands.”
Cecilie finally convinced Mathilde to accept her as her new life-companion: “Cecilie is very fond of me, and I am very, very fond of her,” she wrote Fritz in December, 1864 (Anneke/Wagner 211). Cilly (as Mathilde called her) had taken a position in Paris to perfect her French and polish her teaching credentials. Her parents expected her to return to Zurich after three months, but the two women had a secret plan: they would emigrate to America, where they could share their lives and where Cilly would set up her own school for girls. Mathilde hoped then to restart her journalistic career. Mathilde soon joined Cilly in Paris, and for about five months she and her two children lived at the boarding school where Cilly taught, before sailing together to New York in July, 1865.
Interludes: Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt; Karl Lachmund, Heinrich Ruben
While still in Zurich, Mathilde Anneke had received pleading letters from Berlin from Sophie von Hatzfeldt, the longtime companion and patroness of Lassalle who had been especially fond of Mary Booth in 1860-61. Hatzfeldt was upset that Mary had returned to America and now wanted to keep Mathilde from leaving Europe as well. She first had to placate Mathilde about her earlier weakness for Mary and assure her that she cared just as much for her, that Mathilde’s jealousy had been unjust (SvH to MFA 20 July 1864, Heinzen 162). She hoped for a reunion in Zurich. Then, when Lassalle died in a duel on 31 August 1864, she became distraught and clung to Mathilde from a distance. “The Countess appeals to my friendship to devote the next months to her. I’m sure she wants me to lounge around in the spas with her, that’s what she’d like. But I can’t. […] I have to get away from here, from Zurich.” (MFA to FA 24 January 1864, Anneke/Wagner 215). Mathilde stuck to her plan to go to Cilly in Paris with her children. Once there she received further pleading letters from the Countess to at least delay her departure for America; Hatzfeldt would do everything to get there in time for a reunion:
If you stay longer [in Paris], which I can hardly dare to hope, then I’ll stay too […]. I want [to be] as close as possible to you. Wouldn’t it be possible for me to stay in the same pension with you? [….] Don’t go away without seeing me. I implore you, it will be the last time in this life, and you can do something good. (SvH to MFA 22 May 1865, Anneke/Wagner 221-2)
Mathilde notes in her diary that she and the children had visited the Countess for coffee on 2 July (Anneke/Wagner 239). Sophie von Hatzfeldt must have pressured her further to remain in Europe as her companion. But Mathilde resisted, and there are no more letters from the Countess, who had perhaps been offended by the rejection of her requests. This little episode demonstrates the strength of Mathilde Anneke’s magnetic appeal to other women and at the same time, her determination regarding her own future plans. We also see in it a further example of the existential importance of female friendships in the 19th century.
But close emotional same-sex relationships in that era were not limited to women, as the example of Fritz Anneke suggests. As a young man he had written letters to his “Herzensfreund” (bosom buddy) Friedrich Hammacher, six years his junior, that we would today characterize as love letters: “Every evening I read your letters in my room and study your picture. Yes, Fritz, as long as I still have feelings, as long as my heart still beats warmly, it will be full of you.” He ended his letters by sending him “1000 kisses.” (FA to FH from October 1846, Schmidt 26-27).
Now, separated from his wife and on his own in America, he once again found a younger friend who provided comfort and emotional intimacy. Lieutenant Karl Lachmund from Fritz’s Wisconsin regiment soon became a close companion and loyally stood by his older friend during Anneke’s military confinement in Fort Halleck, Kentucky. Karl had left Germany at the age of twelve and received no further schooling; while under arrest, Fritz gave Karl daily lessons in mathematics and, despite his humiliating situation, found happiness (FA to MFA 7/8 August 1863, Heinzen 101). Karl Lachmund was himself arrested at one point for having supported Anneke, and remained confined even after Fritz had been discharged from the army and returned to Milwaukee. Karl’s letters show his unquestioned devotion to his older friend: “At last once more a drop of balsam for my poor heart, which has already yearned for it so long, so long; at last I receive this morning your dear letter of the 10th. You don’t know that in reading it bright tears fell from my eyes.” In December Karl was also finally released and followed his friend to Lansing, Michigan, where Fritz Anneke had found an office job with his brother and was also able to get work for Karl. The two went on vacation together in late summer 1864, returning only to discover that Karl Lachmund was to be let go. Out of solidarity with his friend Fritz also quit his job. At first the two planned to go their separate ways, thinking to improve their chances of finding work. “That the separation from Karl will be hard for me you will be able to feel with me,” he writes Mathilde (25 September 1864, Heinzen Ch. 8, n.28). But instead they both decided on St. Louis, another center of German-American life and home of Fritz Anneke’s sister. Karl soon became engaged to her daughter, and Fritz moved in with the newlyweds.
We don’t know why this unusually close friendship ended, but Fritz broke with Karl Lachmund in 1868, grieving deeply over the latter’s “faithlessness” (FA to MFA April to June 1868, Heinzen 192, N, 47). Soon began a new friendship, however: Heinrich Ruben, a young co-worker from Austria admired Fritz and sought his affection and companionship (FA to MFA 29 March 1869, Heinzen 229). Once again Fritz moved in with his young friend’s family – a married sister – and was happy for a time. But after about six months he separated from “Harry” too and was once again deeply despondent.
It is interesting that Fritz Anneke apparently made no close male friends of his own age during his entire time in America (Heinzen 232). Perhaps this had to do with his professional lack of success, his repeated humiliating defeats; or perhaps he was simply attracted to and admired by younger men. (We recall that Hammacher, the friend of his youth, was also younger than he.) At any rate, it is clear that during this era of less rigid demarcation against homoerotic relationships, both Fritz and Mathilde Anneke cultivated affectionate, intimate friendships with members of their own sex.
Returning to the story of Mathilde Anneke and Cecilie Kapp, we find the two women plus children arriving in New York City from Europe in the summer of 1865. Cecilie’s German-American relatives attempted to prevent the “runaway” from travelling westward with Mathilde, but she would not be separated from her beloved (MFA to FA, 2 August 1865, Anneke/Wagner 241). Given its large German-speaking community (and the fact that Mathilde’s family lived there), Milwaukee was again the magnet that drew them, and the two lost no time in opening the Mädchenerziehungsanstalt von Cäcilie Kapp (Cecilie Kapp’s Girls’ Academy). The academy, based on the German system, soon gained a reputation for excellence and eventually attracted students from as far away as Chicago; even so, finances remained a struggle throughout the school’s existence.
From the beginning of their association, the free-thinker Mathilde had reservations about working with her friend, who was “not at all free from religious prejudice,” as she wrote Fritz (Heinzen 176, n. 2). And school director Cilly was not as pliant as Mary Booth had been. The two dominant personalities must have clashed often. During the first year, Mathilde fulfilled the role of housekeeper and cook, and taught the early grades their ABC’s. She was dissatisfied with such a limited (albeit demanding) position, and complained to Fritz: “Cecilie is domineering and wants her ambition, her success alone.” (Spring 1866, Heinzen 177). Thus, when Cecilie was offered a position as the first professor of German at the recently established Vassar College she accepted and left Milwaukee in early 1867. Her school, from then on called Madame Anneke’s “Milwaukee Töchter-Institut” (Milwaukee Academy for Young Ladies), continued to flourish under Mathilde’s direction and prepare eager young women for active and competent roles in society.
For almost two years Mathilde had again, this time with Cecilie, conducted what might have been called a Boston marriage. Again she shared a home, finances, and a common professional enterprise with her partner, as well as – in spite of their differences – a deep affectional bond. The relationship continued after Cecilie began teaching at Vassar; for a number of years she returned to spend her summers with Mathilde and help with the school; she advanced or contributed money, and wrote her will of 1872 so as to leave everything to Mathilde (Anneke/Wagner 294). The early letters to Mathilde from Vassar show Cecilie’s ardent longing and hope one day to be reunited with her beloved.
Darling – Only a little kiss, I am dead tired – I am wholly undressed and was about to get into bed, when I couldn’t resist the wish to call this to you through the night of dreams.
When will the time come, that we shall have a secure comfortable home – […] – where my darling can rest her poetic … head in peace? When? – the time will and must come – –
Farewell, you darling of my hot soul – you beloved of my heart.
(21 March 1867? Heinzen Ch IX, n. 16, appendix)
Mathilde was also able to visit Vassar and was very impressed with the college and Cilly’s status there (Anneke/Wagner 264). Ever jealous of her friends’ exclusive devotion, however, Mathilde broke off their correspondence when Cecilie married at around age fifty. But Cilly loyally continued to write until Mathilde’s death.
During their time together the two women came into contact with leading personalities of the women’s movement such as Anthony, Stanton, Ernestine Rose – or the charismatic orator Anna Dickinson, who also had passionate relationships with women (among them Susan B. Anthony) and was the model for Verena Tarrant in James’ Bostonians (Anneke/Wagner 254; Gallman 108-115). A powerful orator herself, Mathilde was elected a Vice President of the National Woman Suffrage Association and representative of Wisconsin, even though she spoke German almost exclusively. Although she was concerned lest public advocacy of feminist aims might alienate the generally conservative parents of her pupils, she nevertheless remained one of the most active and energetic supporters of Anthony and Stanton.
When she died on 25 November 1884 after a long illness, Mathilde Anneke was praised in obituaries of the German and American press for her journalistic, pedagogical and literary accomplishments and her impressive personality. Her lifelong contributions to the cause of women’s rights, however, were generally treated with reserve, as in the tribute found in the reprint from the Cedarburg News and published in the Milwaukee Herold of 4 December 1884: “She was one of the most cultivated, highly gifted and noblest women, although the world, we should hope, will never recognize her unpractical ideas with regard to women’s equality” (Anneke/Wagner 413).
VI. Conclusion: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Over her lifetime of sixty-seven years Mathilde Anneke ran the gamut in terms of relationships with both men and women, and although her biography is in many respects remarkable, it nonetheless represents typical possibilities for women’s relationships in the nineteenth century, while yet often “pushing the envelope” toward more modern forms. Raised as a traditional Catholic and monarchist, Mathilde boldly liberated herself from her first authoritarian marriage and was not willing to subordinate herself to a husband a second time. Religiously and politically emancipated through the traumatic experience of her divorce and its consequences, she was ahead of her time in asserting the importance of equality for women in society and in her own life. Her second husband eventually disappointed her not least because she felt he did not value her sufficiently as a thinker, but also because he did not meet her high demands for love and affection, expectations she had possibly cultivated through a devoted relationship to her mother and her youthful “romantic friendships” with Klementine Amelunxen and Franziska Rollemann.
She found true emotional fulfillment in the “marriage” with Mary Booth, where the erotic dynamic fed in part on the younger woman’s warmth and devotion and Mathilde’s pleasure in the “mentoring” role. One can imagine that aspects of this dynamic, e.g. Mathilde’s possibly dominating tendencies, may have led to a need on Mary’s part for self-assertion and might even have played a part in her decision to return to America. Nevertheless, Mathilde repeatedly voiced her regard for Mary as the love of her life. By the time Cecilie Kapp began courting her, Mathilde had learned how valuable a female partner could be in negotiating life’s difficult challenges, just as such relationships were becoming more frequent as women entered the professions in greater numbers. Cecilie’s passion for Mathilde also reflected a worshipful admiration for her idol, but the relationship appears to have been one between peers, something which the older Mathilde did not always tolerate well.
Like their sister campaigners for women’s political and professional advancement in the second half of the 19th century, Cilly and “Tildusch” were convinced of the importance and high value of women, and were thus perhaps especially open to tender and even passionate feelings for members of their own sex. Such feelings and the relationships that sprang from them were not yet categorized as being outside the social or cultural norm; the ostracizing notion of a “deviant” lesbian identity would come later, in part as a strategic reaction against the very success of the movement for women’s rights (cf. e.g., Smith-Rosenberg 1989). In Mathilde’s day a woman’s female relationships could be vital to her emotional, economic and social survival; fortunately, the culture permitted a wide spectrum of possibilities for such relationships, from friendship to love, “marriage” and back. In a late letter to Fritz Mathilde wondered, “whether it is indeed possible to divide the different stages of loving relationships into the categories of friendship and love” (1 December 1868, Heinzen 198; Anneke/Wagner 272). It is a question that might well apply to her own turbulent life, where friendship and love so thoroughly intertwined.
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