Schooling German Girls and Women: Secondary and Higher Education in the Nineteenth Century


reviewed by Manfred Heinemann - 1991

coverTitle: Schooling German Girls and Women: Secondary and Higher Education in the Nineteenth Century
Author(s): James Albisetti
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
ISBN: 0691055351, Pages: , Year: 1989
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Albisetti’s book examines a still not sufficiently studied area of the history of education in Germany, and is fairly well written. Higher education for women is covered in its institutional development from schools in the eighteenth century to the time of World War I. Its sources are mainly publications of the women’s movement and works on school history scattered throughout many libraries. Archival material is used to a lesser extent, mainly material from the Merseburg Central Archives for Prussia. The European context is presented, as is the social context of industrialization, urbanization, and bureaucratization. Because the Prussian state was the leading state in Germany, its policy is the center of Albisetti’s analysis. Local examples are given but not in detail. Analysis of textbooks and the practice of teaching has been excluded.


From 1800 on, demands increased for advanced education for girls. The ideals of womanhood expanded. When the elementary education of girls was institutionalized, the middle class wanted to invest in additional and higher level courses. The tradition of public schooling for girls had many roots: the Catholic nuns, the Pietists, the Realists, and the Philanthropes. The courts in the several German states founded schools, after which private entrepreneurs and municipalities followed suit. In 1887, 158 public schools were listed. The expansion of schooling was hindered by a lack of qualified teachers. In chapter 2, Albisetti explains the search for better teacher training in seminaries.


The period from 1865 to 1879 is called “The First Wave of Reform.” In a period of drastic social change, women’s representatives engaged in public demonstrations for higher education opportunities and their acceptance by the state. In 1874, Cambridge and Oxford opened the first colleges for women for university education. The University of Zürich in Switzerland offered entrance to women, and it was there, in the 1870s, that the first three German women to pursue higher education enrolled. At this time, women had better opportunities in Russia and England than in Germany. The department of culture-under the liberal minister Falk tried to set up new regulations for public schooling for women offering the Arbiter but was unable to legislate this act. Later governments returned to a more conservative position.


In 1886 the Prussian government adopted a new curriculum and the development of higher standards of schooling as preparational steps for the education of women. In 1894 the first special abitur courses were offered, and in 1895 the first woman in Germany took a final examination equivalent to the standards for boys. During the following years, petitions and discussions concentrated on the training of women teachers. The foundation of the lyzeum as the gymnasium for girls began in 1900 and was finished in 1908.


One misses in Albisetti’s book a clear and detailed analysis of the legal system, which in the European continental context—especially in Germany, following the Roman parental law—helps to explain why girls and boys had to be treated differently in both private and public education. The family law as expressed for Prussia in the Basic Law of 1794 (Allgemeines Landrecht) privileged males with the right to be educated and trained for civil positions. Girls had only the right to be educated (they were restricted to private life in the family). Under the provisions of the German legal system, governments could not circumvent this restriction except by passing an education act in parliament. Albisetti, following his American experience and the traditional methods of research, does not fully appreciate the legal background and therefore misses the key problem of administration: to modernize within the context of old regulations representing the thinking of the period of estates. No one had studied the effect on education when the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) was introduced in 1900. Females were granted full educational rights years later in the Federal Republic of Germany.


A second deficit is limited acquaintance with the position of women in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. To rely on citations of famous writers and pedagogues in creating a new “German ideal of motherhood and education” may be useful for illustration but not in an explanation of the social history of education. Further research should look more closely at the local and family conditions of women. The background of (French) gentry for the esthetics of the middle classes, the influence of religions, the traditions of Hausväterliteratur and other moral education, the private education and cultivation done at home, can be found in the scholarly research of neighboring disciplines. This subject requires better research. The estate (ständische) traditions are mostly unwritten. They must be carefully described, as they are still effective today. Many controversies in women’s education are simple conflicts between traditional and reformist ways of thinking, and have little relevance to the behavior of the majority of women.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 93 Number 1, 1991, p. 200-201
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 262, Date Accessed: 12/5/2021 6:40:15 PM

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