Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Daniel Unowsky

Committee Member

Andrei A Znamenski

Committee Member

Andrew M Daily

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Adam C Stanley


Montgomery, Hafife. Ph.D. The University of Memphis. August, 2023. Socialist Ideals of the New Woman in Weimar Germany. Major Professor: Daniel L. Unowsky, Ph.D. This dissertation investigates the women’s magazines published by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD: Die Genossin, 1924-1933, and Frauenwelt, 1924-1933), the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD: Die Kommunistin, 1919-1926), and its media mogul Willi Münzenberg (Der Weg der Frau, 1931-1933), as well as the SPD affiliated Arbeiterwohlfahrt (Workers’ Welfare: Arbeiterwohlfahrt, 1926-1933) during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). I examine the organizations’ reasons for publishing women’s periodicals during a time of a printing and media boom and the magazines’ aims, target audiences, looks, contents, and attributes as collective products. I also compare the leftist popular papers Frauenwelt and Der Weg der Frau to commercial housewives’ and fashion magazines, using Berliner Hausfrau as their representative. At the center of this dissertation is an investigation of ideals of femininity disseminated within these publications. I examine how Communist and Social Democratic ideals compared to each other as well as to gender norms for women propagated in commercial popular culture. To ground these ideals and the publications, this dissertation also studies Weimar’s major leftist organizations (SPD, KPD, USPD) for their stances toward women members, functionaries, and topics of interest, and describes women’s segregated organizational structures and cultures in the SPD, the KPD, and their affiliated organizations. Using the parties’ women’s magazines’ contents, archival sources, party conference, and yearly reports, biographical and autobiographical data in published and unpublished works, and secondary sources, I argue that women members and their interests were marginalized in Weimar’s leftist parties and lacked access to remunerated positions of power and decision-making, except for in the Arbeiterwohlfahrt. This was in part the result of legal contexts during the Kaiserreich (1871-1933), but also due to Weimar-era male SPD, KPD, and USPD male functionaries’ and members’ conflicted positions on women and their interests and perspectives. As a result, women members and functionaries met in segregated women’s groups and events in which personal and social policy topics and welfare work predominated. I also argue that leftist parties’ women’s publications were part of their gender-segregated communicative tradition with members, functionaries, and non-members. To compete better for working-class women consumers of illustrated mass media, the SPD published Frauenwelt and the KPD’s media mogul Willi Münzenberg printed Der Weg der Frau. Both magazines followed the layout and contents of commercial fashion and housewives’ magazines, incorporating illustrations, entertainment, sports, fashion, homemaking, and childrearing advice into their pages. With their visually more interesting, quick to ‘read’, and entertaining content, Frauenwelt and the more political DWdF successfully appealed to both ordinary party members and non-members, who in the case of Frauenwelt contributed to many of its segments, thereby making its ideals even more representative of reader’s views. Analyzing the publications’ images and texts, including reader contributions, for narratives on women’s employment, appearance, leisure practices, attitudes toward sexuality, and connected issues of contraception, abortion, and sterilization, as well as marriage, divorce, motherhood, childrearing, and homemaking, I argue that leftists established two different Socialist New Women with some overlapping attributes and behaviors. Contrary to the claims in other scholarship, both sets of ideals, or both Socialist New Women, were middle-classed, and both combined (to differing degrees) characteristics seen as masculine or feminine during Weimar. Leftists presented not proletarian women factory laborers but middle-class women engaged in higher white-collar employment and political and welfare activism and hence using mental labor as Socialist New Women, or complete humans (Vollmenschen). The second Socialist New Woman was identified by her androgynous to feminine, healthy, youthful, and slender looks, her body-cultural leisure activities involving sports, travel, and gendered rituals of hygiene, her sexually emancipated state and companionate relationships, her control over her fertility, her pedagogical parenting, and her home’s modern interior, and her rationalized homemaking patterns. All of these attributes illustrate leftists’ desire to elevate proletarian women and their living circumstances to those of the middle classes. Despite some masculinizing and, therefore, emancipatory, language, more so in Communist discourses than in Social Democratic ones, leftists limited this Socialist New Woman’s freedoms and insisted she remain feminine for the sake of reproducing a healthy future generation of New Humans.


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Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest


Open Access