German Women for Empire, 1884-1945

German Women for Empire, 1884-1945

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 1 illustration Published: November 2001

Author: Lora Wildenthal

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History

When Germany annexed colonies in Africa and the Pacific beginning in the 1880s, many German women were enthusiastic. At the same time, however, they found themselves excluded from what they saw as a great nationalistic endeavor. In German Women for Empire, 1884–1945 Lora Wildenthal untangles the varied strands of racism, feminism, and nationalism that thread through German women’s efforts to participate in this episode of overseas colonization.
In confrontation and sometimes cooperation with men over their place in the colonial project, German women launched nationalist and colonialist campaigns for increased settlement and new state policies. Wildenthal analyzes recently accessible Colonial Office archives as well as mission society records, periodicals, women’s memoirs, and fiction to show how these women created niches for themselves in the colonies. They emphasized their unique importance for white racial “purity” and the inculcation of German culture in the family. While pressing for career opportunities for themselves, these women also campaigned against interracial marriage and circulated an image of African and Pacific women as sexually promiscuous and inferior. As Wildenthal discusses, the German colonial imaginary persisted even after the German colonial empire was no longer a reality. The women’s colonial movement continued into the Nazi era, combining with other movements to help turn the racialist thought of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries into the hierarchical evaluation of German citizens as well as colonial subjects.
Students and scholars of women’s history, modern German history, colonial politics and culture, postcolonial theory, race/ethnicity, and gender will welcome this groundbreaking study.


“[A] groundbreaking and engaging monograph . . . . Wildenthal’s text is provocative and absorbing. It will be central reading for students and scholars in the fields of German history, gender history, and European imperial history—and this reader can already testify not just to its intellectual value, but to its great effectiveness in the classroom, too.” — Lara Kriegel , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“This book is a valuable addition to the already enormous corpus of literature about that well-studied topic, the German colonial empire. It is certainly a well-researched volume. . . . By incorporating feminist concerns within German colonial history, and by utilizing the terminology associated with such concerns (gendering of space, for instance), the author follows a new direction in German colonial literature.” — Arthur J. Knoll , Jahrbuch für Europäische Überseegeschichte

"German Women for Empire is an excellently documented and intricately argued study of women's role in German overseas expansion." — Kathleen M. Blee , Journal of Women's History

"German Women for Empire both stands as a seminal, ground-breaking study of women and German colonialism, and leaves room for further research in this field." — Maureen Healy , German Quarterly

"[A]n important addition to histories of imperial feminism and gender histories of modern Western colonialism. . . . This is a rich and nuanced presentation of gendered colonial culture and politics in Germany." — Kirk Arden Hoppe , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"[R]efreshingly balanced and sophisticated. . . . A narrative that focuses on the institutional and political history of organizations can easily become dry, but Wildenthal avoids that danger by including anecdotes, taken both from history and from imaginative literature, that show the impact of official policies on individual lives. This is both a scholarly and a readable book." — Ann Taylor Allen , Central European History

"Lora Wildenthal has produced a superb study of German women’s relationship to empire, race, and national identity during a crucial period in German history. Her work nicely combines the methods and techniques of social history with the nuanced perspectives of women’s studies scholarship. . . . The book should be considered mandatory for students of German colonialism and vital reading for those attempting to come to terms with the relationship of Western feminism to colonial ideology generally."
— T. J. Boisseau , International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Lora Wildenthal’s German Women for Empire is a most welcome addition to the burgeoning historical scholarship on the relatively understudied German colonial period. Yet the real success of her book lies in her skillful, subtle, and innovative negotiation of the terrain between several important themes in modern German history—colonialism, racism, and gender. . . . Her book fills an important gap in the literature on German colonialism and in the historiography of Germany more generally." — Michelle Moyd , African Studies Review

"Lora Wildenthal’s book on German colonialist women fits well into the new literature on European colonial empire. . . . I liked Wildenthal’s forthright effort to negotiate two distinct projects in German history. . . . For scholars confronting the problematics of agency and analytical categories in themes of race, gender, and empire, this book is of considerable value." — Jean H. Quataert , American Historical Review

"The publication of Lora Wildenthal’s book has been eagerly awaited. It does not disappoint. It is an important, fascinating work and a significant contribution to German colonial and women’s history. It also suggests, mainly by example and implication, interesting new directions in international history." — Woodruff D. Smith , International History Review

"Wildenthal's book is exhaustively researched and documented, with a quarter of its bulk devoted to documentation. The richness of the book's historical particularity makes it valuable contribution to the study of colonialist history and the material functioning of colonialist ideology." — David Robinson, Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies

“This stunningly original and important book will define scholarly standards and inspire other studies for a long time to come. Wildenthal probes the nexus of German women’s history and colonial politics more deeply, more extensively, and more systematically than any other piece of scholarship I know.” — Leslie A. Adelson, author of Making Bodies, Making History: Feminism and German Identity

“Wildenthal tells an important set of stories about the implication of white women in the modern imperial enterprise. This book will become a must-read for German historians, students of feminism, modern women, and empire and reform movements; as well as a model for how to do colonial women’s history.” — Antoinette Burton, author of At the Heart of Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lora Wildenthal is Associate Professor of History at Texas A&M University.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Colonial Nursing as the First Realm of Colonialist Women’s Activism, 1885–1907

2. The Feminine Radical Nationalism of Frieda von Bülow

3. A New Colonial Masculinity: The Men’s Debate over “Race Mixing” in the Colonies

4. A New Colonial Femininity: Feminism, Race Purity, and Domesticity, 1898–1914

5. The Woman Citizen and the Lost Colonial Empire in Weimar and Nazi Germany


Appendix: Colonialist and Women’s Organizations



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2819-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2807-0
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