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German Women Writers: The Age of Enlightenment – Lioness at Large

German Women Writers: The Age of Enlightenment

General introduction to this series of blog posts HERE.

The Age of Enlightenment introduced new schools of philosophical and political thought and brought huge advances in scholarship and scientific knowledge — what it still didn’t bring, however, was universal education, including and in particular for women.  So writing (and reading) still remained a pursuit of those whose families had the means to provide their daughters with private schooling; essentially, the aristocracy and the well-to-do middle class and merchant families.  Accordingly, the number of women writers from the 17th and 18th centuries — generally, and even more so, women writers of note — is still extremely limited.  All the more remarkably, however, several of the female authors from the period were highly distinguished, significant scientists and scholars, some of whom went to enormous lengths in the pursuit of their course of study.  The writings of others shed a light on the effects of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648; the territorial and religious conflict that ended up radically redrawing the map not only of Germany / The Holy Roman Empire, but also that of Continental Europe as a whole and cemented the effects of the Reformation in Germany once and for all.  Even after the end of the Thirty Years’ War, religion continued to control many aspects of life in Germany; not least the lives of women, who (if they were commoners) were routinely prohibited from marrying men of a different faith of their own, while noblewomen, however piously rains in one particular faith, were as routinely required to convert to another faith in order to facilitate politically desirable marriages. — While all of the below women writers stand out for their contributions to Germany’s literary and intellectual history, the first three are far and away the most important representatives of the group.

  • Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717): A descendant of the Frankfurt branch of the Swiss patrician Merian family; an entomologist, naturalist and scientific illustrator who was one of the earliest European naturalists to observe insects directly.  Schooled in painting and drawing by her stepfather, a botanist painter and student of the still life artist Georg Flegel, Merian had been collecting and studying insects, particularly silkworms, since her adolescence; in adulthood, she published several volumes on caterpillars, moths and butterflies, as well as two “flower books”, all illustrated by plates created by herself.
  • Making a living by giving art lessons and selling her own paintings, in 1685 Merian moved (accompanied by her mother and her daughters from her unhappy marriage to her stepfather’s apprentice) to a Pietist Protestant community in Friesland and in 1690 on to Amsterdam, where her daughter Johanna married a merchant in the Suriname trade.  In 1699, at 52 years of age, Merian and her younger daughter Dorothea Maria traveled to Dutch Guiana (Suriname) to study and record the tropical insects native to the region.  This journey was followed by the publication of another book on insects. Her pioneering observations radically altered the perception and knowledge of insect life; Merian was able to document the various stages of an insect’s development, from egg to larva to pupa and finally to adult, thus dispelling the notion of insects’ spontaneous generation “from mud”, and establishing the idea that insects undergo distinct and predictable life cycles.  She also made significant observations on the struggle among organisms for survival and evolution that predate those of Charles Darwin by over a century.
  • Maria Sybilla Merian’s life is the subject of the biography Chrysalis by American writer Kim Todd; a selection of her art work has been published under the title Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist And Naturalist (edited by Kurt Wettengl).
  • Elizabeth Charlotte, Madame Palatine (1652-1722): Known in Germany as Liselotte von der Pfalz (“Liselotte of the Palatinate”; the first name is a contraction of her two actual first names and is still used as a first name in its own right today); a member of the House of Wittelsbach (the rulers of, inter alia, Bavaria and the Palatinate), the second wife of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (the younger brother of Louis XIV), and the mother of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, France’s ruler during the 1715-1723 Regency, while Louis XV was a minor.  Although she had only two surviving children, Liselotte not only became the ancestress of the House of Orléans, which ascended the French throne with the so-called “Citizen King”, Louis Philippe I (1830 to 1848), but she was also the ancestress of numerous European royal families; as a result, she came to be called the “Grandmother of Europe”.  Through her daughter, she was the grandmother of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I (the husband of Empress Maria Theresa) and the great-grandmother of their children, Holy Roman Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
  • Raised a Protestant and taught religious tolerance early in her life, Liselotte had to convert to Catholicism for dynastic reasons on the occasion of her marriage, but remained sceptical towards Catholic dogma.  She was excessively well-read and gained literary and historical importance in her own right primarily through the preservation of her correspondence, which is of great cultural and historical value due to her lively, detailed, and sometimes very blunt descriptions of French court life and intrigues under Louis XIV and during the Regency, and which is one of the best-known German-language texts of the Baroque period.
  • A collection of Liselotte’s letters has been published in English under the title A Woman’s Life in the Court of the Sun King.
  • Maria Cunitz (1610-1664): An accomplished Silesian astronomer and the most notable female astronomer of the Early Modern Era. Maria was the daughter of a physician; even as a little child, she showed no interest in dolls and insisted on being comprehensively educated.  As a result, before her girlhood was over she was already fluent in Latin and other languages and had an excellent understanding of arithmetics and history.  After a short-lived teenage marriage that ended with her much older husband’s death, she married her father’s assistant, the physician and astronomer Elias von Löwen, who tutored her in astronomy.  During the Thirty Years’ War, Maria and Elias, both Protestants, found refuge in a Cistercian monastery in Poland, where Maria employed her time by arranging a set of astronomical tables based on Johannes Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables.  Once having returned to their Silesian home, in 1650 she published her findings in a book entitled Urania propitia, in which she provided new tables, new ephemera, and a simpler solution to Kepler’s second law of planetary motion. The Cunitz crater on Venus is named in Maria Cunitz’s honor, as is the minor planet 12624 Mariacunitia.
  • Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678): A painter, engraver, poet, classical scholar, philosopher, and feminist writer who is best known for her exceptional learning and her defence of female education. She was a highly educated woman who excelled in art, music, and literature, and became a polyglot proficient in fourteen languages, including Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, and Ethiopic, as well as various contemporary European languages.  She was the first woman to unofficially study at a Dutch university and, in her writings — particularly in a tract entitled The Learned Maid or, Whether a Maid may be a Scholar –, defended the equality of men and women and argued that women should be given the same access to education as men and should be free to exercise their domestic duties on their own responsibility, without any male oversight or interference.  Her extensive correspondence, conducted in a multiplicity of languages, included many of the leading women of her age, including Queens Christina of Sweden (to whom she wrote in Latin) and Elizabeth of Bohemia (to whom she wrote in Latin and French), as well as other proponents of womens’s education, such as Dorothea Moore and Marie de Gourneay (to both of whom she wrote in Latin and Hebrew).  During the last years of her life, she was a prominent member of the same Pietist community that would, some years later, also provide both a spiritual and a physical home to Maria Sibylla Merian and her mother and daughters.
  • Elisabeth Sophie of Mecklenburg (1613-1676): Having received a thorough lingustic and musical education at her own father’s court, in 1635 she married the learned Augustus the Younger, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, one of the most literate princes of the age (and also, at the time of their marriage, more than twice her own age). — Once having been introduced to Heinrich Schütz, arguably the leading German Baroque composer prior to Johann Sebastian Bach, she took charge of organizing the court orchestra and large entertainments such as masquerades, plays and ballets at her husband’s court, appointing Schütz the court orchestra’s conductor in chief.  Several of the pieces performed under her directorship were contributed by Elisabeth Sophie herself, who wrote both librettos and music, though most of her musical compositions were hymns or devotional arias, including one published in a collection named Vinetum evangelicum (Protestant Vineyard / Evangelischer Weinberg) that is among the first pieces of music published by women in Germany.  She selected one distinct narrative strand from French writer Honoré d’Urfé’s successful novel L’Astrée to adapt it into a novel of her own called Die histori der Dorinde (The Story of Dorinde) that would come to have a refining impact on court etiquette; her musical play Neuerfundenes Freudenspiel, genannt Friedenssieg (“The Newly-Invented Rejoycement, Known as the Victory of Peace”) is considered one of the first pieces of musical theatre published in Germany (by an author of either sex); and another play of hers, Ein Frewdenspiell von dem itzigen betrieglichen Zustande in der Welt (“An Entertainment About the Present State of the World”) openy comments on the political issues of the day.
  • Sibylle Ursula of Brunswick-Luneburg (1629-1671): A daughter of Augustus the Younger, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg from his second marriage, Sibylle Ursula became the stepdaughter of Elisabeth Sophie of Mecklenburg (above)  upon the latter’s marriage to her father.  Having received the same comprehensive education as her brothers, Sibylle Ursula entered into a prolongued correspondence with French writer Madeleine de Scudéry (the heroine of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 19th century novella Mademoiselle de Scudéry) and proceeded to write what would become the best-known courtly novel of German Baroque literature, Die Durchlauchtige Syrerin Aramena (Aramena, the Noble Syrian Lady; the book was completed by one of her brothers after she had fallen too ill to finish it herself).  She also wrote a five-act play and two series of spiritual meditations published under the titles Him[m]lisches Kleeblat (Heavenly Shamrock) and Seuffzer (Sighs), as well as translating two novels by French writer La Calrenède (Cassandre and Cléopâtre), parts of Madeleine de Scudéry’s novel Clélie (which introduces the idea of the carte de tendre; i.e., a map of Arcadia whose geography is based on the theme of love), and Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives’s Latin tract Introductio ad sapientiam (Introduction to True Wisdom).
  • Sibylla Schwarz (1621-1638): Known in the 17th century as “the Pomeranian Sappho”, Sibylla was the daughter of the mayor of the city of Greifswald in Western Pomerania.  She began to write poetry at the age of seven; her verse reflects the difficult times in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, which reached her city when Protestant Greifswald, and Pomerania as a whole, was occupied first by Imperial Catholic troops under the Holy Roman Empire’s supreme commander Albrecht von Wallenstein and then by the Swedish army under that country’s Protestant King Gustav II Adolf, one of the Holy Roman Empire’s chief opponents in the Thirty Years’ War. — Other important themes in Sibylla’s work besides war and death include friendship and love.  She died of a sudden illness in 1638, only 17 years of age.  After her work had fallen into oblivion in the 18th century, as from the 19th century onwards she came to be considered one of the foremost notable female German Baroque writers.
  • Justine Siegemund (1636-1705): A Silesian midwife whose obstetrical book The Court Midwife (1690) was the first German medical text written by a woman: it would be reprinted several times over the course of the subsequent decades and would remain highly influential throughout a large part of the 18th century.
  • The daughter of a Lutheran minister, Justine married an accountant and, as a result of a misdiagnosis of the gynecological condition that made her and her husband choose to remain childless, she sought to become educated in obstetrics herself.  Soon proving to be a skilled midwife who provided free services to the poor women of her area, she also saw her paying client base grow rapidly, including among the nobility; until she caught the eye first of the city fathers of the nearby town of Liegnitz (today: Legnica), where she was appointed City Midwife, and ultimately of Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, who appointed her his court’s midwife.  She also delivered the children of Frederick William’s daughter Marie-Amalie and of Eberhardine, the wife of Augustus the Strong, the powerful Prince-Elector of Saxony.  On two occasions, Justine was accused of unsafe practices, but both of those claims soon folded in the face of her demonstrable skills (and probably also in light of the protection she enjoyed at several of Germany’s most influential courts of the time).  Based on careful notes made during her deliveries, after having been in practice for several decades, she published her authoritative obstetrical book The Court Midwife (Die Kgl. Preußische und Chur-Brandenburgische Hof-Wehemutter), which was written in the form of a dialogue between herself and a pupil, and which contained a systematic and evidence-based discussion of possibly lethal childbirth complications such as poor presentations (where the baby lies in a position that makes a lateral body part such as an arm or shoulder instead of the head or feet the “leading” body part during birth), umbilical cord problems, and placenta previa (placenta attachment near or over the cervical opening), as well as the management of these conditions during the birthing process.
  • Anna Sophia II, Abbess of Quedlinburg (1638-1683): A member of the German high nobility who, at age 17, entered Quedlinburg Abbey north of the Hartz mountains in today’s Saxony-Anhalt: an imperial estate (i.e., a dominion subject to the rule of none but the Holy Roman Emperor himself) founded by the mother of 10th century Emperor Otto I (“the Great”) as a house of secular canonesses.  Raised in the Lutheran faith, Anna Sophia was well-educated, including in oriental languages and in poetry, and strictly religious.  Some years after her entry into Quedlinburg Abbey, she published a religious songbook and book of spiritual meditations, which was initially criticized by theologians for ostensibly equalizing men and women, but was eventually approved nonetheless.  Having suffered a spiritual crisis after her sister converted to Catholicism to facilitate her marriage, Anna Sophia ultimately chose to remain at Quedlinburg and was elected the abbey’s princess-abbess two years prior to her death.
  • Elisabeth Dorothea of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1640-1709): A noblewoman originating from Thuringia, Elisabeth Dorothea became regent of Hesse-Darmstadt (specifically, Landgravine, a title roughly equivalent to that of a Duchess, indicating direct subjection to none but the Holy Roman Emperor himself) upon the death of first her husband, Landgrave Louis VI and, only 18 weeks later, also the death of his eldest son from his first marriage, Louis VII.  Both her husband and her stepson had designated Elisabeth Dorothea as regent in the event of their deaths while her eldest son Ernest Louis was still a minor.  The Imperial Court nevertheless imposed the condition that she was to rule together with a group of councillors, but she possessed the political savvy to prevent the men in question from taking their oaths as co-governors, which essentially relegated them to a position of mere advisors whose counsel she was free to ignore if she so chose.  Her wisdom as a regent and a politician quickly also showed in the way in which her principality florished unter her rule.  She maintained a diary for a period of 52 years which, as from 1667, is still completely extant, and which thus constitutes one of the most extensive and detailed diaries of a member of high nobility, chronicling the politics of the time and life at court and allowing detailed historical insights.
  • Susanna Eger (1640-1713): Forced to turn to her culinary skills due to the premature death of her husband, Susanna eventually became a sought-after cook in the household of Leipzig middle class families, creating and serving meals ranging from simple and straightforward dishes to elaborate concoctions which, however, still allowed for kitchen economy.  She published the first edition of her “Leipzig Cookbook” (Leipziger Kochbuch, see frontispice and first page to the left) in 1706, and the book would see several further editions through 1745, as well as multiple reprints of its 1745 edition.  From its second (1712) edition onwards, it included easily comprehensible explanations on nutrition and diet, as well as a dictionary of food items and spices, a measurement conversion table, and a suggested inventory of indispensable and useful kitchen utensils; along with the — unusual for the time  — specifications of the quantities of each recipe’s individual ingredients, all of these features greatly contributed to the lasting popularity of Susanna Eger’s cookbook.
  • Johanna Eleonora Petersen (1644-1724): A theological writer and one of the leading figures of Radical Pietism.  Of noble birth, Johanna Eleonora’s family had fallen into poverty as a result of the Thirty Years’ War; the premature death of her mother moreover obliged her to assume household duties and prevented her from receiving any kind of formal education.  Like many other impoverished noblewomen, she eventually entered into service at the regional court, where she would spend her entire youth and formative years.  After a brief return to her father’s household, she ultimately moved to Frankfurt, where (deeply religious since childhood) she founded a Pietist community together with a friend, after having been introduced to the influential local leaders of the Pietist movement some years earlier.  In that community, she met and married a likeminded theologian named Johann Wilhelm Petersen, with whom she moved first to Lüneburg, then to the vicinity of Magdeburg and eventually to a country estate near today’s border of Saxe-Anhalt and Brandenburg; and together with whom she published a large number of Pietist theological writings containing meditations, Bible readings and commentaries, as well as an autobiography which would come to greatly influence the style of Pietist autobiographical writing.
  • Glikl bas Judah Leib (aka Glückel von Hameln, 1646(?) – 1724): The daughter and, from age fourteen, successively the wife of two affluent Jewish merchants from Hamburg, who began to write a diary in her mid-forties to comfort herself over the loss of her first husband and continued the diary until a few years before her death.  Glikl (whose Yiddish name translates as “little luck”) was born two years before the end of the Thirty Years’ War; she witnessed and, in her diaries, commented on several other significant historical events, including but by far not limited to the wars that further transformed the landscape of the Holy Roman Empire, particularly the 1701-1715 War of the Spanish Succession.  The only early modern diary written by a woman in Yiddish, Glickl’s journal provides eloquent testimony to the effect of those wars, as well as the persecution of the Jews in Germany and Early Modern Europe and their precarious situation even in times of peace and stability.  At the same time, the diary also provides important historical insight into the daily life of Jewish families and businesses of the period, marriage, business and travel arrangements and customs; as well as painting an in-depth portrait of Glickl herself as a person and an astute business woman. — The image to the left is taken from the cover of a 20th century republication of the diaries.
  • Maria Sophia Schellhammer (1647-1719): A writer and cook, best remembered for her cookbook Die wol unterwiesene Köchinn (“The Well-Instructed Cook”; see copperplate cover image to the left), also known as the Brandenburgisches Kochbuch (“Brandenburg Cookbook”), published in 1692.  In 1700, she also wrote a book about confectionary named Der wohl-unterwiesenen Köchinn Zufälliger Confect-Tisch (“The Well-Instructed Cook’s Occasional Confectionary Table”) and translated works by Giovanni Boccaccio and possibly by Jean Racine into German.
  • The daughter of the Royal Physician of Queen Christina of Sweden, Maria Sophia was given a wide-ranging education, inter alia in foreign languages, poetry, and geography.  Her husband Günther Christoph Schelhammer, like her father, was a medical scholar and court physician, employed at the court of Frederick IV, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf (Gottorp), a descendant of Christine of Hesse (see post on German women writers from the Reformation Age); Frederick IV’s son Carl Friedrich would, in 1725, marry Peter the Great’s daughter Anna Petrovna and with her found the last Imperial Russian dynasty, the house of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov. — Among her contemporaries, Maria Sophia Schellhammer was renowned for her wide knowledge and linguistic prowess as well as for her culinary skill and expert household management; praise offered to her husband for his scholarship was extended to her on her own merits, not merely in her capacity as the court physician’s wife.  Her cookbook, whose publication was overseen by her husband, and which was reprinted several times until the end of the 18th century, incorporated her knowledge of dietetics and chemistry; it was not intended for the households of the nobility but expressly addressed to the middle class and upper middle class, where the display of culinary arts had, by that time, become a way to demonstrate wealth and an elevated social status.  The recipes included range from simple everyday dishes to elaborate feasts influenced by the French cuisine and involving a plethora of exotic ingredients; and the cookbook also gives advice on household management, stock keeping, and the conservation of food.
  • Henrietta Catharina von Gersdorff (1648-1726): A Baroque religious poet and advocate of Pietism; the sister of Otto Heinrich von Friesen, chancellor to Saxon Elector Friedrich August I (“Augustus the Strong”).  Comprehensively-educated, Henrietta Catharina was praised, in her youth already, for her German and Latin verse; and she maintained a correspondence with the leading theologians, scholars, and scientists of the day; most notably with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  As the wife of a high-ranking administrative officer (roughly equivalent to the position of a regional governor), she used her influence to foster the Pietist movement as well as the schooling of girls, and she also encouraged the translation of the Bible into the local Sorbian language (Lusatian Slavic).  She wrote and composed a series of religious songs which, though vanished from today’s Protestant hymnals, were considered to be among the best of her time.
  • Magdalena Sibylla of Hesse-Darmstadt (1652-1712) and Auguste Magdalene of Hesse-Darmstadt (1657-1674): Stepdaughters of Elisabeth Dorothea of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (further above) through the latter’s marriage to their father Louis VI of Hesse-Darmstadt; and through their own mother, Marie Elisabeth of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, also descendants of Christine of Hesse (see post on German women writers from the Reformation Age) as well as relatives of Frederick IV, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, the patron of Maria Sophia Schellhammer and her husband Günther Christoph Schellhammer (above).
  • In 1673, Magdalena Sibylla, the elder of the two sisters (see image above left), married the crown prince of the Duchy of Württemberg, who ascended to that principality’s throne upon his father’s death six months after their marriage, but who only ruled for four years before dying in turn.  Thus, at age 25, Magdalena Sibylla (like her stepmother) suddenly found herself having become regent; she would rule the duchy until her son Eberhard Louis had reached his majority a decade and a half later.  Also like her stepmother, Magdalena Sibylla proved a successful ruler, on account of her prudence as much as on account of her piety.
  • Both Magdalena Sibylla and her younger sister Auguste Magdalene (who died at only 17 years of age) took to the pen: Duchess Magdalena Sibylla authored numerous hymns, some of which are contained in Protestant songbooks to this day; she also employed the noted Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel, and she kept a large library that speaks to her wide-ranging interests and education. — Auguste Magdalene translated the Psalms of David into German verse and composed a volume of poems entitled Die Thür zur deutschen Poesie (The Door to German Poetry).
  • Susanna Elisabeth Zeidler (1657-1706): A self-taught poet, Zeidler was one of Germany’s most important female poets of the Baroque era.  She initially opposed the publication of her works, but eventually gave her brother permission to go ahead, because she was frustrated by the poor acceptance of women’s poetry.  Her works, which were eventually published in a compilation entitled Jungferlicher Zeitvertreiber (“Virginal Pastime(r)” — see modern-day facsimile cover to the left) expressly advocate women’s right of authorship and their right to participate in the literary debate.
  • Christiana Mariana von Ziegler (1695-1760): The daughter of the (at the time) mayor of the city of Leipzig, Christiana Mariana probably began to compose poetry and lyrics after the premature death of her second husband as well as her daughters, probably during a pandemic.  At that time, she moved back to her parental home, where she created Germany’s first literary and arts salon, which inter alia was attended by Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Christoph Gottsched, who encouraged her literary activities.  Bach set nine of her cantata lyrics to music, and Gottsched made von Ziegler the only female member of his illustrious literary society, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft”.  In 1733, she was named Poeta laureata by Wittenberg University; a title endowed with imperial honors privileges. Both her membership in Gottsched’s society and her poet laureate honors — the first to be awarded to a woman in Germany — were met with fierce opposition and harshly sarcastic pamphlets on the grounds of her sex.  Her literary activity ceased after she married for the third time in 1741.
  • Friederike Caroline Neuber (1697-1760): One of the most famous actresses and actor-managers in the history of German theatre, Neuber stands out for her achievements in elevating the status and professionalism of German theatre in an age when most theatre directors — like the representatives of every other profession — were men.  Caroline had been taught reading, writing, and French by her mother; but after her tyrannical father had beaten her mother to a premature death, Caroline strove to run away from home; a desire in which she finally succeeded, together with her husband-to-be, her father’s clerk Johann Neuber, with whom she joined a well-known theatrical company.  The Neubers eventually formed a highly-reputed theatrical company of their own and worked with leading playwrights and critics such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Johann Christoph Gottsched to reform German theatrical standards along the lines of the French theatre, professionalizing performances and expressly banning and abolishing the crude, impromptu harlequinades that were popular at the time.  While most of the plays performed by the Neubers’ company were written by Gottsched, Caroline Neuber authored a number of pieces as well, particularly after having quarrelled with Gottsched and terminated their cooperation.  She died in poverty after having fallen out of favor at the courts that had until then sponsored her (especially that of Saxony) and after having had to disband her company several times during the last two decades of her life.
  • Sidonia Hedwig Zäunemann (1711-1740): a lawyer’s daughter from Thuringia, Zäunemann was noticeably and “unwomanly” independent even as a child, when, inter alia, she autodidactically taught herself French and Latin.  Taking Christiana Mariana von Ziegler (further above) as her example, she began to write poetry and openly challenged society’s treatment of women as inferior; at age 24, she was named the poet laureate of the newely-founded University of Göttingen.  As traveling without a male escort was impossible for women at the time, she frequently disguised as a man and, that way, even traveled considerably long distances.  She was also one of the first women ever to visit a mine (namely, the one in Ilmenau, the city in which lived her sister) and later wrote a poem describing that experience.  Her literary career and unconventional life came to a vastly premature end due to a fatal riding accident at age 29.
  • Dorothea Christiane Erxleben (1715-1762): The daughter of a medical doctor from Quedlinburg near the Harz mountains, as a child Dorothea was given the same in-depth education in Latin, maths and the sciences as her brother.  When she showed the same aptitude in the sciences as her father and brother, her father — who opined that gifted women’s talents were wasted in the kitchen — petitioned for royal permission for her to attend university, which she did receive.  Her studies were hampered by her marriage to a wdiower with several children from his first marriage; nevertheless, she completed them and, in order to contribute to her family’s income, began practicing medicine, quickly making a reputation for herself, even before she had obtained a degree.  When she was sued for quackery, King Frederick II of Prussia ruled that she had to pass an examination and submit a dissertation with her university, which she did, becoming the first woman to be granted a university degree and the first woman M.D. in German history.  Thereafter, she was able to continue to practice without any further trouble. — Besides her dissertation, she published a tract arguing for women’s admission to education and study, pointing out the inherently inequal treatment expressed in women’s prohibition from higher learning.
  • Anna Louisa Karsch (1722-1791): An autodidact who became a celebrated poet nicknamed “The German Sappho”, Karsch was born the daughter of an innkeepter and severely punished for her “book mania” when her stepfather (her father having died a few years after her birth) became aware of her “unseemly” love of reading and writing, the basics of which she had been taught by a great uncle who had had her custody for a while in early childhood.  Her gifts as a poet, which were discovered after she had began to write poems commissioned for special occasions such as weddings, eventually brought her to the attention of intellectuals such as philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, as well as, particularly on the basis of her patriotic Prussian poetry, the Prussian nobility.  Eventually, the Prussian King himself, Frederick II (“the Great”), promised her a pension and a house; after he had failed to make good on the promise she approached his successor, Frederick William II, who fulfilled his predecessor’s self-imposed obligation.  Besides Sophie von La Roche (see page 1 of this post, 19th century writers) Karsch is considered one of the earliest women authors to have attained financial independence on the basis of her literary gifts.

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