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Anna Maier:

Autobiography, 1912

German Social Democracy was conciously feminist. Here one woman recounts her reasons for her socialism.

When I am asked what brought me in touch with socialism, I must refer back to my childhood [to begin my answer]. My father was a weaver, my mother a spooler, and other than that, they worked at whatever they could find. I am the youngest of 12 children and I learned very early what work is all about. When other children were out playing in the street, I would watch them with envy from the window until my mother would slap me to remind me that I had to work. It is easier [for a mother] to discipline a child than for a child to understand why she is being disciplined. When one thinks that at six, a child has to give up all the pleasures of youth. That is a lot to ask! When I went to school my only desire was to learn. But that desire was an illusion because I had to get up at 5 o'clock, do some spooling and then run off to school poorly dressed. After school I had to run home in order to do some more spooling before lunch. Then after school in the afternoons I had to spool again. I was able to accept that, but not being kept home from school to help with the uork. But all the begging and crying in the world didn't help. I had to do what my mother said. When I was older and wiser, I often cursed all the splendours of nature because they had never meant anything to me.

When I turned thirteen my mother took me by the hand and we went to see the manager of a tobacco factory to get me a job. The manager refused to hire me but my mother begged him to change his mind, since she explained, my father had died. I was hired. When I was getting ready to go to work the next day, my mother told me that I was to keep quiet and do what I was told. That was easier said than done. The treatment you received in this factory was really brutal.Young girls were often abused or even beaten by the older women. I rebelled strongly against that. I tried anything that might help improve things for me. As a child I was very pious and used to listen enthusiastically to the priests telling stories from the Bible. So, when things were going badly for me [at work], I would go to church on Sundays where I prayed so intently that I saw or heard nothing going on around me. When I went back to work on Monday, things were not any better and sometimes they were worse. I asked myself: Can there be a higher power that rewards good and punishes evil? I said to my self, no, that cannot be.

Several years went by. The Women Workers' Newspaper [Arbeiterinnen Zeitung] began to appear and a few issues were smuggled into the factory by one of the older women. The more I was warned to stay away from this woman, the more I went to her to ask her if she would lend me a copy of the newspaper since I didn't have enough money to buy my own. At that time work hours were very long and the pay was very low. When my friend lent me a copy of the newspaper, I had to keep it hidden and I couldn't even let my mother see it if I took it home. I came to understand many things, my circle of acquaintances grew and when a political organization was founded in Sternberg, the workers were urged to join-only the men, the women were left out. A party representative came to us since I was already married by then. When he came by for the third time I asked him if I wasn't mature enough to become a member of the organization. He was embarrassed but replied: "When do you want to?" So I joined and I am a member of the party to this day.

I attended all the meetings, took part in all the demonstrations and it was not long before I was punished by the manager of the factory. I was taken off a good job and put in a poorer one just because I had become a Social Democrat. Nothing stopped me though; I said to my t self, if this official is against it, out of fear to be sure, then it can't be all bad. When the tobacco workers' union was founded in November 1899, I joined and we had some big battles before we were able to make progress. Through these two organizations I have matured into a class­conscious fighter and I am now trying to win over mothers to the cause so that future children of the proletariat will have a happier youth than I had.


From Eleanor Reimer and John Fout, eds., European Women: A Documentary Hzstory 1789­1945 (New York: Shocken Books, 1980), pp. 93­95. Copyright 1980 by Shocken Books, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook. (c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997

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