German History

1791Olympe de Gouges composed the Déclration des droits de la femme et la citoyenne (Declaration of the Rights of Women and Female Citizens). The proclamations of human rights of the French Revolution initially only applied to men. In addition, de Couges proposed a “social contract between men and women," in which she wanted to replace marriage with a contract based on equality. Her revolutionary ideas provoked wide resistance from the leaders of the Revolution, who believed in the biological role of women, which they insisted, precluded their inclusion in the public sphere and politics. 


1792Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the first European feminist texts. She emphasized women's right to education. 


1793 – All political women's organizations in France were banned, and Olympe de Couges was executed.

1795Dorothea Erxleben is the first woman to graduate from Halle University in medicine. It required the king's special permission. For half a century, she remained the only female doctor who could officially practice her profession in Germany. 

1848Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott compose the “Declaration of Sentiment,” in New York State, an important document in the first wave of the Women's Movement, in which they ask for equality of men and women inspired by the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Female activists who organized during the anti-slavery movement began to demand the voting rights for women, ownership rights of women's property and income, and the care rights for their children in case of divorce, as well as better access to education and work.  

1851 – On May 29th, the African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth gave a speech, entitled “Ain’t I a woman?” at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, putting the rights of women of colour on the agenda. 


1865Louise Otto-Peters and Auguste Schmidt founded the German Women's Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein). The ADF lobbies for (middle class) women's rights of education and employment. Before women could only become teachers upon completion of the women's colleges. Pedagogue and feminist Helene Lange established various educational institutions and mobilized petitions to promote the scientific and academic education of women.

1880s – In Germany, as in other industrial European states, collaboration develops between the Social Democrats, labour unions, and the growing proletariat Women's Movement, under the leadership of Clara Zetkin. With her influence, the Social Democrats take up the Women's vote as their agenda. 


1893 – Women are permitted to do the high-school graduation exams (Abitur) that qualify students for university. 


1894 – The Union of Women's Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine - BDF) is created as an umbrella association to unite all independent establishments, and connects it to the International Council of Women (ICW). The organizations of the proletarian woman's movement remain independent because of political differences. 

1896 – Women are admitted as auditors to German universities. 


1899 – For the first time, women in Germany are officially allowed to take the state exams in medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy. A year later, in Baden women are allowed to study at universities.


1903 – In Manchester, Emmeline Pankhurst established the (middle class) Women’s Social and Political Union. Her daughter Christabel Pankhurst is one of the leading suffragettes for women's votes in Britain. With her non-violent protest actions, Emmeline Pankhurst became an inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King; however, later she turned more radical because the peaceful protests had no results. In Britain, the suffragettes evolved from the opposition to the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864-69 that forced medical inspection of sex workers. The laws were finally repealed in 1886.


1905 – In an open letter, the jurist Anita Augspurg demanded new legislation on women's rights in marriage, which is interpreted as a "marriage boycott" and provokes a lot of hostility. Augspurg, who studied law in Zurich, was active in the Women's Movement in Berlin at the turn of the century along with Minna Cauer und Marie Raschke.


1908 – The long-debated legalization of women's associations is finally passed. Women could now belong to political parties. 


1910 – At the second Congress of Socialist International in Copenhagen Clara Zetkin demands "no special right, but human rights" (“Keine Sonderrechte, sondern Menschenrechte”) for women. 


1911 – In Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland women demonstrated for their rights for the first time. Their main demands were for votes for women and participation in politics. With the exception of Finland, women are not allowed to vote in Europe.


1912Rosa Luxemburg published "Women's Votes and Class Struggle" (“Frauenwahlrecht und Klassenkampf”).


1914 – The German Female Jurist Association is established. 


1918 – With the founding of the Weimar Republic, women get the right to vote. In the election to the Constitutional National Assembly 78% of women take part, 9.6% of Representatives are female. In the U.S. and Britain women gained the right to vote as a “reward” for their war efforts, and in the Soviet Union, following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Other countries, such as France and Italy granted women the right to vote only after WWII. In Switzerland, women could only vote since 1971.


1920 – Women could graduate from all German universities. 

1922 – Women could serve as lawyers and judges. 

1925 – Almost 1.5 million women in Germany joined the work force. Every third married woman contributes to her family income, most in lower-paid workers' positions. The higher qualification and academic positions are still reserved for men. 


1927 – Prostitution is legalized. 


1933 – After the National Socialists take over, the Union of Women's Associations (BDF) is turned into the Nazi Women's Front, enforcing the NSDAP party membership, as well as the "extraction" of all non-Aryan members. The BDF decided to dissolve itself on May 15th, ending their participation at all international organisations.

Post-1945 – [after WWII] there were women in almost every leadership position – including Louise Schroeder, the first female mayor of Berlin. The absence of men after the war made it possible: men’s work became human work. But with the return of the prisoners of war from camps, almost no women remained in leadership positions. 


1946 – For the first time in twelve years, the International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th. 


1948 Elisabeth Selbert works as one of four women known as the "Mothers of the Constitution" (“Mütter des Grundgesetzes”) next to the 61 men on the new constitution for the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. She is largely responsible for Article 3, Paragraph 2 that states "men and women are equal" ("Männer und Frauen sind gleichberechtigt”).


From 1950 on – Girls and boys in German schools are taught together. In the GDR, pregnant women and mothers with children under one year are legally protected from employment termination. In West-Germany the Mothers Protection Law ("Mutterschutz") passed in 1952.


1952 – The American Christine Jorgensen is the first transwoman to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. The operational procedures at that time were still in the experimental phase. 

1958 – The Gender Equality Law is passed in West-Germany. Women could manage their own earnings accumulated during their marriage, but still needed their husband's agreement to be able to work.


1961 – With the Family Law Amendment, the legal rights of women in divorce were improved. Fathers were made legally responsible to provide for their children until they turned 18.


1965 – The term “sexism” was first used in the 1960s in English. In 1976 the term “Sexismus” was first used in German by Marielouise Janssen-Jurreit in the title of her book.


1966 – The first new feminist organization, entitled National Organisation of Woman (NOW) was founded on June 30the in Washington, D.C. The 28 founders include Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1964), and the Civil Rights activist and first African-American female priest Pauli Murray. That year, the Family Law Act is enacted in the GDR, making both parents responsible for child-raring. 

1968 – At the Congress of the Socialist German Student Organization (SDS) Helke Sander, a feminist filmmaker and editor of the Women and Film (Frauen und Film) magazine, gave a speech about the discrimination of women in the Student Union, and was laughed at by the male colleagues, in response to which one of the women threw a tomato at the mostly male audience. Sander said, “We must realize that women make up more than half of the general population; and we believe it is high time that we express our concomitant expectations and demand that they be included in future plans. If the SDS is not able to make the leap forward to this insight, we would be forced into a power struggle which we would rather prevent. For us, it would be a waste of energy. For we will win this power struggle, because we are historically in the right.” That was the beginning of a new West-German women's movement. That same day, the women formed "Women's Councils" in the SDS that began to question the every-day conditions of women's lives, following the motto, "the personal is political."    


1969 – Consolidation of feminist organizations in West-Germany into German Women’s Council (Deutscher Frauenrat).

On June 28th, at the Stonewall Inn, a bar on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Riots took place, in which the LGBT community stood up to the police violence that terrorized the local LGBT bars. It was a day-long street battle that marked the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement. In 1979 the first Christopher Street Day demonstrations took place in Germany. 


1970-1 – In a media campaign orchestrated by Alice Schwarzer, 374 famous and regular women publicly announced "We also had an abortion!" in the Stern magazine, thus protesting the anti-abortion law (Paragraph 218), and sparking a new women's movement for self-determination over female sexuality. 

1972 – Lesbian Action Center (LAC) founded in West-Berlin. Anti-abortion laws were repelled in the GDR, and abortion was covered by state health care. The pill is prescribed for free. Single mothers received financial assistance, and if there was no available day-care space, the maternity leave was extended by 18 weeks. Mothers of two children got a 40-hours work week.  


1974Brigitte Reimann's unfinished novel Franziska Linkerhand came out posthumously, telling the story of the every-day life of a young female architect, whose idealism clashes with GDR social and political structures. 


1976 – West-Germany legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancies. The law is still in power today, including the stipulation that women undergo a consultation, followed by a 3-day (re-)consideration time. The first reform to the Family and Marriage Law allowed the wife's last name to be chosen as the family name; but without a special request, the husband's name automatically became the family name. After 1994, both partners could keep their own names. The first Women's House (Frauenhaus) was opened in West-Berlin.  

1977 – The old-fashioned laws of household marriages (“Hausfrauenehe"), in which women were obliged to manage the family household were repelled in West-Germany. Divorce rights were reformed, eliminating the accusation principle. In East-Germany this was already achieved since 1955.


1980 – A law about the equal treatment of men and women in the workplace was passed in West-Germany. 

Pieke Biermann's book, We Are Women Like All the Rest (Wir sind Frauen wie andere auch!) was published, presenting in essays and speeches sex work from the perspective of sex workers.  


1981 – In the GDR the first Women's Groups are formed. Hidden in churches, many oppositional groups are founded. By 1980 the first semi-public discussions of feminism take place at the Evangelical Academy. 

1983Christa Wolf's Kassandra was published in the GDR, telling the story of an outsider in a patriarchal state that leaves women out of all decision-making spheres. 


1984 bell hooks published her Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, and Audre Lorde published her essay collection Sister Outsider. Lorde lived in West-Berlin from 1984 until 1992, holding a guest-professorship at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institut for North-American Studies at the Free University, and assisting in the formation of the Afro-German movement. A memorial plaque for the homosexual victims of National Socialism was unveiled at the Mauthausen concentration camp. 


1985 – A group of Feminist Theologians was founded in the GDR. There were increasingly more assemblies of women and lesbians. 


1986 – The Association of Afro-German Women (ADEFRA) was established with the aims to strengthen the self-determination of women who were discriminated in more than one way, suffering not only from sexism, but also from racism and homophobia. May Ayim's book Seeing Colour (Farbe bekennen) was published, for the first time documenting German women of African backgrounds and their generational experiences in society. It is the first text instrumental in the establishment of the German Black Initiative (Initiative Schwarze Deutsche - ISD).


1988 – The oppositional movement of women in the GDR continued to meet and organize.


1989 – The critical theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw described the problem of intersectionality. The term refers to the multiple discriminations experienced by queer women of colour. In December, the Independent Women's Organization (UFV) was founded in the GDR, publishing the manifesto "Without Women no State can be Created" (“Ohne Frauen ist kein Staat zu machen.”) The sociologist Tatjana Böhm was one of the founders, who in 1990 was the co-author of the new Constitutional Proposal.


1990Judith Butler published Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, proposing that there are more than to genders, and that the separation into male and female gender is conditioned. This made Butler a leading theorist of queer theory. In the early 1990s, Riot Grrrl was founded in the American punk scene,  feminist subcultural movement made out of several bands. Kathleen Hanna, with her ban Bikini Kill, was one of the leaders of the Riot Grrrl movement. 


1992 – The Family Aid Law was passed in reunified Germany, guaranteeing free contraception to all women over 21 with state health insurance. Leila Ahmed, the Egyptian-American professor of Women’s Studies published her book Women and Gender in Islam, in which she argues that the discrimination of women in the Middle East is based on a patriarchal interpretation of Islam and not on Islam itself. 


1993Heide Simonis became the first female Minister President of a German Bundesland.


1994 – The second equality reform is passed, stipulating that workplace discrimination is illegal. Positions postings had to be addressed to women a well as men. Paragraph175, which banned homosexuality since 1872, was repelled. In the GDR, the persecution of homosexuals stopped in the 1950s. 


1997 – Marital rape is finally recognized as a crime. Made official law in 2004.


1997/1999 – The European Union signs the Amsterdam Treaty, which includes gender-mainstreaming, promoting the consideration of various lifestyles and interests of all genders in all social spheres.


2000 – The first Ladyfest in Olympia, Washington, was organized to promote underrepresented women and girls in the music and art scenes. In 2003 the first Ladyfest is organized in Germany. 


2001 – Rape as war tactics is finally recognized as a war crime. The Life-Partnership Law is passed. The Netherlands are the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. Since 2001, 17 states followed. 


2002 – The Prostitution Law is passed recognizing sex work as legal work.


2003 – Sex educator and activist Annie Sprinkle, author of the “Sex Workers Outreach Project USA” calls for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17th.


2004Jessica Valenti founded the blog with the goal to make feminist ideas accessible to young women without academic backgrounds, as these, according to Valenti, were the most under-represented voices in the feminist discourse. In 2007, Barbara Steidl, Susanne Klingner and Meredith Haaf found their blog, based on the model of Feministing.


2005 Angela Merkel is elected as the first female Chancellor.


2008 – According to the Transsexual Law, the gender transition requires four points: change of first name, single status (or enforced divorce for married transsexuals), gender reassignment surgery, and infertility. In 2008 the enforced divorce is repelled. In 2011 the enforced gender reassignment surgery and the enforced infertility are lifted. 


2009 – The “PorYes-Award,” the European feminist porn prize was awarded for the first time. Founded by the Communication Studies scholar and activist Laura Méritt.


2011 – On April 3, the first SlutWalks take place in Toronto, inspiring further SlutWalks in many cities around the world protesting against sexualized violence and victim blaming. 


2013 – On January 24, Anne Wizorek initiated #aufschrei twitter campaing, starting a new sexism-debate in Germany. On September 6st, Kübra Gümüşay initiated the #schauhin campaign to draw attention to everyday racism experiences. On September 8th, the FemCo conference of Feminisms of Colour took place in Berlin. On October 13th, sex workers founded an Association of Sex Work, to lobby for labour rights. 


2014 – On March 14-16, the first Care Revolution Conference took place, establishing the Care Movement. In June the Family Minister Manuela Schwesig and Justice Minister Heiko Maas proposed the "Frauen Quote" Law on the way to Equal Pay. 

(Compiled with the help of Anne Wizorek) 

PHOTO CREDIT: K. Sark, Berlin, Rosa Luxemburg Memorial in Tiergarten, 2016