Johanna Goldschmidt: womens’ rights activist, mother and author
The relationship of mother and child
Protection from foreign influences
An interdenominational point of view
Johanna Goldschmidt, née Schwabe, grew up with several siblings in an atmosphere of a Jewish and politically liberal spirit and in the environment of the Jewish Reformed Temple congregation in Hamburg. Moritz David Goldschmidt, whom Johanna married in 1827 at the age of 20, also belonged to this circle. The two had eight children, whom they raised in a religiously and politically enlightened spirit. Following her active child-rearing phase, Johanna Goldschmidt developed her literary activity. In 1847, she anonymously published the epistolary novel “Rebekka und Amalia” [“Rebekka and Amalia”], in which she described the distressed situation of the Jews in Hamburg. The revolution during the “Springtime of Nations 1848” aroused enthusiastic hope for a change in the restrictive political and social conditions. Johanna Goldschmidt encountered the same optimism among reform-minded Christian women. She invited a small circle of Jewish and Christian women to her home with the aim of overcoming religious and political prejudices at regular meetings and encouraging each other to act in a humane and progressive manner. This spirit united Jewish women reformers with Christian dissidents.
These liberal women stressed that each should act practically according to her inner calling. And so it was obvious for Johanna Goldschmidt to make her experiences as a mother public. She could not claim to be a scientist, nor did she want to compete with the revered great educators such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Fröbel. She wrote with her heart and her mind – and above all with love for the child. She found inspiration for this in Friedrich Fröbel, the founder of kindergartens, of whom she had become aware through Doris Lütkens, who was involved in the kindergarten movement. He viewed children like plants, whose growth and flourishing depended on care that was thoughtfully attuned to their nature. To this end, he trained “kindergarten teachers.” Johanna Goldschmidt had met Fröbel at his place of work in Liebenstein in Thuringia. She invited him to Hamburg, made him and his ideas known through lectures, and became his advocate. On her recommendation, Adolph Diesterweg visited Fröbel in Liebenstein. He, too, was fascinated and became friends with the well-known educator.
Fröbel focused on three- to seven-year-old children. But what happened to the infants? Until then, pedagogy had remained silent about this. Johanna Goldschmidt broke new ground. She demanded that the nature of the child be considered from birth, even from the beginning of pregnancy, and stated that this is where the mother’s pedagogy begins. In her view, observing every movement of the embryo begins the pact between mother and child, which the mother continues after birth by observing the infant at every moment in order to meet its needs appropriately. Through pregnancy, along with its discomforts, the mother grows into her duties. Goldschmidt opposed the prevailing “prudery” and urged young women to “discuss the most important questions with their doctor or an experienced friend” (p. 14) in order to acquire the necessary knowledge.
“Our children are not here for us, we are here for them. In this thought, properly appreciated and applied in life, lies the whole pedagogy” (p. 59). With her precise observations and interpretations of the first human phase of life, Johanna Goldschmidt recorded an anthropological insight that was not scientifically explored until 100 years later by the psychoanalyst René Spitz: as long as the infant had no consciousness of its own, it remained in intimate symbiosis with the mother. Only with the stirrings of self-awareness and the weaning does the process of detachment begin, which is a process of renunciation for both mother and child. For the mother, the question arises as to which good or bad characteristics this child has brought into the world (p. 65). She develops strategies to strengthen some and correct others. Johanna Goldschmidt offered many vivid examples, but emphasized that the mother must shape her child rearing from love, but also in accordance with the existing principles of morality, and that she must offer the child a shining example through her firm conviction. In the responsibility for another being, the mother had found her “occupation.” While Johanna Goldschmidt, on the one hand, saw the scope of women’s tasks as mothers quite conventionally in the family, she differed from her contemporaries in her approach in that she raised the discussion of child rearing to a theoretical level – until then a male domain – and addressed her book exclusively to mothers, for example.
Johanna Goldschmidt directed her advice to intellectually educated women of the upper middle class. Their wet nurses and nannies usually came from the countryside, from rural backgrounds, and brought with them their customary manners. Johanna Goldschmidt feared that these might unintentionally harm the tender urban children, and she urged caution (pp. 42f). It seems paradoxical that she, who hoped for the abolition of class barriers and equality for all, still recommended protecting the offspring of her own class from the accidental rudeness of uneducated servants. Indeed, she was a lifelong advocate of providing educational and advancement opportunities for girls from poorer backgrounds. For example, the Hamburg-based Fröbel-Verein, which she founded in 1860 and directed for a long time, included a school that trained kindergarten teachers for private employment, with the goal of enabling girls to advance socially through a profession. While Goldschmidt largely failed with this goal due to the lack of financial resources for subsidized apprenticeships, for example, the training itself was a great success and was expanded as early as the 1870s.
Goldschmidt criticized the employment of foreign-language governesses. As an assimilated Jew, she felt that she had arrived in society as a good German and also attached importance to the teaching of the German language in education; “foreign elements of English or French pedagogy” (p. 44), on the other hand, were to be rejected.
Johanna Goldschmidt assured her readers that, following the example of the parents, the child would meet all people with sincerity and truth and learn to listen to the voice of its own conscience. She believed that the “existence of God” was guaranteed to the child by the authoritative statement of the mother, whom the child trusted. She strongly advised against further religious influence, because this would disturb the child’s receptive imagination (pp. 90f, 95). In orthodox Christian circles, she was therefore criticized as an atheist, and she and like-minded people in her circles were defamed as socialists, communists and democrats. After the 1848/49 revolution had failed, its supporters were ostracized and persecuted as corrupters of the people. This also affected the reform pedagogues and Fröbel’s followers, among whom, interestingly enough, there were particularly many Jewish women. On August 7, 1851, a Prussian decree banned kindergartens as “hotbeds of democracy.” Diesterweg lost his office. His opponent Christian Palmer, professor of theology, condemned Johanna Goldschmidt as a “female Diesterweg.” However, the movement could not be stifled; kindergartens exist today all over the world. Johanna Goldschmidt followed up her book “Muttersorgen und Mutterfreuden” with a kind of sequel, “Blicke in die Familie” [“Insights Into the Family”], a book in which she described the family, enlightened in a humane sense, as “the sacred palladium of the nation.” By regarding the family as a “microcosm of future society” Inka Le-Huu, Die sociale Emanzipation. Jüdisch-christliche Begegnungen im Hamburger Bürgertum 1830-1871, Hamburger Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Juden vol. XLVIII, Göttingen 2017, p. 71. and child rearing as a woman’s task, Johanna Goldschmidt assigned women an important role within the family and in society. In many essays and speeches and as a member of the General German Women’s Association Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein, she worked for the cause of women, mothers and humanity.
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Ingeborg Grolle, Dr. phil., born 1931, worked for the Southwest German Radio Station and has written several publications on the social history of Hamburg. Her focus of research: biographies, history of women and social history.
Inge Grolle, Johanna Goldschmidt. “Our children are not here for us, we are here for them.” New educational ideals in the spirit of 1848 (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, March 11, 2021. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-275.en.v1> [May 29, 2023].