Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Marianne Weber


Growing Up

Marianne Weber was born in 1870, in Oerlinghausen, Germany. Marianne's grandfather Karl was from the prestigious Weber family. Karl's brother was Max Weber, Sr. The Weber family was not impressed by Mrs. Weber's choice of a husband. She had married Eduard Schnitger, a country doctor. Marianne was born with in the first year of the marriage. A year later Marianne's mother died after giving birth a second time.

Marianne's personality and character were primarily shaped by her childhood years. Her character was one of determination. At the time of her childhood, Germany had become one of the world's most powerful economies. It was a combination of self-governing political entities that became a nation-state that was lead by a monarch by the name of "Iron Chancellor," Otto von Bismarck. New educational opportunities for middle-class women became available due to rapid industrialization (Lengermann & Niebrugge 193).

Growing up without a mother, Marianne was raised by her father's mother and sister. She endured the hardship of poverty. She received a basic education in the Schnitger home. Marianne's father did not live with her and only came by for occasional visits. Marianne recalled the terror of her fathers insanity. Her two uncles that lived with her also went insane. In order to cope with the horrible events of her family life Weber developed several coping strategies. Weber felt that it was important to be defined to herself and to others. She wanted to be perceived as normal rather than different or eccentric. Marianne was able to distance herself from her disturbing family experiences. She focused on the few happy moments that she remembered, such as a close friend or a holiday. Weber was convinced that the Weber side of the family would bring her happiness.

Fortunately, she was right, the Weber family did lead to a brighter life. Marianne's grandfather Karl agreed to send her away to a finishing school in Hanover at the age of 6. At the school, Marianne felt uncomfortable with her classmates whom emphasized social refinement and was determined to fit in. She learned how to speak French and English. She also knew that she wanted to become someone of importance. Three years later Weber returned home to live with her mother's married sister, Alwin. Marianne quickly became bored with the middle class environment that her aunt provided. At one point Max Weber Sr. and his wife Helene invited Marianne to come visit them in Berlin. Weber felt at home in the big city with the intellectual atmosphere. A year after her visit, she went back to Berlin to live with her cousins in 1892 (age 22).

A New Life

While living with her new family Helene became a mother to Marianne. Marianne also became close to her cousin Max Jr. Although there was no mention of their courtship, Max proposed to Marianne (his cousin). They were married in 1893. At the time Max was recognized as a brilliant young scholar with a doctoral degree in law and history (Lengermann & Niebrugge 195).

World War I played its part in the Weber's lives. Germany was under the control of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Socialist, Feminist, and Liberals opposed him. Marianne worked to share Max's sociological life. As Max pursued his career, he taught as a Professor of Economics at Freiburg and then as Professor of Political Science at Heidelberg (the leading University in Germany). Marianne also studied at Freiburg. There she took interest in feminism. In 1896, she became the leader of a new society for the dissemination of feminist ideas. She attended political and philosophical lectures, including Max's. The Webers were able to open Heidelberg to women students who only came in small numbers at that time.

The Dark Years

In 1897, Max reprimanded his father for the years of abuse he put Helene through. Before their differences were mended, his father died. Consequently, Max to suffered thru a deep depression, which led him to withdraw from the academic and political scene. Marianne's career was also put on hold. She worked to help Max through his mental illness.

However, in 1900, she did work on several publications. One was called, Politics and the Women's Movement. She found herself growing closer to Max as she comforted him; she too had inherited "weak nerves". Eventually, Marianne found herself taking Max's place at political meetings.

Seven years later in 1904, Max began to get back into his scholarship. Marianne also became more active in public life. However, Max had begun sexual experimenting outside of the marriage. Max had an affair and fell in love with their mutual friend Else Jaffe. Nevertheless, their lives continued, as they went on an American tour. While touring Marianne met Jane Adams and Florence Kelley. Marianne published several papers on women's experience and engaged with the theories of Charolotte Perkins Gilman. Her landmark work was called Marriage, Motherhood, and Law. In the same year (1907) Marianne's grandfather Karl died and left the couple enough money to live financially free (Lengermann & Niebrugge 197).


Later, the Webers started an intellectual salon, which included names such as Werner Somart, George Simmel, and feminist Marie Baum. By 1908, Marianne had become well known in political and intellectual circles as a feminist. Some of her works were Authority and Autonomy in Marriage and Women and Objective Culture. Inside Marianne struggled emotionally over her husband's affair. She no longer felt the same closeness. Astonishingly, the marriage remained solid and the salon continued.

As time went on, World War I continued to create turmoil for Germany. Max again had become active and participated in peace negotiations. Marianne continued to publish feminist works such as The New Woman. In 1920, Marianne became the first German women representative elected to a state assembly. She was also elected president of the Federation of German Women's Organizations. Although, there were numerous events that were taking a toll on Weber. She was faced with her husband's affair, the death of Helene Weber, and the suicide of Max's sister Lili, not to mention the devastation of war.

Weber's life took a turn for the worst when Max suddenly died of pneumonia. Marianne suffered through four years of depression before becoming active again in society. Later, she prepared ten volumes of Max' writings for publication. Between 1923 and 1926 she completed her most famous biography of Max Weber. Weber found through her writings she was able to cope with Max's death. In 1924, Weber accepted an Honorary Doctorate from Heidelberg for her scholarship on women and the editing of Max's work. She also re-established the weekly salon.

Later Years

Eventually, Marianne adopted Max's sister Lili's four children which provided her comfort along with her circle of friends. Around 1933, Marianne's public meetings came to a halt due to the politics of Hitler. Weber continued to hold meetings in private, despite the dangers. She also published several works thru an underground press. Marianne worried herself into depression over the Nazi regime. Later, Weber died in 1954 at the age of 84 (Lengermann & Niebrugge 1998).


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