The early 20th century marked a huge change in the Western attitude towards women. The Great War thrust women into the male based workplace, creating a new attitude towards a woman’s place in the world and giving her an alternative lifestyle away from the stove. Hardly the great feminist movement which was to come, the 20th century nonetheless opened the doors for a great many women, German women included.
The ‘Flapper’ era during the 1920’s was huge in Germany, with many young women and girls throwing a domestic future away, eager to start a new career. Although still limited in their choice of profession, the idea that a woman could work rather than marry and become mothers, was a popular and welcomed one. Female secretaries, journalists and medics, to name a few, appeared throughout Germany. Gone were the contrainsts of a Victorian Europe and the German female population threw themselves into their new, self made roles.
The Nazi ideal towards women, however, did not support the new worldly progression of women. In order to create the powerful, world leading state that the Nazi’s dreamed of for Germany, their focus solely rested on men. Men would fill the army ranks, men would farm the fields, men would run the government. This left little room for women and as suddenly as the welcomed progression came about, it was gone.
The Nazi’s believed that women were suited only for the domestic life. They encouraged women to embrace this and many fell back into their old, not yet archaic, roles. This new ideology started early on in life- boys and girls were given different educations; instead of history and languages, girls attended domestic science, for example. Even within the education system, everything was planned to bring about the same outcome- women married and firmly planted within the home, ideally producing a new generation of Nazi’s as quickly as they could.
Girls could attend secondary school with a limited syllabus but university was on the whole, denied to them. From Hitler and his party’s point of veiw, educating women was a waste of time and resource. The Germans population and thus, the Nazi party, needed to be ever expanding and before the invasion of territories, the only way to do this was to produce a larger nation of ‘true’ Germans – women were needed to do this. If a woman was encouraged to pursue a career then she might not marry and eventually have children until her late twenties or early thirties (if at all) when if she had been denied this path, she could have had four or more children by then. The Nazi’s needed more and more aryan children in order to build their strong nation and in their eyes, it was a waste to encourage women on any other path other than motherhood.
What is surprising is that many women supported the Nazi Party. The Great Depression had a big role in this. Despite the great victories for women since the Great War, such as obtaining the right to vote, the rise of the Nazi’s was helped by women as much as men. Hitler’s promise that he would give work to those millions unemployed struck a cord with the German female population. Although they had previously had the opportunity to build a career in the early 1920’s, they now faced difficulties as the men of the household were unemployed. This was partly due to the fact that female labour was cheaper than male. Hitler wanted to replace the female workforce with men, thus bringing a stability to family life. With a decent and reliable wage coming in, the worrisome effects of the depression would make life easier.
It seems that the need for domestic stability outweighed the pro’s of women’s rights and new roles within Germany. Hitler’s argument was strong enough to make the German female population renounce their new freedoms and role to take on the domesticated role of old.