Equality under the law is an ideal that has inspired women’s legal reform efforts since the French Revolution.1 It took the German women’s movements, however, over a century after the French Revolution to understand the role the law would take in the fight for equal rights. It was the earliest German female law graduate, Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), who first raised the question of women’s rights as a legal question in 1895: “The women’s question is to a considerable degree a question of economics, but maybe to an even greater extent a question of culture, [. . .] but first and foremost it is a legal question because only upon the foundation of warranted rights not the imaginary ones [. . .] can a definite solution even be thought about.”2 She claimed that the fight for every other aspect in the women’s question was meaningless as long as women did not have full, legally guaranteed equal rights on par with men. She discounted any other achievement to be simply something private, personal, isolated, and temporary, which could not serve to become the rule for every woman. Thus, she compared the struggle of the women’s movement for their various goals with trying to install windows and frames for doors without having built the foundation walls of a house.3 Augspurg represented the principles of the radical part of the civic women’s movement.4 The conservative women’s movement, by contrast, believed that the question of women’s rights was primarily based on education and culture. It promoted the notion of women’s distinctive “female” talents to improve the fields of medicine and teaching, for example, but also to reform society in general. According to this idea, women were needed in some professions, such as medicine-especially gynecologists-or education, where they would teach the female students who had begun to pursue secondary education in this era. But at least until 1888, when the Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch (BGB, German civil code) came up for revision, no obvious reason existed why the women’s movements should need female lawyers. This changed drastically after the women’s movements failed in their challenge to alter the genderdiscriminative clauses in the new BGB that was finally enacted in 1900.5 While Anita Augspurg had claimed to open the legal professions for women from the beginning, the conservative wing of the civic women’s movement

started to understand how important academically trained female lawyers could be in the battle for equal rights only after their defeat on the BGB. Yet the notion of female lawyers was still too far-fetched to find support in the society of Imperial Germany. While the civic women’s movement was convinced that all women had all the abilities to become lawyers, to claim especially female judges in public was still a distant dream. In 1900, the pioneering feminist, teacher, and women’s rights activist Auguste Schmidt (1833-1902) conceded: “We were convinced that the profession of [. . .] the lawyer could be adequately exercised by women, but we knew that this opinion would not be considered compatible with common sense. Thus we kept quiet.”6 What Schmidt conceived of eventually became a reality. But it took the women’s movement more than a decade to address the question in public and still another decade to break the resistance to women’s access to legal professions, which was particularly strong in Germany. As late as in 1921, the feminist Marie Stritt (1855-1928) claimed, “Not even against women’s suffrage [. . .] especially from the professional circles, has [resistance] ever been so hard and stubborn as on this” issue.7 Stritt was founder of the Legal Aid Institution for Women and a former president of the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (BDF, National Council of German Women), Germany’s umbrella organization for most of the middle-class women’s associations, which was founded in 1894 as a reaction to the founding of the International Council of Women (ICW) in 1888.