Document 7: Dr. Antoinnette F. Konikow, "Socialist Women in Germany," New York Call, 5 December 1908, p. 5.
Antoinnette Konikow, a founding member of the Woman's National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, reported in this document to her American comrades about the new support for woman suffrage by the German Social Democratic Party in 1907. Konikow refers to the "spcial legislation, which prohibits women in Germany to participation in political organizations," which were only rescended in 1908. Because strategies of limited suffrage had no currency in the U.S. suffrage movement, Konikow had did not mention that aspect of Clara Zetkin's campaign in Germany.
SOCIALIST WOMEN IN GERMANY ___________________
By Dr. Antoinette F. Konikow.
It is well for us American women Socialists to study the work of our sisters in Germany. Their organization is yet quite young, but still they have achieved a great deal. Our woman Socialist movement is just born. The election of a national women's committee on our last national convention was an acknowledgement from our brothers that the work among women is of importance. Our brothers of the party ought to peruse the report of Comrade Baader, the German woman organizer, with just as much interest as every woman comrade, for it will open their eyes as to the possibility of women's work in the party. I would especially draw the attention SHRDLUSHRDLUetao[sic] attention to the recommendations worked out upon a conference of Comrades in Germany which define the position of women in the Germany party. Those propositions had to be discussed upon the national convention of the German party.
Comrade Baader's report is very long. I selected only the more important points and offers it in as much condensed form as possible.
Comrade Baader points out the importance of the first international congress of women, which took place August 19, 1907, at Stuttgart. Fifty-nine delegates participated representing fifteen nationalities. Fourteen delegates came from Germany. The Russian Social Democratic party and the Jewish Board were also represented. Two important questions were discussed at the convention. The relationship of Socialist women towards woman suffrage and the ways and means of international exchange of experience and information concerning the Socialist work among women. The office of the "Ileichhert" (Equality), the organ of the German women Socialists, was elected to be the International Center of Exchange. Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, England, United States and Denmark have until now come into regular communication with that international office.
An interesting phase of the work of our German sisters is the organizing of the servant girls. It started in Nurmberg in 1900 and found enthusiastic support all over Germany. The servant girls in Germany have not only to suffer from the usual form of exploitation, but also from some laws of old standing which give the master unusual rights over the individual freedom of the servant. Of such importance became that special work that a conference to consider this question alone was called at Berlin November 10, 1907. Twenty-five delegates were present. There was a tendency to have all employment bureaus directly in the hands of this organization to do away with the many abuses of those bureaus.
When the German Socialists decided to start a special effort during the election in Prussia for direct and equal suffrage the Socialist women threw themselves body and soul into the struggle and earned the sincere thanks of the party through their earnest work.
The German women were very much handicapped in their work by special legislation, which prohibits women in Germany to participate in political organizations. For years they were forced to keep up separate organizations from the party and to sail under all kinds of assumed names: educational alliances, debating clubs, etc. Only lately women received the right to organize politically. This new law brings forth the question of new forms of organization and relations toward the party. We American Socialists are very much interested in the same question. There are two currents among our women workers. Some believe emphatically that women should only be organized by the party, others are inclined to think that separate organizations would temporarily be of greater use. Our German Comrades have achieved a great deal in separate organizations, but they never liked it, and considered the enforcement of such separation makes an impediment to their growth. Now the question of organization is before them and on a special conference on May 9, 1907, the following recommendations were accepted.
1. Every woman comrade ought to belong to her respective party organization. Politically women should not organize separately from men, but wherever separate educational organizations have proven to be of value, they should be continued. But members of such organization, if Socialists, ought to belong to the party.
2. Separate meetings for the instruction of women in the theories of Socialism ought to be arranged.
3. The amount of dues should be decided by the district organization; at is, however, recommended that women should pay less than men.
4. Women should be proportionately represented in the executive organizations; one woman should always be elected.
5. The central bureau of women will be continued to work in conjunction with the executive committee of the party.
I recommand to our comrades to pay special attention to paragraph four. If our party organizations would do likewise, they certainly would encourage the interest of women in Socialism.
Let us follow the example of our comrades in Germany. We have already our Women's National Committee, but that committee can achieve but little, unless it finds support among the members of the party.
Women comrades of the Eastern states, our sisters in the West are far ahead of us. If we are ready to work, the Women's National Committee can be of great use to us, for it can supply us with leaflets and with an organizer. But it will do so only if the women of ours and neighboring states will prove their interest in the work by responding in one or another way to the small beginning of special work among women started at our last national convention.