Address of a girl
to the highly respected Minister Oberländer, to the workers' commission appointed by him and to all workers
In permitting myself to send you an address which bears no more signature than the simple name of a girl, this freedom can only be excused by the unlimited confidence which I place in the high Ministry of the Interior, by the importance, which I attach to the Workers' Commission, and by the interest which I have always taken in the fate of the working classes.
Gentlemen! Don't misunderstand me: I'm not writing this address despite the fact that I'm a weak woman — I'm writing it because I am one. Yes, I recognize it as my most sacred duty to lend my voice the cause of those who do not have the courage to represent themselves! You will not be able to accuse me of being presumptuous because history of all times has taught it, and today's especially so, that those who forgot to think about their rights were also forgotten. That's why I want to remind you of my poor sisters, of the poor female workers!
Gentlemen — when you are involved with the great task of our time: with the organization of work, you do not want to forget that it is not enough if you organize the work for the men, but that you also have to organize it for the women.
I don't want to hold up here to demonstrate, how, because women are only allowed to do very few types of work, competition in these has reduced wages so much that if you keep an eye on the whole, the fate of the female workers is still a lot more miserable than that of the male workers. You will all know that this is so, and if you do not know it yet, set up commissions for it too, which will have to confirm it to you. Now one can say: if the men are better paid in the future than they are now, they will be able to look after their wives better, which can devote themselves to caring for their children instead of working for others. For one thing, I'm afraid the fate of the working classes won't be able to be improved to such an extent, and then there'll still be the large crowd of widows and orphans, and of the grown-up girls in general, even if we exclude the wives and mothers. Furthermore, this also means that one half of the mankind are declared to be minors and children and only make them completely dependent on the other half. This is, to put it mildly, which encourages immorality and crime: A girl who can barely lead her miserable existence as a worker will direct her entire eagerness to getting a man who will relieve her of these worries — If she is already ruined, she gives herself out of expediency to the first man who comes along, so that he may marry her, if not for her own sake, at least for the sake of her child — or even if she has not sunk so low, she will marry the first man who comes along, no matter if she loves him or they are compatible. In any case, the number of unhappy, immoral, reckless marriages, unhappy children and the most unhappy proletarian families is increasing in a worrying way precisely because the fate of single working women is so sad. I have not yet drawn attention to the worst consequence of the female proletariat — it is prostitution. I blush that I must speak this word before you — but more than that I blush at the social conditions of a state which is unable to give thousands of its poor daughters any other bread than the poisoned bread of a disgusting business that founded on the vices of men! —
Gentlemen! In the name of morality, in the name of the fatherland, in the name of humanity, I urge you: When organizing work, don't forget the women!
You, dear Minister, will not forget them, because you have a heart for all the suffering of the people. — You were already thinking of the poor, starving lace-makers, of the general need, when your prophetic word, that if things continue as they have been, there will only be a hundred rich and millions of poor, faded away without a trace inside the chamber and only outside fell into the grateful hearts of the poor and their friends! You will now also take the fate of the poor women workers into your own — and therefore into the best of hands, and you will not be angry with me for raising my feeble voice for a part of the population that has not yet dared to represent its own interests. —
And you, gentlemen, who are also called upon to examine and regulate working-class relations — also think of the weaker sex, which, because it is unable to help itself, has an inalienable right to demand this help from you, the stronger sex! Do not forget the factory workers, the day labourers, the lace makers, the knitters and seamstresses, etc. — ask about their earnings too, about the pressure under which they languish, and you will find how necessary your help is here.
And I wrote this address for you too, gentlemen, for you too, the whole multitude of workers! I also address my words to you. As the stronger sex, you have a duty to take care of the weaker! Is it not your wives, sisters, mothers and daughters whose interests must be protected as well as your own? — Instead of that, it could have happened in Berlin that the factory workers, who wanted an increase in their wages, insisted that all women be dismissed from the factories! — This is an abuse of the right of the strongest! — Workers, I am convinced that the majority of you are filled with a different spirit! What is to become of the unemployed women? No! Do not allow misery to force your daughters to sell their only possession — their honor — because they despise their labor power — to the lustful rich — do not tolerate any longer that this disgrace is accompanied by poverty! Think not only how to provide bread for yourself but also how to provide bread for your wives and daughters! —
I am sure my poor sisters share my sentiments, but their days pass in so needy and dull that they dare not, as men do, publicly utter their entreaties and wishes. So I dared to do this for them alone, by the only means by which it is possible for me to at least try to have an effect on the general public — through the press. If I have succeeded in drawing your attention to the situation of the poor working women, then the purpose of these lines has been achieved. *)
Meissen, Louise Otto
*) I will be grateful to all editors of journals who give space to this article in their columns. L.O.
»Otto, Louise: Adresse eines Mädchens, in: Der Volksfreund, Nr. 70 vom 7. Juni 1848, S. 75-77.«
Notes on the translation:
- An "address" in the german 19th century means a solemn letter from a lower to a higher person, here to a state authority.
- Words that are highlighted in the original text by spaced out letters, are set in italics.