City of Neu Isenburg

Bertha Pappenheim

Portrait Bertha Pappenheim
Bertha Pappenheim
Bertha Pappenheim

Bertha Pappenheim was one of the major German-speaking women’s rights activists and social reformers in the early 20th century. She became also known by her mental illness at a young age: Bertha Pappenheim is “Miss. Anna 0.” that inspired Sigmund Freud to develop psychoanalysis.

Raised in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Bertha Pappenheim moved to Frankfurt with her mother after her father’s death in 1888. Here she cut the bonds of being a “higher daughter” that life had created for her and found her calling: the political and social work for women and girls.

Bertha Pappenheim created a considerable journalistic and literary work in questions of women’s rights. However, the focus of her work was in social practice. In Frankfurt, she developed a wealth of socio-political activities, working in the municipal child and youth care and was involved in the reform of welfare. She was committed to improvements in juvenile justice and the rights of unmarried mothers and illegitimate children. Both in the Jewish community as well as in state and society, she joined in firmly committed to women’s rights and women’s education.

In 1895, Bertha Pappenheim took over management of the girls orphanage, which was run by the Israelite Women’s Association in Frankfurt. Here she realized her ideas of a modern Jewish girls’ education for the first time. She made sure her protégés got proper education, gave them security in family-like groups and prepared them for life as a woman in a Jewish family.

Her social work brought Bertha Pappenheim in contact with Jewish women from eastern-European poverty areas, which had become victims of trafficking and forced prostitution. The suffering of these women impressed her so much that she made the fight against trafficking of girls to the central concerns of her other work. She traveled to Galicia, Russia, and the Balkans to fight the major causes of prostitution – lack of education, legal discrimination and economic hardship.

In 1901 Bertha Pappenheim and Henriette Fürth founded the “Women Care” (“Weibliche Fürsorge”) association in Frankfurt. This association supported secluded Jewish women in establishing an independent existence and thus counteracted prostitution due to poverty. The facilities soon included a girls’ club, “Bahnhofhilfe”, a dormitory, children’s facilities, as well as professional mediation and legal advice center.

At the suggestion of Bertha Pappenheim and Sidonie Werner, a social politician from Hamburg, the Jewish Women’s Association was founded in 1904 and the Central Welfare Office of the German Jews was launched in 1917. These umbrella organizations coordinated the work of German Jewish women’s associations or charities throughout the German Reich, contributing significantly to the professionalization of Jewish social work.

Bertha Pappenheim considered the top of her lifework when she established a girl’s home in Neu-Isenburg in 1907, in which she offered a place to stay for socially vulnerable Jewish youths, single pregnant women, and single mothers. She offered protection, housing and education, a family-based Jewish community as well as guidance in Jewish housekeeping and in raising children. This institution was within the rigid society of the Empire, in which the fate of “fallen girls” was ignored and taboo. It was a revolutionary project that earned Bertha Pappenheim not only recognition but also hostility. She countered: “Hushing may be a mortal sin.”

Bertha Pappenheim in charge of “Heim Isenburg” prior to her death. She died on May 28, 1936, in Neu-Isenburg and found her final resting place next to her mother in the Jewish Cemetery Rath-Beil-Straße in Frankfurt.

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