Born in Breslau on November 25, 1830, Lina Morgenstern was one of the five daughters of Albert and Fanny Bauer. The well-to-do, religiously observant family, in which the Jewish principles of love of one’s neighbor and deeds of charity were paramount, viewed the revolutionary events of 1848 with considerable sympathy. Albert Bauer, who was the manager of the Breslau branch of the Royal Porcelain Factory, built an apartment house for his workers, while Fanny, the daughter of Senator Jacob Adler of Cracow, attempted—with the help of Lina and her sisters—to educate a number of “morally derelict” young women.
Lina Morgenstern was well brought up, trained in all household duties and early on became acquainted with activists and scholars. After attending a girls’ school from the age of six to fifteen, she took music lessons, studied literature and art history by herself, learned several languages and interested herself in the natural sciences and astronomy. She tended to daydream and increasingly lost her sense of reality, to such an extent that her mother severely limited her studies and her attempts at authorship. Lina, however, secretly pursued these interests at night and in consequence suffered from nervous disorders and myopia. Her parents also objected to her affection for a poor Jewish businessman, Theodor Morgenstern, for love of whom Lina learned Polish and later published a series of translations of Polish religious folk songs.
Influenced by her parents’ charitable activities and by the events of 1848, which distracted from her personal problems, Lina developed an awareness of social change and social issues and a great desire to alleviate poverty. On her eighteenth birthday she enlisted her mother’s help to found a “Penny Society for Poor Pupils,” using donations to purchase shoes, clothing, books and writing utensils for needy schoolchildren. The society remained in existence for eighty years.
In 1854 Lina’s parents finally agreed to her marriage to Morgenstern and the couple moved to Berlin, where Theodor opened a warehouse. However, as her parents had feared, the business soon foundered since Theodor too easily stood guarantor for his acquaintances. Compelled to contribute to the couple’s income, Lina decided to avail herself of the opportunities open to young middle-class women by utilizing her talent for writing.
Like many other early protagonists of women’s rights, Lina Morgenstern was first attracted to social work by the writings of Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852), which also led her to take an interest in the “woman question.” According to Fröbel, the future of humankind was in the hands of women, since theirs was the major formative influence during the first six years of a child’s life. Every young woman should therefore receive training as an educator. In contrast to the existing child-care centers, Fröbel advocated kindergartens in which children of all social classes and religions would engage together in play, handicrafts and music, like one big family. This aspect of his teachings aroused the distrust of the Prussian authorities, who ordered the closure of all kindergartens.
Lina Morgenstern, who began intensive Fröbel studies under Baroness Berthe von Marenholtz-Bülow even before the ban was lifted in 1860, in 1861 published an article on kindergartens in Bazar, a women’s journal edited by Jenny Hirsch. She also joined the Women’s Association for Promoting Fröbel-style Kindergartens, serving as its president from 1862 to 1866. Since Fröbel’s writings were not readily accessible, she published a textbook, Das Paradies der Kindheit (The Childhood Paradise, 1861), which scored an enormous success in Germany and abroad and by 1905 had gone into seven editions. She later published additional books of stories for children.
When the Austro-Prussian war broke out in June 1866, causing shortages of food, rising prices and unemployment, Lina Morgenstern established the Berlin Association of People’s Kitchens (Volksküchen), recruiting middle-class women as “honorary members” to help equip and maintain the kitchens, thus providing them with new functions outside their homes. She also found sponsors and donors and ensured press coverage of the project. By the end of 1868, ten such kitchens had been established, some of them serving as many as 2,500 persons per day. At this stage, the thirty-six-year-old Lina Morgenstern herself had five children, the eldest of whom was eleven years old and the youngest aged one.
Wholesale bulk food purchases and voluntary workers combined to enable the sale of the meals at cost price, thus proving a boon to countless poor families. Lina Morgenstern collected recipes and in 1868 published a book on the founding, management and maintenance of Volksküchen, including recipes, which later formed the basis of her Illustrated Universal Cooking Book. Although the author of this book was a Jew, it was not a victim of the 1933 Nazi book burning.
In 1868 Lina Morgenstern established a School for Further Education of Young Ladies and in the following year the Berlin Society for Child Protection, which sought to combat the high mortality rate among babies born out of wedlock, as well as the Association for the Education of Women Workers (together with the feminist Louise Otto Pelers [1819–1895]. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, “Suppenlina,” as she was now nicknamed, organized the care of soldiers passing through Berlin. In a period of only twelve days, she and her colleagues cared for 59,000 men, providing them with food, a pharmacy, a photo studio and a field postal service to enable them to write to their families. Her work brought her to the attention of Kaiser Wilhelm and his wife, the Empress Augusta (1811–1890), who visited her headquarters. The latter became a dedicated supporter of Lina Morgenstern’s work, donating large sums and enlisting further gifts from others, while also serving as patron of the Berlin Association of People’s Kitchens. Discovering that medical aid was inadequately provided for, Lina Morgenstern hired two doctors and amassed supplies of bandages, blankets and hot meals. Only after she had appealed to the empress were army doctors sent in.
Out of a love for her country, Lina Morgenstern sought to extend “motherly care,” as she called it, to thousands. She considered it the duty of women to alleviate suffering in time of war, cheer the weary and heal the wounded. All of this she sought to accomplish with her service at the Berlin railway stations. Her efforts won her the gold Victoria Medal, the Service Cross and the War Medal. She established a hostel for maids, where domestic servants from the countryside could find decent accommodation. She dealt with domestic training for school-leavers as well as the education of minors released from prison.
In 1873 Lina Morgenstern established the Berlin Housewives’ Association, which answered to a distinct need. A shop for consumer goods, established in conjunction with the soup kitchen, was headed by Theodor Morgenstern, who was henceforth a permanent collaborator in his wife’s enterprises. The German Housewives’ Journal, operated by Lina Morgenstern from 1870 to 1904, an employment agency for domestic servants (established in 1874), a cookery school (1878) and a training course in homecare for the sick (1887) were all part of the Association’s achievements. However, Suppenlina’s success and her excellent relations with the empress aroused antisemitic opposition to her activities. During the Berlin Movement (1879–1885) initiated by Chief Court Preacher Adolf Stöcker she became the target of vicious attacks. She countered by declaring that blaming Judaism for the failings of a few individuals was comparable to blaming all Christians for the faults of a few. A call to boycott Jewish businesses led to the resignation of one-third of the members of the Housewives’ Association. Theodor Morgenstern once again had to declare bankruptcy, but with typical skill Lina succeeded in creating a new source of income by taking over the publishing house of the German Housewives’ Journal and appointing her husband as its director. She defended herself against unjust defamation of character by suing for libel, but the hostility and lawsuits affected her health and in 1886 she was compelled to travel to San Remo, with the Empress’s help, in order to recuperate. Increasingly, she withdrew from public life to devote herself to literary work. Between 1889 and 1891 she published a three-volume edition–de-luxe of Women in the Nineteenth Century, which included two hundred and fifty biographies, and in 1893 the two-volume Women’s Work.
She also still found time to participate in national and international women’s organizations. From 1871 to 1885 she was on the board of the General Association of German Women (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein). In 1894, during the establishment in Berlin of the Bund Deutscher Frauenverein (Union of German Women’s Associations), she was among the few proponents of women’s rights who voted in favor of accepting the social-democratic societies of women workers.
In September 1896 she organized the first International Congress of Women to take place in Germany, which was attended by leading feminists from all over the world and at which discussions dealt not only with women’s movements and general women’s issues, but also with the topic that increasingly exercised Lina Morgenstern: world peace.
It was Lina Morgenstern’s encounter with French wounded and dying soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War that first led her to join a number of peace organizations. In the 1890s, when Germany engaged in extensive rearmament, she was a delegate to the Ligue internationale pour le Désarmament-général (International League for General Disarmament), The Ligue française pour la paix (French League for Peace) and the Deutsche Friedengesellschaft (German Peace Society) and served as vice president of the Alliance des Femmes pour la Paix. Her activities in this area earned her repute and admiration beyond the borders of Germany.
Lina Morgenstern was a woman of action rather than of words; she rolled up her sleeves when necessary and set to work, coordinating, organizing, fighting for her ideals. Lacking diplomatic skills, she frequently aroused friction with her own feminist enterprises. A forceful personality, she abided by her ideals with great conviction. She believed that social activity in the framework of the women’s movement would bring about her ideal of universal human love, the “brotherhood of mankind” and her hope of full integration of Jews into Germany’s civil society. She claimed that both in peacetime and in war women’s work could fulfill vital needs. Her efforts were appreciated primarily by the ruling classes, although the Berlin general public were also impressed by her work.
Lina Morgenstern died in Berlin on December 16, 1909 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee.
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Lexikon Jüdische Frauen. Edited by Jutta Dick and Marina Sassenberg.
How to cite this page
Fassmann, Maya. "Lina Morgenstern." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/morgenstern-lina>.