Described by a colleague as a “mixture of printer’s ink and perfume,” Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim completed her Ph.D. in law in 1914. She co-founded the organization Women Law Graduates in Berlin, whose aim was to open the law profession to women. Before her emigration in 1937, Muehsam-Edelheim served as a City Councilor, a member of the Court of Honor of the German Federation of Journalists, and foreign correspondent for the CV-Zeitung. In the United States, Muehsam-Edelheim worked for various organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the National Refugee Service, and the Office of War Information. She was a founding member of the Leo Baeck Institute’s Women Auxiliary; she also edited the LBI News until her retirement and was in charge of LBI’s public relations department.
Margarete Therese Meseritz was born in Berlin on September 18, 1891, the second daughter of Hugo and Alisa Henriette Meseritz. Her father Hugo Meseritz, a businessman, was born in Sprotten, Lower Silesia, on June 2, 1857, and died in Berlin on January 2, 1925. Her mother, Alisa Henriette, née Blumberg, was born in Berlin on February 6, 1868, and died there on December 7, 1941. Margarete’s sister, Edith, was born in 1890. The parents were affluent and the family lived in a big town house that belonged to the grandparents. Because Alisa Henriette Meseritz was an only child, the family was small but the ties between them were very strong.
Both Margarete’s parents grew up in religiously liberal homes. Later in their life both became members of the Reformgemeinde (Reform Community) and the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith). Margarete Meseritz received her religious education in the school of the Reformgemeinde in Berlin, where her teacher was Rabbi Klemperer, who took a keen interest in her development. Margarete’s father, a well-read businessman, also took great interest in the intellectual development of his daughter, who shared his attraction to the Democratic Party.
Margarete’s mother had always hoped to go on the stage and even auditioned before one of the most famous actors of her time in order to become her student. But her father, the owner of a large factory, did not want to see his only daughter on stage. This disappointment about not being allowed to make her own choice led to an intensive interest and engagement in the feminist movement. Furthermore, she raised her two daughters in an unusually modern way and encouraged them to make their own choices, such as studying at a time when it was still exceptional for a woman to do so.
From October 1897 to October 1903, Margarete attended the private school of Harry Schmidt, but when the first Gymnasium for girls opened in Berlin, both she and her older sister Edith were enrolled in a six-year program. At Easter 1910 Margarete passed her high school leaving examination (Abitur).
Shortly afterwards, Margarete Meseritz accompanied a friend to the career guidance center for women, where its director, Josephine Levi-Rathenau, asked about her professional plans. On learning that she was about to study German, Levi-Rathenau told her to put any such idea out of her mind because as a Jew she could never become a teacher. Instead, Levi-Rathenau advised her to study law, even though until 1922 women were not allowed to take the law examinations.
Margarete Meseritz followed only one part of the advice; she enrolled at Berlin University in the summer of 1910 for classes in the faculty of philosophy and in the winter term switched to the law faculty, where she was one of very few women. In 1913 Margarete transferred to the university of Erlangen in Bavaria to do her Ph.D. in law, which was the only degree she could obtain as a woman. At the time there were only two women among 128 candidates studying for a jurisprudence doctorate at Erlangen University. Margarete’s thesis, on a criminal law topic related to press law, was supervised by Professor Dr. Allfeld. She received her diploma in February 1914. The choice of the topic was an indication of her professional inclination towards journalism.
Career in Berlin
Since being a doctor of law did not help Margarete Meseritz find employment in the field, she started work as an assistant at the Ullstein publishing house and took on some journalistic and editing tasks. In addition, she conducted the legal consultation hour of the Berliner Morgenpost, when members of the public could call for advice; she was also responsible for the newspaper’s column “Courtroom,” and for the women’s supplement of the Vossische Zeitung, in which capacity she came into close contact with a number of women’s and welfare organizations. Together with Marie Munk and Margarete Berent, Margarete established the organization of Women Law Graduates, the first of its kind, and served as its first president for seven years. The aim of the organization was to open the law profession to women and allow them to take the state examinations.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Meseritz joined the management of the Berliner Morgenpost. In 1918, she married Dr. John Edelheim, an editor of socialist books and of a socialist newspaper, who died in 1931. Margarete Edelheim ran for election to the Reichstag on the Democratic ticket and was elected City Councilor in Berlin. In addition, she was a member of the Court of Honor of the German Federation of Journalists for more than ten years. She gave lectures at the Lessing-Hochschule, a well-known Berlin institute for adult education. For several years she was also a volunteer in the German juvenile courts and in the rehabilitation of delinquent youths.
In 1924 Margarete Edelheim switched to the editorial staff of the CV-Zeitung and became its foreign correspondent. From 1934 until the time of her emigration in 1938 she was its deputy editor-in-chief.
Career in the United States
In 1937 Edelheim decided to leave Germany. A year later she received a visa for the United States because a member of the American embassy had personally given affidavits to all the members of the editorial staff of the CV-Zeitung.
In April 1938 Margarete Edelheim traveled first to Great Britain and then to the United States, where she spent her first few months learning the new language. Financed by the National Council of Jewish Women, she audited classes at Harvard summer school. From December 1938 through September 1939 she was on a research assignment on legislation and administration in Germany under Hitler for the American Jewish Committee. From 1939 to 1941 Margarete Edelheim was an editor of the ORT Economic Bulletin. From March 1940 through July 1942 she worked as Publicity Assistant at the National Refugee Service. In August she transferred to the Office of War Information (OWI), where she wrote and edited overseas publications and did some scriptwriting for short wave radio until April 1943. In March 1944 she was an Associate in Training in International Administration at Columbia University, her topic being “Public Opinion in Germany (Propaganda, Press, Radio, Film—before and under Hitler).” When the headquarters of the World ORT Union were permanently established in New York City in April 1945, Margarete Edelheim started to work full time as a special Assistant to the Director of ORT, Supply and Reconstruction Corporation. From 1943 on, after the termination of her position with OWI, she worked part-time as an assistant to the vice president of the World ORT Union in New York.
In March 1947, when the office was changed into Financial and Accounting Office, World ORT Union, Margarate Muehsam-Edelheim was appointed special assistant to the director in charge of publicity and public relations, including the editing of the weekly and later bi-weekly summary issued by the office. Here she represented and conferred with governmental and non-governmental agencies and managed the office.
Work with the Leo Baeck Institute
Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim was linked to the Leo Baeck Institute in New York from its founding in 1955 until her death. She was a founding member of its Women’s Auxiliary, edited the LBI News until her retirement, and was in charge of LBI’s public-relations department. From the time of her retirement until she fell ill, Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim served as an active member of the Institute’s board. As the LBI News of 1975 stated, her role in the LBI “extended far beyond any definition of her staff responsibilities. As friend, colleague and often as advisor, she possessed the rare gift of blending patience, warmth and practicality.”
In 1946 Margarete Edelheim married the surgeon and urologist Eduard Muehsam (b. 1897, Berlin, d. 1977, New York). The couple lived on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, with their son Gerald Ernest (born Gerhard Ernst) Muehsam, the only child from his first marriage.
When Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim died in New York on May 25, 1975, she was described by the vice president of the LBI, Professor Fritz Bamberger, as a well-defined “mixture of printer’s ink and perfume.”
Selected Works by Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim
“Das Pressedelikt als Begehungsform der gemeinen Delikte.” Diss. Erlangen, 1914.
“Die Staatsbürgerin. Was bringt die Verfassung den Frauen?” Welt-Echo (11.9.1919).
“Verjüngt die Frauenbewegung!” CV-Zeitung (30.9.1927).
“Der Journalismus als Frauenberuf.” In Die Kultur der Frau. Eine Lebenssymphonie der Frau des XX. Jahrhunderts, edited by Ada Schmidt-Beil, 193. Berlin: für Kultur und Wissenschaft GmbH.
“Das Schönheitsideal der modernen Frau.” In Die Kultur der Frau. Eine Lebenssymphonie der Frau des XX. Jahrhunderts, edited by Ada Schmidt-Beil. Berlin: für Kultur und Wissenschaft GmbH, 1931
“Gleichberechtigt? Angriffe gegen die berufstätige Frau.” In CV-Zeitung (23.6.1932)
“Zwischenlandung.” In CV-Zeitung (20.4.1938)
“Erlebnis New York.” In CV-Zeitung (14.7.1938); “The Jewish Press in Germany.” In LBI Yearbook (1956)
“Die Haltung der jüdischen Presse gegenüber der nationalsozialistischen Bedrohung.” In Deutsches Judentum. Aufstieg und Krise. Gestalten, Ideen, Werke, edited by Robert Weltsch. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstatlt, 1963
“Ein Gang durch die Bibliothek des LBI.” In LBI Bulletin (1959)
“Das Archiv LBI.” In LBI Bulletin (1960)
Numerous articles in Deutsche Juristenzeitung,CV-Zeitung, Der Aufbau.
Loewenthal, Ernst G. Juden in Preußen, biographisches Verzeichnis. Ein repräsentativer Querschnitt, 162. Berlin: Reimer, 1981.
Tetzlaff, Walter. 2000 Kurzbiographien bedeutender deutscher Juden des 20. Jahrhunderts, 242. Düsseldorf: Askania, 1970.
“Birthday Tributes. Margaret T. Muehsam-Edelheim.” In AJR-Informationen, published by the Association of Jewish Refugees in Great Britain. London: October 1971, 12; July 1975, 10.
“Margaret T. Muehsam, 1891–1975.” In LBI News 16 (Winter 1975/1976).
Hübsch-Faust, Monika. “Muehsam-Edelheim, Margaret.” In Jüdische Frauen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Lexikon zu Leben und Werk, edited by Jutta Dick and Marina Sassenberg, 289–291. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1993.
Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933, vol. 1, edited by Werner Röder and Herbert A. Strauss, 511. München: De Gruyter Saur, 1980.
Stiefel, Ernst C. and Frank Mecklenburg. Deutsche Juristen im Exil (1933–1950), 75–76. Tübingen: Mohr, 1990.
Margarete Muehsam-Edelheim Collection, LBI NYC.
Margaret Muehsam, Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration Oral History Collection.
Archives of Erlangen University, Promotionsakten der Juristischen Fakultät: Meseritz, Margarete Therese, No. 3814.
Übersicht des Personal-Standes bei der Königlichen Bayerischen Friedrich-Alexanders Universität Erlangen nebst dem Verzeichnis der Studierenden SS 13–WS 13/14.