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Speech by Louise Otto, Presiding Officer [erste Vorsitzende] of the General German Women's Association at its Third General Assembly (1869)

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Forgive me, honored attendees, if, still filled by the unforgettable experience we have just had in Frankfurt [at the philosophers’ congress, which she and Louise Gutbier attended and where the latter gave a speech], I cannot but cast my eyes there and thus appear to digress from our meeting. But it only appears that way! I confess that since my early youth I have always been somewhat bold in the demands and hopes I connected with a more dignified position for the female sex – but what we just experienced I had not dared to either demand or hope for! I had never believed it possible that German philosophers, representatives, and professors of the highest profession, would deign to welcome the participation of women at their meeting! Last year they had already asked us to join them in Prague – at the time we did not have the courage to attend – but one of our associates who lives there, Mrs. J. Hoff, gave a speech [ . . . ] In the face of such successes, the hesitation gradually evaporates also for the German woman: the hesitation whether it is now finally time to pronounce the word ‘self-help’ as the slogan, and to join happily and confidently – even if still only carrying grains of sand – in the work of building the temple of humanity that must be erected; in the same way that our German people has always built its cathedrals from the sacrificial gifts of individuals, the sacrificial gifts of man and woman, a cathedral in which stands not only the marriage altar at which man and woman consecrate their union of love, but also the high altar of mankind, where women and men now consecrate themselves simultaneously to serve the kingdom of God, that it may come to pass on earth. And so join with us today, so that here and today grains of sand will be carried and sacrifices made for the building of such a cathedral! – When I was able to write, below the program for this meeting, the words "at the meeting hall of the Workers’ Education Association," I took special pleasure in doing so, I took these words as a good omen! We join the camp of work and workers, we proclaim the sacredness of work and education also for women, and we may hope that those workers in whose hall we meet do not see in us dangerous competitors, but sisters who have the same right as they do to think about improving their condition, hand in hand with them. And when I saw that this hall had been decorated for us in pleasant green, I welcomed this as well as a symbol: namely that if our General German Women’s Association still resembles a plant that has for now been planted only in potsherds and must be protected by us, like careful gardeners, from too much harsh air, yet it will soon turn into a tree, to bloom and bear fruit in the barren garden of mankind.

Original German text reprinted in Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres, Die Anfänge der deutschen Frauenbewegung: Louise Otto-Peters. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, pp.198-99.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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