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Financing the Upbringing and Education of a Bourgeois Family (1860-1890)

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c) On the education of bourgeois daughters: The school fees for the two daughters increased from a quarterly 45 marks per child in the lower grades to 54 marks in the upper grades. The father paid 300 marks a year for both daughters to take piano lessons. After completing school, the older daughter received singing lessons at 5 marks per hour. Overall, between 1867 and 1889 a total of 4,806 marks were spent on music lessons in this musical family, without any professional training in music taking place.

The daughters’ future caused the most serious worries for the lord of the household, for as a good judge of human nature he knew that, given the lack of family assets, their prospects for a livelihood through marriage were not favorable. Most members of the bourgeoisie considered any professional training of girls as not befitting their social status; and more crucially, it was deprecated as emancipation. However, as steadfastly as O. otherwise adhered to tradition as the sacred heritage of the forefathers, he did not let himself be swayed when it came to the future of his children. He saw the choice of a profession as the only means to protect his daughters from severe poverty and emotional distress, and with the full brusqueness of his character he continuously confronted their carefree adolescence with these serious necessities. “You are not pretty, you have no money, so getting married is out of the question.” He did not manage to force the exuberant temperament of the older daughter into the straitjacket of professional training, particularly because any vigorous action on the part of the father was barred out of consideration for the girl's severe, lengthy illness. The total cost of her upbringing in the 21½ years from her birth to the closing of the accounting books [1889] added up to 36,756 marks. By contrast, the education and professional training of the eldest son – albeit in an earlier time of lower prices – required only 33,666 marks. In the case of the son, that sum represented an investment, which eventually earned him the income of an upper civil servant; by comparison, in the daughter’s case, the amount largely represented unproductive expenditures resulting from high living costs. These figures reveal the full tragic nature of the fate of jobless but sophisticated daughters of distinguished civil servants without assets.

The younger daughter entered a teachers’ college in 1890 at the age of 17. It is suggestive of the degree of reasonableness with which female employment was viewed in these circles that, even in cases in which the economic situation appeared to absolutely require this step, it was criticized from many sides as bluestocking or at least as something not “ladylike.” The accounting books do not report anything more on the cost of her training.

Source: Gertrud Hermes, “Ein preußischer Beamtenhaushalt 1859-1890” [“A Prussian Civil-Servant's Household 1859-1890”], in Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft [Journal for the Collective Political Economy] 76 (1921): pp. 80-83, 280ff.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 341-44.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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