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2. Society
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Overview: Forging an Empire: Bismarckian Germany, 1866-1890   |   1. Demographic and Economic Development   |   2. Society   |   3. Culture   |   4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare   |   5. Politics I: Forging an Empire   |   6. Military and International Relations   |   7. Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization

Conditions of Work. This section illuminates the effect of changing methods of capitalist production in the 1870s and 1880s (IM12, IM14, IM15). On the one hand, artisans and other members of the lower middle classes [Mittelstand] were hard-pressed to retain even the vestiges of the “golden age” that they claimed, erroneously, had characterized their working conditions and lifestyles before unification (D15, D16, D17, IM16, IM17). On the other hand, the advance of industrialization and the expansion of commercial and consumer cultures produced new opportunities for social groups such as retail clerks (D18). Both groups’ reflections remind us that there are always winners and losers in industrialization. The accounts of flax cultivators on the Lüneburg Heath and of farm workers in Mecklenburg or Pomerania (D19, D20, D21), not unlike those that describe working-class hierarchies in a steel factory or workplace conflict in Hamburg (D26, D28), suggest that even within apparently monolithic occupations a complicated layering of workplace responsibilities and social rank was discernable (IM13). That layering often baffled social scientists (D51, D52, D53, D54) who were trying to discover why the expenditures and lifestyles of working-class or lower-middle-class Germans varied to such a large extent, despite universal pressures to provide the essentials of life to growing families while saving a few Pfennigs to cope with injury, unemployment, old age, or other calamities of life (D46, D47, D48, IM23). Their studies often yielded ambiguous answers or perpetuated myths about workers’ unhealthy or “irrational” lifestyles. Yet, as historians, we can be pleased that survey-takers and photographers crossed the threshold of so many homes, for their work offers us a view into the lives of Germans who left no other record of their daily affairs.

Gender Relations. After promising starts in 1848/49 and the mid-1860s, both the bourgeois and the working-class women’s movements made relatively little headway during the 1870s and 1880s. The growth of the Social Democratic Party in the 1890s and the questioning of bourgeois values that accompanied the philosophical and artistic movements of the fin de siècle were prerequisites for more successful demands for women’s rights. But the Bismarckian period was anything but devoid of commentaries on the double standards that characterized gender relations at the time (D29, D30). Not only literary scholars, artists, and photographers (D29, IM16, IM17, IM18), but also activists and social scientists with widely divergent agendas provided any number of analyses of the “women’s question.” Those analyses documented women’s sexual exploitation inside and outside the workplace (D22, D23), the social origins of parents of illegitimate or fatherless children (D31, D32, D48), the state regulation of prostitutes (D33, D34, D35), and the many restrictions placed on women’s ability to protect their property in marriage, to secure other legal rights inside or outside the family, or to participate in associational life and politics.

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