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4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare
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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

Public School Reform and Higher Education. German education enjoyed recognition throughout the world in this era because of its high standards, relative accessibility, and contribution to outstanding scientific achievement. Statistical overviews document the unprecedented growth in the number of primary, secondary, and university-level students studying in Germany and in the number of educators and institutions that taught them (D18, D19, IM20, IM22). It is crucial in assessing this success story to keep in mind the highly gendered nature of educational opportunities open to German youth as well as confessional and class divisions that made a mockery of the claim that German education was universally accessible or based on intellectual merit alone (D23, D24). According to first-hand accounts written by children and university students (D20, D21, D22), corroborated by the recollections of their teachers (D25), there was a decrease over time in the number of children kept from school because they were needed in the fields at harvest time or as messengers for small businesses. By the same token, pressures to instill “state supporting” values in students’ minds increased markedly. The hyper-nationalism exhibited by Leipzig members of the Association of German Students in the early 1880s followed the grain of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s pronouncements at the end of the decade about the central role of school curricula as a means to combat the “revolutionary threat” of Social Democracy (D26, D27). In both cases, German youth was seen as the fount of national survival and regeneration in the face of confessional, class, and gender threats facing the “untested” nation.

Poor Relief, Public Health, Social Insurance. Religious piety fuelled charitable efforts to relieve the suffering of both the rural and urban poor. German youth was mobilized in the same effort. After unification, however, as Social Democracy grew better able to draw attention to the discontent of society’s most afflicted (D31, D33), Germans redoubled their efforts to solve the “social question.” When Kaiser Wilhelm I’s throne speech of November 1881 (D28, IM25) announced the government’s intention to inaugurate a comprehensive system of state-supported insurance for sickness, accidents, and old age (IM26), few contemporaries failed to recognize this impressive program as the “carrot” that went with the stick that Bismarck had been applying to the Social Democratic movement since the early 1870s. The reports of poor-relief doctors (D32) and bourgeois social reformers (D34, D37, D38, D39) document the undernourishment and other hardships that afflicted millions of working-class families (D33). Journalists, satirists, artists, and Social Democrats also ensured that problems of poor health, premature death, and gaps in the social safety net moved to the forefront of public awareness (D35, IM24, IM26, IM27, IM28).

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