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Early German Feminist Criticism of Marriage: Louise Otto, "Marriage in the Countryside" (1851)

In the 1851 article "Marriage in the Countryside," published in her own Women's Newspaper [Frauen-Zeitung], Louise Otto (1819-1895) attacked the "coarseness" and immorality of rural marriages. Otto explained that these arrangements, which were increasingly set up by the agents of "farming economists," were based on the transfer of property as opposed to mutual affection – a point made clear by the fact that bride and groom were often unknown to each other.

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According to our conceptions, which form the foundation of the entire goal of our "Women's Newspaper," marriage is a moral and therefore sacred union. It is in the very nature of such a bond that those who enter into it must be imbued with its sacred meaning – otherwise they commit an act of desecration.

We find such a transgression not only in what is called common adultery, but also in the manner in which a large number of marriages are concluded, which the world judges favorably and approvingly, and upon which the priest before the altar bestows the church's blessing – upon an act of sacrilege.

Let us examine more closely the manner in which marriages are commonly concluded at the present, and let us begin with marriage in the countryside, [ . . . ] First we shall take a look at the well-off in the villages of the kingdom of Saxony. It is known and laudably acknowledged everywhere that the education of the people [Volksbildung] in Saxony is ahead of that in some other German states; [ . . . ] not counting the mountainous and factory districts, the rural population enjoys considerable prosperity. The large manors [Rittergüter] have mostly passed into the hands of capable farmers, the large estates have been dismembered, other peasant holdings have grown through the acquisition of new fields; slowly there has emerged in the countryside, like in the cities, an aristocracy of property – what the industrial bourgeoisie is in the cities, the peasant-aristocracy is in the countryside. Between the noble lords of manors [ . . . ] and the small cottagers and rural laborers living a wretched life, there has grown up, especially in some areas of Saxony, [ . . . ] a wealthy middle class, which has ownership in common with the former, and labor with the latter. These farmers are equally proud of their money and their social standing, and they seek to demonstrate it in every way. [ . . . ]

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