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Character is Destiny

The Autobiography of Alice Salomon

Andrew Lees, Editor

Publication Year: 2004

In her autobiography, the remarkable feminist and social worker Alice Salomon recounts her transition in the 1890s from privileged idleness to energetic engagement in solving social problems. Salomon took the lead in establishing the profession of social work, and built a career as a social reformer, activist, and educator. A prolific author, Salomon also played a key role in the transatlantic dialogue between German and American feminists in the early twentieth century. Her narrative concludes with the account of her expulsion from Germany by the Nazis in 1937. Salomon's formative influence on the field of social work makes her story crucial for the history of the discipline. This work will also appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of the feminist and socialist movements or the political and social history of twentieth-century Germany. The volume also includes several of Salomon's essays on social work and women's issues, along with photographs of Salomon, her students, and her colleagues. Andrew Lees is Professor and Chair of the History Department at Rutgers University, Camden.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Having published more than two dozen books and well over four hundred articles between 1895 and 1937, Alice Salomon wrote just one more work of any length. After the Nazis forced her to leave her native Germany for the United States, she devoted much of her remaining energy to composing a book-length account of her life, which she titled ...

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pp. 1-7

Alice Salomon was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Berlin in 1872, a little over a year after the foundation of the German Empire at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, and she died in New York City in 1948, more than three years after the end of another con›ict that led to the destruction of much of her native country as well as much of what ...

Character Is Destiny

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1. A Child with a Garden, 1872–1889

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pp. 11-23

My childhood ended at the close of a chapter in German history. I was sixteen when a whole nation grieved over the death of a beloved sovereign and the fatal illness of his successor. Nobody who lived in Berlin in March 1888 could forget the tragic solemnity of the crowds arrayed to see the procession that carried Wilhelm I, aged ninety-one, to his grave. ...

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2. Apprenticeship, 1893–1899

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pp. 24-36

After the death of Wilhelm I, the general outlook was gloomy. My mother impressed upon us our poverty and our misfortunes, which I have since come to realize were relatively negligible and products of her own defeated spirit. My sister married a landowner in Silesia and began having a succession of children. I could easily have embarked on ...

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3. Widening Horizon

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pp. 37-47

After appearing as a substitute for Frau Schwerin at the biannual meeting of the National Council of Women in Hamburg in 1898, I was asked to lecture for women’s clubs and leagues all over Germany. Then, in 1900, the Council elected me a member of the board of officers. ...

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4. London–Berlin

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pp. 48-60

My nebulous childhood ambition to have the whole world for my country was never quite realized, but travel was at least relatively easy before the First World War. No passports were needed on the continent, with the exception of Russia, and there were no customs or currency restrictions. I never got all around the world, but I went as far ...

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5. The Aberdeens, Scotland, Ireland, 1904–1908

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pp. 61-67

The Earl and Countess of Aberdeen epitomized the modern ideal of a union of love in conjunction with a union of work and interests. Lord Aberdeen regarded women as partners and comrades of men, equally responsible for the life of the family and of the community.1 They consulted each other on all things. He adored her and made her, as she ...

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6. Two Jobs for Life, I: The School for Social Work, 1907–1913

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pp. 68-80

In 1900, when the new civil code had come into existence in Prussia, the subjection of women was still upheld in spite of progressive women’s passionate propaganda. As before, the husband alone was entitled to manage the common business affairs, to administer the capital or earnings of himself and his wife, to dispose of or speculate with ...

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7. Two Jobs for Life, II: Officer of the International Council: Canada and First Glimpse of U.S.A.

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pp. 81-88

For Americans, Europe is much nearer than America is for people on the European continent. Americans have to cover such enormous distances when traveling in their own country that a trip to Europe seems proportionately a small undertaking. There is besides an American tradition that considers a visit to ancient centers of Europe an educational ...

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8. Brief Harvest before the Storm

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pp. 89-100

In front of one of Berlin’s historical buildings there stands a work of art—two chariots of bronze drawn by two rearing horses which are reined and curbed by the driver with great strength and exertion. Popular wit had labeled this monument “Checked Progress and Advancing Reaction.” It would be a fitting description of Germany during the decade before the First World War. ...

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9. “The Evidence of Things Not Seen”: 1914

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pp. 101-104

Before plunging into the horrors of the war and the difficulties of my work during those years, I have to dwell on a personal problem that had always existed but was solved at the beginning of and through the spiritual upheaval caused by the war. For the life of the individual is not interrupted; it goes on with sorrow and grief but also with joy. ...

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10. Patriotism Is Not Enough, 1914–1916

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pp. 105-111

In view of the new cataclysm, the First World War has become remote. Yet no one is living today whose life has not been influenced by what it bred. Many of us had to reconstruct our political ideas. In my own case, there was less to be overcome, since I had learned to appreciate the culture of other countries and had spent the first six weeks of ...

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11. In the War Office, 1917–1919

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pp. 112-120

The first two years of the war, the German people were patient and docile. They believed, like the other belligerents, in the propaganda organized for their benefit. Even the Socialists, in spite of their “International” and the fraternity of the workers of the world, supported the government and, with the exception of the Independents,1 voted for the ...

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12. Fourteen Years of Democracy, I: Years of Chaos, 1919–1924

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pp. 121-132

The fourteen years of German democracy were fertile in a new conception of the social state, with emphasis on the rights of the individual. But below the surface, constantly threatening, was a volcano. During the period from 1919 to 1923, the young republic was in danger of being smothered both by the Allies and from within. It was weeks ...

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13. Fourteen Years of Democracy, II: My Foreign Affairs, 1920–1933

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pp. 133-149

In the midst of Germany’s deepest despair, we received an expression of international solidarity, of caritas inter arma. Members of the Society of Friends, who had helped the French rebuild their homes in devastated areas while the war still raged, were again aroused by their Christian and humanitarian conscience. Immediately after the armistice, they ...

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14. Fourteen Years of Democracy, III: Social Reconstruction, 1924–1929

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pp. 150-158

When inflation was over, hope was reborn, and a propitious period began in economic and social spheres. Everyone with hands or a mind and the will to do it could find work and earn a living. There were, of course, many people who could not find their way back to an orderly life, and the war had made some newly rich and many newly poor. ...

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15. Fourteen Years of Democracy, IV: Then Came the Collapse

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pp. 159-164

All of us who believed in a German democracy and approved of the republic are guilty for our blindness. Men and women alike, we lived our narrow lives fulfilling the obligations of our particular field of work. We did not see the traitors in our midst. None of my friends and fellow workers, nobody among the ruling parties, thought the Nazis anything ...

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16. The Golden Ring of Friendship

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pp. 165-172

... When my thoughts wander back to my life in Germany across the distance of time and space, I do not see it in pictures of committees, councils, institutions, and activities that filled my days. Rather, I visualize it as a stream of people, of individuals, broadening and swelling with the years, and many of these individuals as part of the golden ring. ...

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17. The Stream of Lava

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pp. 173-180

It was one of the last days of March 1933, and I was on a train between Bolzano and Merano, in the beautiful, fertile Tyrol, that had been given by the Big Four in Paris to the Italians in payment for breaking the three-power pact with Germany and Austria. Like many people from Berlin, I meant to spend my Easter vacation there and ...

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18. The Mystery of Individual Adjustments

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pp. 181-187

Much has been written about the tragedies of those victim of the Nazis who were starved, deported, tortured, and killed, and I cannot relieve the suffering of those who may still be alive by telling their stories. I can only add to the picture of Nazi Germany by describing the attitudes of individuals and groups within my range of contact. ...

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19. A Spy Stands behind You

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pp. 188-190

In a country dominated by a tyrant, virtually everyone is spied upon from morning till night and from night till morning. What is worse— almost everyone is liable to become a spy. ...

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20. Exit Modern Woman

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pp. 191-200

Adrastic method was employed to erase the status and the rights of women, won during a hard and persistent struggle of fifty years or more. Probably at the request of his female followers, Hitler appointed a young woman outside of public life as leader-organizer for all affairs of women, with the duty of coordinating women with the party.1 ...

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21. The Strong and the Weak

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pp. 201-221

Everything I had done during my life had one object: to help bring about a social order with more justice, more equality of opportunity, and a deeper sense of solidarity and brotherhood. Hitler, whose henchmen have rewritten the Sermon on the Mount, has not only renounced this goal but has put another in its place. ...

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22. God and Caesar

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pp. 209-213

Bismarck, who united the German states into an empire after three victorious wars of aggression, suffered one irreparable defeat—his battle with the Catholic Church. Intending to suppress its educational influence, he had banned from German soil the Jesuit order, founded to counteract the spreading Reformation. But in the worldwide organization of the Church ...

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23. The Pastors . . . Martin Niem

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pp. 214-219

President Hindenburg had at least attempted to check the “Pagan Church,” but soon after his death, Primate Mueller ordered that every pastor was to commit himself under oath to the spiritual as well as the political leadership of Hitler. The Confessional clergy then did what Martin Luther had done in his time. At the end of the service, in ...

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24. New Lease on Life

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pp. 220-229

The secret police summoned me in May 1937 to appear the following morning for a “report on my trips abroad.” After four hours of questioning, I was ordered to leave Germany within three weeks. ...

Appendix A. The Significance of the Women’s Movement for Social Life

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pp. 231-238

Appendix B. The Revolution of the Mother

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pp. 239-245

Appendix C. Preface to an Early Version of Salomon’s Autobiography

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pp. 247-248


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pp. 249-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025107
E-ISBN-10: 0472025104
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113675
Print-ISBN-10: 0472113674

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 8 half tones in text
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol