- Gender and the Modern Research University: The Admission of Women to German Higher Education, 1865–1914
Patricia Mazón has written a lively and interesting cultural and intellectual history of the decades in which women sought and gained access to the German universities, initially as auditors, and then as fully matriculated students in the early years of the twentieth century, equipped with leaving certificates from newly created women’s Gymnasien. The expert on the instutional dimensions of this process is Jim Albisetti,1 whom Mazón frequently cites. Mazón’s primary interest, however, is in the intellectual and cultural dimensions of this innovation. She writes about the assumptions of the major guide books to the German [End Page 234] universities, about leaders of the German women’s reform movement and their ideas, and about the experiences of the early women students as they entered an aggressively male world. And she follows polemics for and against women’s education in some detail. All this is eminently useful and interesting, even if Mazón consistently applies norms that did not emerge until after the historical epoch she discusses.
Mazón argues that the introduction of a secondary leaving examination and certificate (Abitur) like that required of males was a political strategy to stem the influx of women auditors, including foreigners. But that could and has been argued about the original requirement of the Abitur for males, and it ultimately paved the way for equality of access to the universities for women. Mazón also complains that the admission of women to the German universities “has been largely ignored in histories of German academia and of the educated middle class” (p. 11), noting that “women do not figure in Fritz Ringer’s Decline of the German Mandarins” (p. 230).2 But that book was written as an analysis of opinions held by German university faculty—at a time when none of them was a woman.
While Mazón cites my Education and Society in Modern Europe,3 which deals comparatively with secondary and university students, she fails to mention my more recent work in that field.4 This is not a trivial matter, since Mazón offers a comparative judgment that is simply false. Commenting upon three major historical perspectives upon her subject, she observes that they “share an implicit comparative perspective and ask why...the admission of women took longer in Germany than elsewhere” (p. 13). But among nine West European countries as of 1900, it was Spain that reported no female students, and by about 1930, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, and Austria ranked below Germany in the percentage of women reaching universities, while the Netherlands and Germany were equal in that respect.5 Instead of attending to such data, Mazón lapses into comment upon the Sonderweg debate, which has become an obstacle to serious comparative work.
One begins to suspect that Mazón is not seriously interested in ordinary social history. Thus she gives little attention to employment opportunities for women in teaching and in the burgeoning white collar sector. She observes but does not really analyze the intersection of the arrival of women students with the broader crisis of academic overproduction, or with the extraordinarily rapid rise of anti-Semitism at the German universities of her period. She is less than clear even where she should be at her best: in the matter of sexual relations of male German students. From the eighteenth century until well into the 1950s, deferred marriage among university students led to a class-based “double standard,” which is celebrated in every romantic German student song of the early nineteenth century. German students had extended affairs with girls from the artisanal and lower middle classes until they were ready to found families of their own. They then abandoned their mistresses and married girls from their own class, who were substantially younger and expected to be virgins. It is remarkable what arrangements various social groups will accept without resentment, as long...