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  • Recovering Frieda Wunderlich:Gender, Knowledge, and Exile
  • Ellen Freeberg (bio), Gina Luria Walker (bio), and Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi (bio)


Our research on Frieda Wunderlich is part of ongoing contemporary efforts to recover women of earlier periods as producers of knowledge. Traditional intellectual history fails to place women into active dialogue with men or to see them as full partners in knowledge production (Beard [1946] 1987; Beard and Lane 2001; Lerner 1979; Le Doeuff 2003). This is a consequence, in part, of women's struggle for traditional forms of education (Whitehead 1999). Since the Ancients, women have been left out of male knowledge-ordering systems and institutions of teaching and learning (Bloomer 2015); they have had to make their way in hostile public environments and segregated institutions, or they have been autodidacts. Without the same training and public community as their male contemporaries, they have often produced nontraditional forms of knowledge; they have not generally written treatises but rather have deployed less-established genres. One cannot easily follow women's intellectual history because, as Mia Bay and colleagues demonstrate about African American women's thought, there is never "a mere genealogy of ideas" to pursue; rather, [End Page 1021] one moves "from political podiums, church pulpits, and the streets into intimate sites of writing: the letter, the short story, the poem in the novel" (2015, 4). Even when women have made their way into male institutions as recognized scholars and displayed their bona fides, they have faced obstacles in joining male clubs or gaining the same opportunities in rank, salary, and seniority as male counterparts. Historian Gerda Lerner demonstrates repeatedly how the "historical invisibility of women is often due to the fact that we look for them in exactly the same activities as are pursued by men, and thus we cannot find them" (1979, xxix).

Frieda Wunderlich created knowledge with other "New Women" at the turn into the twentieth century. Like others, she did so by way of an idiosyncratic educational journey to and through the German university system, during which she drew on what she learned from her experiences in the national and international woman's movement. She exemplifies the ways in which many women seek access to academic knowledge creation and shape their own contribution to the republic of letters. Her story as a knowledge producer deserves to be recovered on its own merit as part of women's intellectual history.

Her story also resonates with female scholars in exile today. The imperative to accept the invitation from President Alvin Johnson to flee to the New School for Social Research at the high point in her public career could easily have derailed her professional life, as it did other women's (Salomon 2004). While Wunderlich refused to be deterred, we know from recent scholarship that Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote with concern when recommending Wunderlich to Bryn Mawr and Smith in 1933, just prior to her offer from the New School. Placement might be difficult, he wrote, and not only because she was a Jew: the "case is still more difficult than that of the other economists who have been dismissed because she is a woman, which fact very much restricts the range of possible employment" (McCraw 2010, 231). [End Page 1022]

We track Wunderlich's trajectory before and after leaving Germany in 1933 to demonstrate her distinctive pathways and unswerving contributions to social-scientific knowledge, to causes and economic policy debates during Weimar, and to an institution that created and supported academic positions for refugee scholars in the United States. Wunderlich developed proactive strategies to succeed in exile; she had the good fortune to join a school that not only created positions for endangered intellectuals but backed her in nuanced ways often taken for granted and likely less urgent for her male counterparts.

Wunderlich's life and contributions have received attention elsewhere. Rutkoff and Scott (1986) summarize her intellectual interests in their history of the New School (120–23); key encyclopedia entries keep her profile alive (Freidenreich 2009; Mongiovi 2000). However, she is not treated as a female intellectual with a journey of her own, even in the important Intellectuals in Exile: Refugee Scholars and the New...