German women's rights activist Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895).
Although she was born into a comfortable middle class German family, Louise Otto-Peters spent much of her life campaigning for the rights of women, including the working class.
Born on March 26 1819, Louise's parents died when she was young which forced her to consider how she would make a living. She had been well-educated by personal tutors and by the 1840s began her career in writing, producing a wide variety of work including novels, short stories, and political articles. The latter of these were published in journals edited by Robert Blum, a German democratic politician and revolutionist.
Unlike many of her feminist contemporaries, Louise believed strongly in the rights of all women, including the working classes, reflecting her broad democratic ideals. Writing under her own name as well as the pseudonym Otto Stern, she began to discuss the role of women in politics and encourage women workers to organise themselves. In 1848, the European Revolutions spread across much of the continent, led by loose coalitions of reformers, the middle class, and workers. Although these revolutions ultimately did not hold together for long, the liberalisation they brought was crucial to Louise and all women like her. Although women were still not allowed to be members of revolutionary clubs and could not directly participate at most political functions, they had made some progress.
In 1849, Louise was able to found a weekly newspaper, Frauen-Zeitung, or "Women's Newspaper." Contributions came in from across Germany and the newspaper soon became a tool in which progressive liberal women could reach the general public with their demands for reform. The paper's motto, proudly displayed on the masthead, tells us how passionately Louise believed in women's rights: Dem Reich der Freiheit werb ich Bürgerinnen! ("I am recruiting female citizens for the realm of freedom!").
Despite censorship and harassment, Louise continued to publish Frauen-Zeitung until it was suppressed in 1852 and she temporarily retired from political life. In 1865 she co-founded the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (General Union of German Women) in Leipzig. The goals of the Union were stated in a pamphlet penned by Louise called "Das Recht der Frauen auf Erwerb" ("Women's Right to Work"). By 1876 the Union had 11,000 members and Louise and co-founder Auguste Schmidt served as joint presidents and editors of the house journal, Neue Bahnen (New Paths).
Louise Otto-Peters' career as a writer enabled her to become a spokeswoman for women's rights, forcing the revolutionaries of 1848 to acknowledge women in their campaigns and widening women's political and social engagement.