Any historical consideration of such a diverse and controversial phenom­enon as feminism must begin with a definition. The terms “feminist” and “feminism” were first used in the late nineteenth century by the French suf­fragist Hubertine Auclert, and by 1900 these terms were in use throughout Europe and in North and Latin America. From that day […]

W estern Europe

This will be an international and comparative history that includes all of the national cultures of Western Europe. The focus will be on Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Germany (the Nazi era, during which feminist organizations were prohibited, will be discussed only as it influenced devel­opments in other countries and in postwar West Germany). […]


At the turn of the twentieth century, when our story begins, feminist rhetoric was pervaded by the exaltation of motherhood as the woman citizen’s most important right and duty. In our own time, historians’ responses to this tendency, which they have called “maternalism,” have covered a broad spec­trum from vehement denunciation to fulsome praise. Some […]


The following chapters will trace the stages of this process during the period from 1890 to 1970. The time period will be divided into four segments: the prewar era (1890-1914); the period of World War I (1914-18); the interwar era (1918-39); and the era of World War II and the postwar era (1945-70). The distribution […]

“ Thus love began”: The Mother as Parent

But many feminists found the mythical mother-age unappealing—their ideal was not female supremacy, but gender equality. And they, too, cited Bachofen, who (along with many later researchers) had clearly designated the period of mother-right as a primitive stage in human development. In most countries, the majority of feminists insisted that the evolution of the family […]

The Destructive Mother

In the years before World War I, the great increase in the membership and influence of feminist organizations provoked a backlash against feminism. Among anti-feminists, Bachofen’s imaginative picture of a matriarchal age and a war between men and women could arouse terror as well as fascination. The psychological theories of this era reconceptualized the battle […]