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February 27: Bertha Pappenheim

February 27, 2013

Bertha Pappenheim, founder in 1904 of Austria’s League of Jewish Women — which grew to more than 32,000 members in 80+ chapters before the Nazis banned it in 1939 — was born in Vienna on this date in 1859. Pappenheim is best known in popular history as the “Anna O.” about whom Sigmund Freud wrote in Studies on Hysteria, which he co-authored with Josef Breuer, whose treatment of Pappenheim for serious somatic disorders is considered one of the first documented cases of psychoanalysis (although it is likely that Pappenheim suffered from serious neurological problems that were not psychosomatic). She came from a well-to-do family with Orthodox Jewish roots, and she remained observant throughout her life. In the very first years of the 20th century, Pappenheim, who had founded and directed a progressive orphanage, became an investigator into the trafficking of women in Jewish Galicia, and in 1904 she founded the League of Jewish Women, which she headed for twenty years. In that position, she introduced German Jewish women to feminist perspectives, and spoke publicly and daringly about prostitution, marital inequality, and other conditions of women’s oppression. Pappenheim was negative about Zionism until the Nuremberg Laws came into effect, and then shifted towards advocacy of Jewish emigration from Germany. Her writings included plays, novels, poetry, and literature for children. In her distrust of men’s organizations and her insistence on women’s autonomy, writes Daniel Boyarin, there is “some justification for considering Bertha Pappenheim a foremother of lesbian separatist feminism!”

“Under Jewish law a woman is not an individual, not a personality; she is only judged and recognized as a sexual being.” —Bertha Pappenheim

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