Monday, February 14, 2011

four notable German-American women

Here's another look at Louis Windmuller and the Forty-Eighters.[1] I've written a couple of posts about four men who participated in the Revolutions of 1848, emigrated to the United States at mid-century, and later became associates in a quest for political and economic reforms in Gilded Age New York. In my last post on this subject I mentioned that the four men had wives who were unusually accomplished and well respected. They were Mary Jacobi, Anna Ottendorfer, Margarethe Schurz, and Fanny Villard.

Mary Putnam Jacobi

Daughter of G.P. Putnam, the famous publisher, Mary Jacobi was a pioneering physician and, like her husband, a prolific author, medical scientist, teacher, and activist. Though both her parents were American she was born in England and educated there and in Paris as well as in New York. A social reformer and strong supporter of women's rights, she wrote impassioned letters while studying in Paris. The letters report her excitement at being at the heart of a revolution and affirm her commitment to do whatever she could, even to death, in order to help secure the success of the 1870 Paris Commune.[2] In later life Mary Jacobi achieved two significant firsts. She was the first woman to gain admission to l'École de Médecine, Paris, and the first woman to be admitted as fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1876 she won Harvard Medical School's Boylston Medical Prize for an article which demolished a major tenet of the "weaker sex" theory.[3]

{Portrait of Mary Putnam Jacobi from The Life and Letters of Mary Putnam Jacobi, 1925; source: Widener Library, Harvard University.}

Anna Behr (Uhl) Ottendorfer

Anna Behr (or by some accounts Anna Sartorius) was born to petit bourgeois parents and received a barely rudimentary education before marrying and emigrating to New York. There, she and her husband Jacob Uhl scraped together pennies working in a print shop until able to take over a small and failing job printing business. Both had business acumen as well as the strength to tolerate long hard hours of work. Those traits together with a certain amount of luck soon brought them sufficient resources to take over another small and languishing business: a German-language weekly newspaper called the New Yorker Staats Zeitung. As one biographer explains, "In 1845 they purchased the [paper]. They enlarged it, turned it into a daily, and its circulation increased rapidly. When Mr. Uhl died, in 1852, his widow, who saw a great future in the paper, refused to sell its good-will, though she was offered very favorable terms. She then became sole editor and proprietor, and the brilliant success of the paper more than justified her expectations."
-- OBITUARY — MRS. ANNA OTTENDORFER in The American bookseller, a semi-monthly journal devoted to the interests of the book, stationery, news, and music trades, Volumes 15-16 (The American News Company, 1884)

A few years later she married Oswald Ottendorfer, then a leading journalist, and, while retaining the role of business manager, turned over to him the job of editing the paper. The two made a successful team and she, in particular, shone in the triple role of CEO, wife, and mother. When one of her grown sons proved capable of taking over management, she loosed her control and increasingly focused her attention on helping less fortunate New Yorkers. In a eulogy he gave at her private funeral, Carl Schurz said "her career was a rare example not of good fortune, but of an uncommon intelligence, vigor, and endurance, which she used to achieve an honestly earned and well deserved success." He called her "one of the most important women of our country." Of her dedication to improving the lot of others he said that even while she still struggled to make ends meet and raise her young children she had joined charitable organizations and became in them "a guiding, ruling element." Hers, he said, was not "the selfish pursuit of profit." She did not value wealth for its own sake but more for what good might be accomplished with it. He said she was pragmatic and thoughtful about how best to use her money to achieve best results and that these results were ultimately "the work of a bright mind, warmed by a big heart."[3]

Her philanthropy was aimed at improving the lot of German-speaking immigrants and helping them to become useful Americans. To this end she created a women's pavilion for the German Hospital in New York and a German health clinic in Manhattan's "little Germany," built a home in Astoria for aged German women, and supported a German school in Milwaukee. She also established what is now the Ottendorfer Branch of the New York Public Library, which, when it opened in 1884, was New York City's first free public library.[4] In praising Anna Ottendorfer's achievement in founding this public library, Schurz said, "We never grow tired of repeating that in this Republic — being governed by the people — our honor and greatness, the safety of our institutions, our whole social order, depend upon the intelligence and virtue with which the people govern themselves. We should remember equally well that the free public library is a most important contribution to that popular intelligence and virtue. No wise man will, therefore, fail to recognize the interest he has in an enterprise like this, as he must know the stake he has in the public welfare."[5]

{Anna Behr (Uhl) Ottendorfer; source: wikipedia}

Margarethe Meyer Schurz

Margarethe Meyer Schurz introduced kindergarten schooling to America. As a teenager in Hamburg she had received training in the first-ever early childhood education movement from its founder Friedrich Fröbel. Thereafter she worked with her sister in opening and running kindergartens first in Germany then — when the Revolutions of 1848 forced her stepfather into exile — in London. After marrying Carl Schurz and emigrating to the United States she opened the first American kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin.[6] In 1859 the transcendentalist Elizabeth Peabody visited the Schurz home and, impressed with Agatha's ability and maturity, became a convert to the kindergarten movement. With Peabody's advocacy this movement expanded rapidly and not long later kindergartens became an educational norm. Sadly, Margarethe did not live to see the ultimate success of the movement. Long having suffered from a lung ailment, she died in 1876 at the age of 43 shortly after the birth of a son.

In his reminiscences, Carl Schurz wrote extensively about her early life, their first encounters, and the love they came to share. He admired her courage, energy, and practical efficiency. He admired as well her spirit of independence and wish to make decisions for herself, particularly after she became orphaned, when quite young, and was being ordered about by grown up brothers and sisters.[6] In his diary, Carl Schurz's friend, William Steinway, called Margarethe a noble woman whose death left him "unspeakably sad and downhearted."[7]

{Margarethe Meyer Schurz; source: wikipedia}

Fanny Garrison Villard

Helen Frances “Fanny” Garrison Villard was a social activist from about 1900 until her death at 84 in 1928. Only daughter of abolitionist (and publisher) William Lloyd Garrison, she married industrialist (and publisher) Henry Villard and thereafter led a comfortable life as wife, mother, and upper class socialite. She made a dramatic turnabout following her husband's death in 1900. Her accomplishments after that time are succinctly stated thus: "NYC philanthropist, adviser and fundraiser for interracial and humanitarian causes, joined suffrage movement 1906, chaired New York legislative committees, spoke on street corners at 66, felt fundamental changes needed and that women could redeem politics, uncompromising pacifist, led 1914 Peace Parade down 5th Ave. and helped organize the Woman's Peace Party."[8] In addition, with her son Oswald she co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and helped found the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

{Fanny Garrison Villard; source:}

Unlike these four wives, Louis Windmuller's spouse, Annie, led a quiet life as hausfrau at their home in Woodside, Queens.


This Ngram from Google Book Search shows how frequently you can find the four wives' names in the Ngram English-language corpus between 1870 and 2000. I used the most common forms of their names as search terms. The upward spike for Fanny Garrison Villard corresponds to the centennial of her father's death and is thus composed somewhat of simple mentions of her as his daughter, but that period also saw growth in both feminist and pacifist literature (in both of which her name might frequently occur).

This list of JSTOR hits gives roughly similar values over the entire universe of journals that JSTOR covers.

Mary Putnam Jacobi - 159 all time hits
Anna Ottendorfer - 1 all time hit
Margarethe Schurz - 11 all time hits
Fanny Garrison Villard - 18 all time hits


Some sources:

Mary Putnam Jacobi, Widener Library, Harvard University

Dr. Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi at the NLM web site

Mary Putnam Jacobi and the politics of medicine in nineteenth-century America by Carla Jean Bittel (UNC Press Books, 2009)

Dr. MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, obituary in the New York Times, June 12, 1906. First para: "Dr. MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, who died on Sunday, was in many regards a notable woman. As a student, practitioner, and teacher of medicine she won real distinction and achieved honors quite beyond the ordinary. She was a woman of strong character and intellect, of acute, penetrating, and independent judgment, devoting remarkable mental gifts to high aims and performing substantial service with the utmost fidelity and energy."

DR. M.P. JACOBI'S DEATH ENDS A BRILLIANT CAREER; She Was a Noted Medical Expert, Author, and Suffragist. New York Times, June 12, 1906

Jacobi, Mary Putnam, 1842-1906. Papers, 1851-1974: A Finding Aid at Harvard

Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842–1906) in the Women Working Project at Harvard

PLAN $25,000 MEMORIAL TO DR. MARY P. JACOBI; Women Physicians Pledge $1,000 to a Fund in Her Honor. DR. WILLIAM OSLER'S EULOGY Her Persistence Won Recognition for Women in the Profession, He Says -- Warm Testimonials. New York Times, January 5, 1907. First para: "As a memorial to Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, wife of Dr. Abraham Jacobi, who died in June last, the Women's Medical Association agreed last evening to raise $25,000 for the establishment of a post-graduate course for women physicians."

A few journal articles by and about Mary Putnam Jacobi which can be retrieved via JSTOR:
  • "Feminism, Professionalism, and Germs: The Thought of Mary Putnam Jacobi and Elizabeth Blackwell," Regina Markell Morantz, American Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 5 (Winter, 1982), pp. 459-478
  • "Shall Women Practice Medicine?", Mary Putnam Jacobi, The North American Review, Vol. 134, No. 302 (Jan., 1882), pp. 52-75
  • "Paris in 1870: Letters of Mary Corinna Putnam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Jul., 1917), pp. 836-841
Anna Ottendorfer in wikipedia

OBITUARY — MRS. ANNA OTTENDORFER in The American bookseller, a semi-monthly journal devoted to the interests of the book, stationery, news, and music trades, Volumes 15-16 (The American News Company, 1884)





Anna Ottendorfer, a compilation of brief biographies on

Ottendorfer Library in the NYPL web pages

Margarethe Schurz in wikipedia

Margarethe Meyer Schurz 1833 - 1876 on

Reminiscences of Carl Schurz; Margarethe Meyer Schurz on

MARGARETHE MEYER SCHURZ by Susan Fleming (Jewish Women's Archive)

Fanny Garrison Villard in

Fanny Garrison Villard on

Fanny Garrison Villard in wikipedia



[1] If I've tallied correctly, this blog now has 30 posts on or related to Louis Windmuller. You can find them by clicking the keyword "Louis Windmuller" at right (in the column headed "Labels").

[2] On her experience of Paris in 1870, see "Paris in 1870: Letters of Mary Corinna Putnam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Jul., 1917), pp. 836-841. Here are brief excerpts from two letters:
My interest is immense in the events that are passing, especially since the Republic, and as far as I myself am concerned, I feel really quite ready to die in its defense. -- To her mother, 15 Sep 1870

Everyday we are expecting another affair. The crisis at Paris is being sharpened down to a tolerably fine point, but the national movement has become so general and vigorous, that even if Paris is taken, the war will continue, and I am sure that ultimately we shall succeed. Every day identifies more and more clearly the cause of the French republic with that for which the North fought in the war of Secession. It is no longer a war between two standing armies or two rival princelets, but between two rival principles,-et il y va du succes de l'idee Repntblicaine dans le monde entier. -- To her father 26 Dec 1870
[3] The paper, "Do Women Require Mental and Bodily Rest during Menstruation?", demonstrated that women were no less strong during periods of menstruation than at other times and that inactivity actually increased menstrual pain.

[3] The quotations are translated from a compilation of Schurz's speeches: Zur Erinnerung an Anna Ottendorfer: Rede des Herrn Carl Schurz, Rede des Herrn Carl Schurz, gehalten am Sarge im Trauerhause, am 4. April, 1884.

[4] Actually, although NYPL calls the Ottendorfer branch "New York City's first free public library," other sources say it was the second.

[5] New York Public Library: Ottendorfer Branch Dedication; this is a printed proof with scattered hand-written edits by Schurz. This speech praises libraries and librarians in general, not just the branch which Anna Ottendorfer had the foresight to establish. In it Schurz has some good words for the legislative research performed by the Librarian of Congress in his time in the Senate:
How much in this respect a thoroughly competent librarian may accomplish is shown by the conspicuous example of the librarian of Congress, Mr. Spofford. It is a fact well known in Washington that when a member of Congress becomes aware that there are things which he does not know, but which it would be useful for him to learn — a thing which happens sometimes — his older and more experienced colleagues will tell him “Go and ask Spofford.” And Mr. Spofford is never asked in vain. It seems he not only knows of the existence of every work in that vast and somewhat promiscuous collection of books, called the Congressional Library, and not only can name at his finger's ends every book on any given subject, but that he can also tell with remarkable accuracy with regard to almost very volume, what it contains, and whether it is worth studying or not. Of this, I have myself witnessed some astonishing instances, for when I was in the Senate I found occasion to “ask Spofford” many a time. He has thus become a real benefactor to the American people, for it may be said of many acts of Congress, that they are the offspring of the legislator's ignorance tempered by the knowledge of the Congressional librarian.
[6] In 1854, in that city, she began a kindergarten for her daughter, Agathe, and four neighbour children. Her success at this small beginning quickly became apparent and other parents asked for their children to be included. Susan Fleming writes: "In the fall of 1856, Margarethe Schurz opened a kindergarten in her living room for Agatha and four young cousins, teaching them the songs and games she had learned from Froebel. She soon moved her German-speaking kindergarten to the center of Watertown, so that more children could conveniently attend. Schurz continued as director until 1858, when she and Carl moved to Milwaukee. The Watertown kindergarten remained in operation—although moved to another building — until prejudice against the German language during World War I forced it to close."

[6] Translated from Schurz's German typescript: "Reminiscences of Carl Schurz" found in the Schurz papers at the Library of Congress. Of their meeting in London he wrote, "When Margarethe and I met... it seemed to go without saying that we belonged to each other. We gravitated to each other. This was also noticed quietly by the rest of the gathering. When I stepped up to Margarethe and began to speak with her, the others regularly drew back from us immediately and left us alone, which we found not in the least embarrassing... When I needed to take Margarethe to the door of her residence one evening, and we walked by the door and strolled entirely alone on a solitary evening walk, we really did not have much new to say to each other. What we felt for each other we already knew even without having said it."

[7] He wrote: "Cold windy day. All Steamers sadly behind time Bought Quartetts Orpheus of Schuberth Yesterday who tells that Bulow would like to try our new Centennial Grands &c. &c. At 12½ A. Goepel, A. Pagenstecher, Tretbar and I try the Quartetts Integer vitae & Über allen Wipfeln ist Ruh bei Kuhlau, at 1 P.M. we proceed to Senator Schurzs house No 40 West 32d street, there Goepel & Ammann, Tretbar, Pagenstecher & Mosenthal and I sing both those songs quite well, Dr. Frothingham making the speech very well. I feel unspeakably sad and downhearted with the conviction that noble women like Mrs. Schurz must die, while atrocious monsters who deliberately bring eternal disgrace and infamy upon their own children will continue to live." -- Diary of William Steinway, N.Y. March 18th 1876 (The William Steinway Diary Project, National Museum of American History.

[8] 75 Suffragists from the University of Maryland Women's Studies Department.

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