Jewish Salonières ca 1800

The Berlin Jewish Salon as „informal academy“ and place for emancipation ?

Hannah Lotte Lund

Cooperation Partners: 

Julius H. Schoeps (Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum, Potsdam)

The function of a literary salon as semi-public meeting place for young authors and an interested audience has been widely discussed. Additionally the Berlin Jewish Salon has been interpreted as place for the German-Jewish dialogue. Seldom, however it has been asked what the women gained from it themselves, socially and intellectually.

The project focuses on the forms and results of the communication that took place in Jewish open houses in Berlin around 1800. Theoretically, in a time when women and Jews were excluded from almost any public career and most of the public places, a salon gave them the opportunity to circumvent this exclusion. The salon worked on the intersection of public and private. By inviting members of the public, politicians, authors, actors, to their private homes, the women were able to participate in the intellectual discourse of their time. Practically they got hold of rare books, took part in scientific experiments, were asked for their opinion and inspired to write themselves. The fact that most Salonières were not only excellent letter writers, but also published on their own, has hitherto been rather overlooked.

The salon was a place meeting place for discourse, too. Many prominent writers on the women question around 1800 attended salons regularly. Some of the most influential gender theories of that time, by Wilhelm von Humboldt or Friedrich Schlegel, were literally written on salon tables. The question is, in what way did the central role of the Salonière or the contact with intellectually aspiring women influence the men’s ideas on woman in general?

Similarly salon members discussed the emancipation of the Jews - inside and outside the salon. Quite a few politicians who later became involved in the emancipation process in Prussia had been good friends with one or more Jewish Salonières in their youth. Yet, as the project will show, there is no direct connection between the friendship with Jewish intellectuals and the engagement for or against civil rights for Jews. Here the salonières’ correspondences with their guests are contrasted with the external comments the guests exchanged privately outside the salon.

The project draws mainly on the unpublished letters and literary remains of lesser known Jewish women. Besides unknown material of the famous Salonières Rahel Levin Varnhagen and Henriette Herz also some almost forgotten women of the Jewish elite will be discussed, f.e. the sisters Sara and Marianne Meyer.

Role play in the Salon?

  • Die ganze Welt auf ihrem Sopha. Frauen in europäischen Salons (Berlin, trafo: 2004 )
  • „Emanzipation in Halböffentlichkeit. Geschlechterverhältnisse und politische Partizipation im literarischen Salon um 1800. Eine Annäherung“ in. Katharina Rennhak, Virginia Richter (eds): Revolution und Emanzipation. Geschlechterordnungen in Europa um 1800 (Köln: Böhlau 2004 )
  • Die Berliner Salons um 1800 und die „bürgerliche Verbesserung“, forthcoming in: Menora. Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte 2005/06