Women of Aktion!

Ingrid Sharp and Corinne Painter on the AHRC-funded project ‘Gender and the German Revolution: Writing Women into the History of the Kiel Uprising, November 1918’.

Dr Corinne Painter and Professor Ingrid Sharp, University of Leeds, are working with Bradford-based theatre group Bent Architect on a project to write women back into the German revolution of 1918 that brought the First World War to an end. The AHRC-funded project will use Dr Painter’s archival research to create a new play scheduled to tour the UK and Germany in 2018.

Although sparked by the naval uprising in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, the German revolution was carried largely by a war-weary populace who had endured four years of intense deprivation due to the allied blockade preventing food and raw materials reaching Germany. With the majority of men in the armed forces, women were major players in this unrest as they were most directly affected by the food shortages, long working hours and harsh living conditions.

Until very recently, the German Revolution of 1918 has been viewed as an exclusively male affair and, apart from Rosa Luxemburg, the historical figures that have emerged as revolutionary leaders were generally male. But there are also accounts by women in which they present themselves as active participants in the revolutionary events with clear goals for the new social order that it would bring in: these women certainly did not see themselves as onlookers to a male spectacle. For many socialist, pacifist or feminist women the revolution was seen as a chance to realise long-term political or social goals, not least the dream of the kind of social and political equality symbolised by female suffrage. Universal suffrage for both men and women over the age of 20 came about as a result of the revolution, making the German franchise one of the most democratic in the developed world. So far, our research has identified over 100 women who were involved in the revolution as members of the soldiers’ and workers’ councils, leaders of the Council Republic in Munich.

During a recent site visit, the team visited the key towns and cities of the revolution, beginning in Kiel and travelling to Wilhelmshaven, Bremen and Hamburg. Bent Architect. We found that women were hardly represented in the exhibitions commemorating the events and we have made it our mission to write them back into history during 2018 through talks, an exhibition and publications and of course the play, Women of Aktion.