Emma Ihrer: The Unsung Heroine of the German Labor Movement

OV Digital Desk

Emma Ihrer (3 January 1857 – 8 January 1911) was a German feminist and trade unionist who was active in founding societies to defend the rights of women workers.

Life and Career

Emma Rother was born on 3 January 1857 and moved to Berlin following her marriage. There, she was employed as a milliner, which gave her a close perspective on the challenges working women faced at the time. Seeing women’s plight as a source of inspiration, Ihrer became a prolific writer. She submitted several papers and journal articles on the necessity and means of achieving full equality for women.

Ihrer’s works also questioned some of the most fundamental societal assumptions of her time. For example, why women valued housework or childbearing so highly when both were considered inferior occupations by men. Moreover, she criticized “studies” that linked the size of the brain with intelligence (supposedly “proving” that women are inferior). A famous statement made by her was that, if that were the case, whales could be sent to university instead.

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Her career was marked by founding and chairing societies and trade unions, despite frequent clashes with the government that left her in court on more than one occasion. But her hard-fought battles brought women’s rights to the forefront of political discussions in the early twentieth century and led to several legislative victories. Emma Ihrer died in Berlin on 8 January 1911. Her grave is located in Berlin-Lichtenberg in the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery (Memorial of Socialists), Gudrunstraße.

Award and Legacy

Emma Ihrer was a remarkable woman who left behind an incredible legacy. With numerous awards and accolades, Emma’s work will continue to inspire generations of women to come. She was an innovator in her field with a penchant for creating programs that addressed the needs of her community. Her willingness to take on difficult projects and advocate for greater access to resources was an inspiration to many.

On 9 February 1989, She was honored by the Federal Republic of Germany when she was depicted on a 5 pfennig postage stamp in the “Women of German History” definitive series. On 3 January 2018, Google Doodle celebrated Emma Ihrer’s 161st Birthday.