Creating a Space in the Medical Profession: Female Physicians, Maternalism, and Eugenics Work in Weimar and Nazi Germany

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This dissertation examines the history of female physicians' work in marriage counseling centers, in school health reform, and in the movements against alcoholism, venereal disease, and prostitution during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), and in organizations like the Bund Deutscher Mädels (League of German Girls; BDM) and the Reichsmütterdienst (Reich Mothers' Service), as well as their efforts in the racial hygiene and anti-tobacco campaigns during the Third Reich (1933-1945). In this study, I ask how and why women occupied particular fields within the medical profession in these years, and how women doctors reconciled their medical perspectives with their views of the Weimar and later the Nazi state.

Focusing primarily on those women doctors who were members of the Bund Deutscher Ärztinnen (League of German Female Physicians, BDÄ), this dissertation demonstrates that female physicians used primarily maternalist and to a lesser extent eugenic arguments to make a case for their presence in these medical spaces. This dissertation draws primarily on women doctors' own interpretations of their work in the organization's journal, Die Ärztin (The Female Physician), and also utilizes the publications, personal papers, and memoirs of professionally and politically active members of the BDÄ. Female physicians argued that they could best serve the Weimar medical profession because the caring and nurturing nature of their work was an extension of their domestic responsibilities. Additionally, they claimed to fit well with Nazi ideology because they were dedicated to motherhood and to preserving the Volksgesundheit (people's health) and creating the Volksgemeinschaft (people's community). I argue that supporting women's traditional societal roles as well as eugenics discourse were means by which female physicians advanced in the male-dominated medical profession. By working in marginalized spaces (which they helped to create) where they treated only women and children, they shielded themselves from male doctors' attention, thereby enhancing their own autonomy and their authority in women's and children's medicine. I show that by advocating eugenics and accentuating their feminine and motherly qualities, women were able to secure jobs and even broaden their medical roles to become political and educational advocates for women in an otherwise hostile work environment.