Today In History, 1924: World’s First Known Lesbian Magazine Published

Jim Burroway

August 8th, 2016

Die-Freundin-image-1Die Freundin (The Girlfriend) began publishing in Berlin on August 8, 1924, by the Bund für Menschenrecht (League for Human Rights). The BfM had been established by Friedrich Radszuweit, partly as a gay rights organization and partly as a publishing house. By the time he began publishing Die Freundin, Radszuweit had already founded several other publication aimed at Germany’s gay communities.

While Die Freundin was the world’s first magazine to target a specifically-lesbian audience, it wasn’t written exclusively by women. Nevertheless, Die Freundin provided a vital forum for Germany’s lesbians, who were typically excluded from the male-dominated homosexual movements of the era. It published articles on lesbian history, the problems faced by lesbian in contemporary Germany, news about the homosexual movement, scientific articles speculating on the origins of homosexuality, fiction, poetry, and reviews of books, plays and movies. Die Freundin‘s stated goal was to “defend the equal rights of women in social life” and to “foster ideal friendships by publishing articles by our readers, and we invite every woman who feels qualified to send articles and works that they feel are suitable.”

A number of articles and letters focused on the plight of lesbians outside of Berlin. One letter went like this: “How I envy my comrades and my friends in Berlin! It must not be too difficult for them to meet a nice girl. There are so many meeting places , cafés, clubs… My only solace is that there are even more women who are abandoned, like me. With longing, I still await my best friend.” Not all lesbians were so unfortunate. One married woman with an understanding husband who allowed her to spend time with her girlfriend, wrote, “I wish that other women, like me, might meet with such understanding with their husbands with respect to their homosexual inclinations and thus be able to live in friendship, tying their life to that of their friend for eternity.”

Unsurprisingly, probably the most important feature in Die Freundin were its personal ads, which allowed women who were either uncomfortable with lesbian bars or who lived outside of the major cities to find other women. Examples included: “Cologne: a woman in the professions, brimming with life, loves, swimming, seeks partner.” Or: Berlin, nurse seeks parter to chat at tea time.” Or: Modern couple, 38-42 years, with comfortable house, seeks a similar couple in Koenigsberg to get acquainted.”

Through its personal ads, articles, ad paid advertisements of cafes, bars and restaurants, Die Freundin provides a rare window into the life of Germany’s lesbians before the rise of Nazism. While political articles were rare during the 1920s, by 1928 Die Freundin began noting, with alarm, a rise in police harassment against gays and lesbians. That year coincided with the Weimar Republic’s enactment of the Law to Protect Youth Against Trash and Smut to counter growing conservative worries over the nations’ moral health. Pressure against Die Freundin and other gay publications only grew worse as the Nazis began enjoying growing political influence. In 1931, Die Freundin published an odd appeal to Adolf Hitler, asking him to explain his remarks on homosexuality (“When we are in power, they will all be hanged or expelled.”), and suggesting that if Hitler’s party adopted a pro-gay platform, “several hundred thousands of homosexuals will be grateful to you.” That humiliating plea obviously fell on deaf ears. By 1932, the classified were gone, and stories of suicides and stepped-up police activity against gay establishments and institutions chronicled an alarming trend. Die Freundin’s last issue came out on March 8, 1933, just a month after Hitler came to power.

[Sources: Florence Tamagne. A History of Homosexuality In Europe: Berlin, London, Paris, 1919-1939 Volume 1 & II. (New York: Algora Publishing, 2006): 77-80.

Clayton J. Whisnant. Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880-1945 (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2016): 114-118]

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