Feminism, Social Science, and the Meanings of Modernity: The Debate on the Origin of the Family in Europe and the United States, 1860–1914

Of the year 1913, the Viennese novelist Robert Musil wrote, “The time was on the move . . . But in those days no one knew what it was moving towards. Nor could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backwards.”[1] This new relationship to time, space, and history pervaded literature, the arts, and the social and natural sciences in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, from about 1890 until 1914. William Everdell, the author of a recent book on the intellectual history of this era, defines its central theoretical project as “the profound rethinking of the whole mind set of the nineteenth century.” This process of rethinking eroded familiar nineteenth-century European and North American paradigms: beliefs in progress and in seamless continuity were shaken by a new emphasis on rupture, randomness, and “ontological discontinuity,” and reliance on scientific objectivity by a recognition of the subjective element in all thought and observation. Most of the literature on European and North American intellectual history at the turn of the century emphasizes the problematic and disorienting effects of (as Everdell puts it), “the impossibility of knowing even the simplest things that the nineteenth century took for granted.”[2] In fact, the characterization of the period from 1890 to 1914 as an era of pessimism, alienation, and anxiety has become a cliché of intellectual history. In German political thought, Fritz Stern describes a mood of “cultural despair”; for the social sciences, writes Lawrence Scaff, “the central problem appears to be the same in every case: a sense that unified experience lies beyond the grasp of the modern self and that malaise and self-conscious guilt have become inextricably entwined with culture.” Eugen Weber remarks that, in France at the turn of the century, “the discrepancy between material progress and spiritual dejection reminded me of my own era.”[3] In Britain, the literary critic Terry Eagleton refers to a “cataclysmic crisis of Victorian rationality.”[4] In the Austrian Empire, Carl Schorske describes “autumnal pessimism.”5 Even in the still optimistic culture of the United States, according to Daniel J. Wilson, philosophers faced a “crisis of confidence” as their cultural authority was challenged by the natural sciences.[6] In Western European civilization as a whole, Modris Eksteins identifies a spirit of “orgiastic-nihilistic irony” among the essential preconditions for the senseless violence of World War I.[7] The editors of a recent anthology of articles on this period, Mikulas Teich and Roy Porter, criticize the “distinctly simplistic” tendency of many historical accounts to “concentrate on individual as well as social alienation as particularly characteristic of fin de siècle feeling.”[8]

“One of the tasks of women’s history,” wrote Joan Kelly in 1977, “is to call into question accepted schemes of periodization.”[9] This article will revise the conventional picture of this era by looking at one of its most important and least recognized developments—the flowering of feminist intellectual creativity that produced some of the first scholarly analyses of the position of women in prehistory, history, and the modern era. The context for such analyses was provided by one of the era’s most important intellectual controversies, which concerned the origins of the family, patriarchy, and the subordination of women. The importance of feminist scholarship to the intellectual life of this era has seldom been recognized; indeed, the accounts quoted above base their picture of Western culture at the turn of the twentieth century wholly or chiefly on the experience and ideas of one segment of the population, male academic, literary, and artistic elites. But, as Kelly suggested through the question “Did women have a Renaissance?” accepted characterizations of an era and its culture often do not include the experience of subordinated or silenced groups, and the full consideration of such groups can not only supplement but fundamentally change these characterizations. Recent developments in intellectual history, particularly the “linguistic turn,” have encouraged the inclusion of subordinated groups by shifting attention away from prominent authors and their works to the many ways in which texts are read, and meaning is made, within culture. Dominick LaCapra, for example, has pointed out that ideas are created not only by individual authors but also by the many readers, commentators, and critics (or “communities of discourse”) who, often over the course of many generations, discuss, revise, and expand on ideas received from the culture’s dominant texts.[10] I shall demonstrate the emergence of a feminist community of discourse, and show that these feminist scholars responded to the era’s changing theoretical paradigms not, as did some of their male contemporaries, with despair, anxiety, alienation, or a flight into the irrational but with a new sense of optimism and intellectual empowerment.[11]

The article will trace the debate on the origins of the family from its beginnings around 1860 until 1914, with a particular focus on the years after 1890. During the period from 1860 to 1890, the explosive expansion of data on human societies past and present provided the basis for the first evolutionary theories of the origins and development of the family. At first, these theories supported typically Victorian narratives of progress that affirmed Western forms of the patriarchal family as the culmination of human development. But around 1890, a turn to cultural relativism in the social sciences called all such paradigms—including the superiority of Western forms of the family—into question. Most existing accounts of this controversy—including those by feminist scholars—are centered chiefly or only on prominent male thinkers, and thus conclude that its result was the vindication of patriarchy.[12] I will argue that, on the contrary, the very conception of patriarchy as a historical phenomenon, contingent on time and place, provided the basis for the emergence of a feminist critique of male supremacy, in both the past and the present, that has continued throughout the century.

This critique of patriarchy emerged in the context of a much broader discourse, which included male and female, obscure and illustrious, anti-feminist and feminist speakers; the feminists’ contribution will be embedded in this context. All of the theorists to be included here came from the Western world, the majority from the German and English-speaking cultures, and some from France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. But the significance of their ideas was by no means confined to the West. As the following pages will show, the polarity of male and female was often used as an analogy through which other polar oppositions—such as prehistory and history, civilization and barbarism, reason and emotion, Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft—were understood. These concepts became central to the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychology, through which Western observers interpreted both their own and non-Western cultures. As many of the feminist authors to be quoted acknowledged, their critique of patriarchy would never have been possible without the awareness of cultural variation brought by encounters with other peoples. The impact of the transition to be discussed here, from Victorian myths of progress to cultural relativism, has shaped attitudes toward gender relations and toward non-Western cultures throughout the twentieth century.

The debate on the origins of patriarchy was, of course, not new in 1860. In fact, the seventeenth-century British philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes had recognized the bond of mothers to children as more natural, and thus in a sense more primary and fundamental, than that of fathers. Their conclusion, that the patriarchal family nonetheless had (in Locke’s words) a “Foundation in Nature” was not so much argued as asserted on the basis of the male’s natural superiority in strength and reason.[13] In the eighteenth century, missionaries such as the Jesuit Joseph François Lafitau reported matrilineal societies among the Iroquois and other Native American peoples and even speculated that this might have been the original form of the human family.[14] French women who belonged to the utopian socialist movements of the 1830s and 1840s were inspired by the Romantic movement’s exaltation of nature as a source of moral values to invoke the natural mother-child bond against the injustice of a civil-law system that gave total power in the family to husbands and fathers. One such socialist author passionately asserted (in an 1834 pamphlet), “Woman is the family, and the child should bear her name.”[15] But among the problems facing these early socialists was the lack of a historical basis for their challenge to the patriarchal family.

No such basis was provided by the major works on the history and status of women that appeared in the next two decades. For these works (chiefly written by male intellectuals) claimed that patriarchy had existed throughout human history. The French historian Ernest Laboulaye, who was among the first serious scholars of women’s history, concluded that existing French laws on the family, as enshrined in the Napoleonic Code, represented the culmination of a history of enlightened reform.[16] Auguste Comte, founder of the field of sociology, asserted authoritatively that the present-day status of women reflected “the natural subordination of woman, which has reappeared under all forms of marriage, in all ages.”[17] John Stuart Mill, though strongly dissenting from such views, nonetheless traced women’s subjection to “the very earliest twilight of human society,” when “every woman . . . was found in a state of bondage to some man,” and saw the improvement of women’s status as the necessary outcome of a general pattern of progress in Western society.[18]

By 1861, the center of the debate shifted to the new discipline of legal history. In a magisterial work, the British jurist Sir Henry Maine declared that the original basis of society was the patriarchal family, traceable not only to the Old Testament but to the Roman legal tradition that culminated in the conception of patria potestas. To Maine, whose chronological framework, based on biblical chronology, traced the age of the earth only to 4004 bce, these Old Testament and classical societies seemed very close to the origin of humanity. Maine did not intend to defend this form of the family; on the contrary, he criticized current British laws and, in his most famous formulation, advocated the necessary and beneficial progress of the marriage relation “from status to contract.”[19] However, even this representative example of the Victorian paradigm of progress also raised unanswerable questions. Maine, whose conception of historical development was based wholly on the decisions of lawmakers, could give no plausible explanation why this development had occurred only in Western societies.

In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, when biologically based theories of behavior had become central to scientific discourse—”for the apotheosis of Reason,” remarked Mill, “we have substituted that of Instinct”[20] —such an intellectually based theory of human development could not go unchallenged. The alternative view came from an unlikely source, for the Swiss legal scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen was as far removed from feminist controversy as any conservative patrician could be. Born in 1815 into the mercantile ruling class of Basel, Bachofen studied law in several European countries. In Berlin, he studied under the legal scholar Friedrich Karl von Savigny, the prime exponent of Romantic theories of law as the expression of the history and spirit of a people; in Paris, he may well have been exposed to the work of Laboulaye among other historians; in London, he visited the British Museum. During a scholarly sojourn in Rome, he observed, with great alarm, the revolutionary events of 1848. As democratic movements in Basel threatened the position of his class, Bachofen’s youthful liberalism swiftly gave way to disillusionment. In the 1850s, he gave up his university professorship and most of his public offices, withdrew to a comfortable life of independent scholarship, and pursued first medieval and then classical studies in a search for the roots from which he believed that the European civilization of his era had been so calamitously torn.[21]

At the time when Bachofen wrote, the modern fields of archaeology, anthropology, or ethnology hardly existed, and Troy, Mycenae, Knossos, and the cities of Mesopotamia were as yet unexcavated. In his search for the origins of human society, the Swiss scholar was drawn to the earliest period then known to classical scholarship, the archaic period of Greek civilization (about 1000 to 700 bce), which, in the context of the short biblical chronology, seemed close to the beginning of the human race.[22] Bachofen’s source material was limited to the relatively small number of artifacts and texts of that period to which he had access during his visits to Italy, Greece, and the British Museum. His scholarly method, which marked him as a belated representative of the Romantic movement, was regarded by his contemporaries as impossibly outdated and unscientific. This judgment has been affirmed by contemporary feminist scholars, who have criticized Bachofen for mistaking myth for history, as if his interpretation of myth had been simply erroneous or naïve.[23] But in many ways, Bachofen’s analysis of mythology as a form of symbolic expression, though it looked backward to the Romantic movement, also anticipated much later insights of psychoanalysis and modern social science. Certainly, he regarded mythology as a valid historical source, though not for a factual history of events—in fact, he regarded the era’s positivist historical method with great contempt. His interest, rather, was in the structures of knowledge and consciousness that underlay all events and functioned as “the lever of history.”[24] The window into these deeper structures was provided by the symbolic language of mythology, which he interpreted intuitively, through “the shorter path of the imagination, traversed with the force and swiftness of electricity.”[25] Bachofen (whose approach somewhat resembled that of present-day deconstructionists) read the texts of the archaic period with particular attention to their gaps, silences, and inconsistencies. These he attributed to an editing process through which traces of a more ancient narrative had been expunged from the historical record.

In a hefty and erudite volume (it contained many quotations in the original Greek) published in 1861, he announced his results: the theory that the earliest form of social organization had been based on what he called Mutterrecht, a family and kinship system centered on women. An elaborate evolutionary narrative explained this system’s rise, fall, and replacement by patriarchy. The history of the human race, Bachofen generalized, could be understood as a struggle to rise from the material and physical to the abstract and rational level. In its earliest and most “material” stages of development, the human race had lived not in orderly nuclear families but in a state of total sexual promiscuity under the auspices of the goddess of lust, Aphrodite. As fatherhood was not known, inheritance and family structure were matrilineal. The mother-child bond was the first social tie and the basis of the first moral sensibility. “Woman at this stage,” states a much-quoted passage, was “the repository of all culture, of all benevolence, of all devotion, of all concern for the living and grief for the dead.”[26] The term Mutterrecht denoted matrilineal inheritance and family structure, and not necessarily political rule by women; the use of “matriarchate” as a translation was thus often misleading. In fact, Bachofen portrayed this first, Hobbesian stage as one of male dominance and sexual exploitation of women; and he speculated that, although men liked this existence well enough, women found it nasty, brutish, and short. Through the moral authority conferred by motherhood, they forced men to enter into marriage and familial ties, thus initiating a more genuinely matriarchal second, or Demetrian phase, in which the goddess of grain presided over a settled rural culture, marked by a reverence for the earth and for natural processes, piety, hospitality, and solidarity: “an air of tender humanity permeates the culture of the matriarchal world.”[27]

But, as Bachofen recounted, this classical period of matriarchy was disrupted by women’s resort to arms and violence to defend their rule against male aggression. The female warriors, or Amazons, soon converted to the new cult of Dionysus, phallic god of male fertility, who transported his female votaries into wild ecstasies of drunkenness and lust, “showing how hard it is at all times for women to observe moderation.”[28] Such unfeminine excesses doomed the matriarchy, which was soon conquered by the forces of male supremacy. The victory of patriarchy was celebrated in the worship of male gods, such as Apollo, who symbolized the “heavenly light” of rationality. Maternity was a natural, paternity a legal relationship; and thus, Bachofen concluded, “the triumph of paternity brings with it the liberation of the spirit from the manifestations of nature, a sublimation of human existence over the laws of material life.”[29]

Bachofen’s text can be and (as we shall see) often was read as a classically “Victorian” narrative of progress and seamless development, justifying essentialist notions of male and female nature. Feminist authors of the 1970s rightly criticized his overtly Victorian notions of womanhood: “Bachofen’s matriarch is a far cry from today’s liberated women,” complained the anthropologist Joan Bamberger.[30] However, as LaCapra has pointed out, a reading based only on the author’s overt intentions can seldom capture either the complex, sometimes contradictory implications of a text or the many interpretive possibilities it offers.[31] In fact, many aspects of Bachofen’s narrative subverted rather than supported the conventional assumptions of his age. Ironically, considering his conservative distaste for the Enlightenment, Bachofen lent scholarly authority to one of that era’s most radical ideas: that the dominance of man over woman, like other political arrangements, was not inevitable but was contingent on time, place, and culture.[32] Moreover, this system of domination could never be secure, for the ascendancy of patriarchy depended on an imperfect process of what would later be called sublimation, and was constantly subverted by the forces of irrationality and emotionalism that Bachofen stereotyped as female, or “matriarchal.” The history of culture, he wrote, showed “how hard it has been for men, at all times and amid the most varied religious constellations, to overcome the inertia of material nature and to assume the highest calling, the sublimation of earthly existence to the purity of the divine father principle.”[33] And Bachofen’s tone subverted his overt message, for it was elegiac rather than triumphal—a conservative dislike for modern times spoke through his poetic evocation of the organic, pious, and pacific values of the lost matriarchal world. Finally, Bachofen’s picture of women was by no means totally “essentialist,” for as a Romantic, he reveled in myth and history as a treasury of the grotesque, marvelous, and fantastic, and lavished his considerable literary skill on pictures of women, not just as decorous matrons but as bloodthirsty warriors, stern despots, crazed Dionysian votaries, lustful sexual predators, even as poetic lesbians. Much material would later be found to fuel the feminist imagination here.

The failure of Bachofen’s weighty tome to gain public attention in the 1860s was due chiefly to its Romantic style, so alien to the positivist scholarly methods that were then at the height of their influence. But before his death in 1882, he saw many of his basic ideas affirmed by the new field of anthropology. In the 1860s, a change in chronological orientation, which the historian Thomas Trautmann has called the “time revolution,” replaced the short biblical chronology with a greatly lengthened estimate of the age of the earth and of the human race. The authority of biblical and classical texts as sources for the origins of human society was now discredited, and the focus of research shifted to existing non-Western societies, which seemed to offer more reliable insights into the period of human development now known as prehistory.[34] While invalidating Bachofen’s scientific framework, however, the new research paradoxically raised his status and visibility as a scholar by affirming some of his ideas, including the variability of forms of the family and the possibility, now confirmed by anthropological evidence, of woman-centered familial and kinship structures. Anthropologists first used this information to reinforce typical Victorian paradigms of progress, which ranked “savage” societies as the lowest and Western civilized societies as the highest stage of human development. “Men in savagery,” wrote the American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, had been providentially “left behind to testify concerning the early condition of mankind in general.”[35] Morgan, who had studied the Iroquois, asserted in 1877 that family organization everywhere had developed from promiscuity through matriarchy (meaning matrilineal inheritance and an equal position for women in society) to patriarchy. The Scottish anthropologist John Ferguson McLennan reached a similar conclusion even earlier, in 1865.[36] Although they had reached these results before they read Bachofen, Morgan and McLennan subsequently acknowledged the central importance of what Morgan called his “work of vast research.”[37]

In the 1880s, both the British anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor and the German Adolf Bastian, founders of the field in their respective countries, hailed Bachofen as a pioneer and affirmed the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy as an essential and universal stage in cultural development. But the integration of Bachofen’s theory into a narrative of progress from “low” to “high” civilization required the anthropologists to ignore, refute, or ridicule the aspects of his theory that questioned conventional beliefs in progress, including his interest in the mythology and legends of cultures that the new generation of scholars considered primitive. Though conceding that women’s status might be higher in societies with matrilineal or matrilocal family structures, most ethnologists believed that actual female political dominance, which could not be documented in existing societies, was a fantasy. Most portrayed the period they called “matriarchal” as a brutal and barbarous period and patriarchy, though oppressive to women, as a step forward in the evolution of human culture. Morgan attributed the rise of patriarchy to the accumulation of property in the hands of men, and the British anthropologist Sir John Lubbock likewise to both the rise of private property and the development of familial love, which he identified with the recognition of paternity.[38] As Elizabeth Fee points out, the overt and intentional content of early anthropological works thus certainly confirmed conventional beliefs in male supremacy.[39]

However, the expanded view of human prehistory, which had seen the rise and fall of so many human cultures, also left all essentialist notions of human nature open to contestation. The German-born socialists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were voracious readers of anthropological literature, particularly of the works of Morgan.[40] In his treatise The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, written in 1884, after the death of Marx but faithful to his ideas, Engels asserted that the age of primitive matriarchy had been marked by gender equality and communal ownership of property, and that the establishment of private ownership in land and slaves had brought the “world-historical defeat of the female sex.”[41] The victory of patriarchy had brought the reign not of superior rationality but of inequality and injustice.

Many works of socialist authors, among whom the most widely read was the head of the German Social Democratic Party, August Bebel, shared Engels’s conception of the history of the family.[42] Their polemic against bourgeois marriage was based firmly on Bachofen’s theory of primordial promiscuity, which Morgan had confirmed. Marriage, argued these socialist theorists, was not a universal aspect of human culture but had arisen only when men sought to ensure orderly inheritance by including women among their ever more numerous possessions. Engels and Bebel certainly did not advocate a return to “mother-right,” which they too regarded as a primitive stage of civilization. By placing the struggle of the sexes in prehistory, the socialist theorists effectively removed it from the present; in fact, by subsuming women within the family, they denied them any other interests than those of the men of their class. Nonetheless, socialist theorists firmly insisted that patriarchy was not the culmination of a history of progress but an evanescent stage in human development that would give way to egalitarian forms of marriage and society.[43]

The same questioning about the transition from female-headed to male-headed forms of the family was also carried on in the new field of sociology. The influential Herbert Spencer, founder of the field in Britain, used anthropological data to support his theory of “Social Darwinism,” which applied the laws of natural selection to the development of society. The matrilineal family, he asserted, had been inadequate to provide for its offspring; only fathers could adequately protect women and children, and thus prevailing forms of monogamous marriage were “the natural form of sexual relation for the human race.”[44] But the assumption that patriarchy meant progress was vigorously challenged by the American sociologist Lester Frank Ward, who devoted much of his career to exposing and contesting Spencer’s use of Darwinian theory to justify a complacent acceptance of the economic and political status quo. Ward, a convinced socialist and feminist, argued that evolutionary advantage was conferred by cooperation as well as by competition, and that the evolution of the brain had endowed human beings with the potential for more rational forms of social organization. Ward reversed dominant assumptions about gender by attributing the power to transcend “nature” through rationality to females. He based his “gynecocentric” theory of social evolution on anthropological discoveries, including “the astonishingly extensive researches of Bachofen,” the works of Morgan, and on alternative interpretations of Darwinian biology. In all species from insects to human beings, he claimed that the female was the stronger and more essential organism and the male “a mere afterthought of nature.”[45] Drawing on Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, Ward insisted that in early human beings as in other animal species, females had originally exercised dominance in selecting their male mates as well as in other aspects of life. The matriarchal period, a period of motherly nurture, order, and nonviolence, had been disrupted only by male usurpation of power, from which all social problems, such as war, inequality, and disease, had resulted. Ward envisaged the reconciliation of the sexes through new and egalitarian forms of romantic love.[46]

Thus, by the 1890s, the Victorian narratives of progress that had justified the rise of patriarchy had already been contested, and their erosion provided an opening for some of the first explicitly feminist scholarly interpretations. The very prominent and visible American feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage had argued since the 1870s that the Christian churches constituted the major obstacle to the advancement of women.[47] Both Stanton and Gage were thus receptive to Bachofen’s thesis, to which Stanton was introduced by the British scientist and active feminist Karl Pearson in 1890.[48] Although unable to read Bachofen’s Das Mutterrecht in the original (which was not, and in fact has never been, fully translated into English), the American feminists could learn of its central argument from the many English-language scholarly works they used in their research, among which those of Morgan figured prominently.

Their studies resulted in two of the earliest and most significant works of feminist history: Stanton’s “The Matriarchate or Mother-Age,” first delivered as an address to the National Council of Women in 1891, and Gage’s Woman, Church and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Women through the Christian Ages; With Reminiscences of the Matriarchate, first published in 1893. Although dependent on the work of male scholars, both authors also specifically contradicted conventional associations of patriarchy with progress. They refused to accept the view of the matriarchal period as a primitive phase; on the contrary, they argued that this system had prevailed in many high civilizations, including that of ancient Egypt.[49] Although Gage denied that matrilineal institutions had their origin in an age of sexual promiscuity, the less conventional Stanton was quite prepared to admit that women had first gained supremacy during a period when “sex relations being transitory and promiscuous, the idea of paternity was unknown.”[50] Both portrayed the matriarchate in its period of mature development as a model of female humanitarianism, justice, and equality. And both turned Bachofen on his head; the triumph of patriarchy was not a victory for order and rationality but rather for all kinds of regression. The patriarchate, insisted Gage, “was the rule of men whose lives and religion were based on passions of the grossest kind.”[51] The witch burnings of the Christian Middle Ages, both speculated, had brought the final defeat of matriarchal institutions and the descent of a patriarchal dark age.[52]

Feminist scholars not only reversed the still-conventional narrative of progress, but in the process they developed the epistemological perspective that was characteristic of the 1890s: the critique of claims to objectivity and the perception of the subjective element in all knowledge. Gage attributed androcentric theological traditions to “the overheated fires of [male] feeling”; Stanton argued that male historians wrote from their “own true inwardness” and that women must “question all historians, sacred and profane, who teach by examples or precepts any philosophy that lowers the status of the mothers of the race.”[53] And for Stanton and Gage, the challenge to objectivity produced not anxiety or doubt but a new optimism and confidence. “The assertion that women have always been physically inferior to men, and consequently have always been held in a subject condition, has been universally believed,” Stanton argued. “The worst feature of these assumptions is that women themselves believe them . . . Fortunately historical research has at last proved the fallacy of these assumptions and all the arguments that grow out of them.”[54] However, the attempts of Gage and Stanton to gain acceptance for this view of women’s history within a mainstream, organized feminist movement failed, for such movements in the United States were dominated by the religious women who would later likewise reject the great project of Stanton’s last years, The Woman’s Bible, which also contained references to the “matriarchate.”[55] Perhaps for this reason, the works of Stanton and Gage were seldom cited by the next generation of feminist intellectuals.

In the decade of the 1890s, this view of matriarchy as a universal early stage in the development of human society was increasingly called into question by the newest research in the academic fields of biology, anthropology, and ethnology.[56] Darwinian theory, the social implications of which were first fully explored during this decade, compared the family patterns of human beings to those of other animals.[57] Among the most influential of the Darwinian theorists was the Finnish anthropologist Edward Westermarck. The aspect of Bachofen’s and Morgan’s theories that Westermarck sought to refute was the assumption, disturbing to the defenders of Christian morality, that the original and therefore perhaps the most “natural” state of human sexuality was promiscuity. Westermarck’s widely read book on the origins of the family, first published in 1891, used arguments originated by Darwin to dismiss this possibility and to assert the universality of male dominance. From “what we know of the jealousy of all male quadrupeds, promiscuous intercourse is utterly unlikely to prevail in a state of nature,” Westermarck argued.[58] Likewise, the period’s most influential work on the origins of religion, James George Frazer’s Golden Bough (first published in 1890) insisted that, despite the existence of matrifocal kinship systems and mother-goddesses, both marriage and male dominance were universal aspects of culture in past and present.[59]

But the effect of the new research was to introduce new questions rather than to provide answers. By the daunting profusion of his examples, Westermarck had in fact dissolved normative notions about the family and gender relations in what the sociologist C. Wright Mills later called a “lethal bath of facts” showing the immense variation in codes of sexual morality across time and space.[60] Likewise, Frazer, who found the resemblance between “savage” and Christian religious practices disturbingly close, undermined confidence in the moral superiority of Western religion and culture. These works thus dealt a major blow to linear theories of progress and encouraged the turn to cultural relativism, which affected many aspects of social-science research after 1900. As George W. Stocking remarks, this era saw the beginnings of the process of dehistoricization, through which anthropology and other social sciences changed their focus from evolution through time to variety among and within existing cultures.[61] The struggle between “primitive” and “civilized” values was no longer seen as past but as present, played out in contemporary society and, increasingly, in the individual psyche. In this context, Bachofen’s work was open to a host of new interpretations. To be sure, the factual accuracy of his picture of primeval matriarchy was largely discredited in the light of more reliable data. But other aspects of his scholarly approach that had been ridiculed by the previous generation, such as his view of mythology and symbolism as windows into human consciousness, were greeted with a new enthusiasm by innovators in such fields as sociology, psychology, and psychoanalysis. Many of Bachofen’s central insights—the culture-producing role of women and mothers, patriarchy as imperfect sublimation, gender relations as the basis of symbolic representation—now influenced new theoretical interpretations of contemporary Western society and the psychic forces that drove it.

Among the most important works that drew on Bachofen as well as many other texts was the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies’ path-breaking work Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society), first published in 1887 but not widely read until the turn of the century. Tönnies held that social bonding arose from human individual psychology and took two forms: Gemeinschaft, or community, and Gesellschaft, or society. In his preface, Tönnies paid tribute to “the inordinately informative insight with which Bachofen (Mutterrecht) and Morgan (Ancient Society) have penetrated the history of the family, the community, and institutions in general.”[62] The concept of Gemeinschaft, or community, was based in part on Bachofen’s picture of the matriarchate—it was the organic, traditional, and emotional bond of family, village, and tribe, epitomized by the mother-child relationship. Gesellschaft, by contrast, was the impersonal, rational, and legally regulated bond linking members of a commercial or business corporation, state bureaucracy, or other such structure, and its quintessential expression was the contract. These categories, in which all of social life was contained, were gendered; Tönnies designated Gemeinschaft as a feminine and Gesellschaft as a masculine principle, and sometimes used gender relations as an analogy for other fundamental social oppositions: “as the sexes depend upon living together . . . so stand country and city, the mass of the people and the ruling class, in mutual dependence on each other.”[63]

The history of modern society, in Tönnies’ analysis, had brought the predominance of Gesellschaft over Gemeinschaft, and thus the repression of female by male values. Tönnies contested the conventional association of this development with “progress.” In the same elegiac tone in which Bachofen had lamented the decline of the matriarchy, he deplored the estrangement of the modern individual from the sustaining energies of home, soil, and family.[64] Tönnies’ sociology thus broadened Marx’s basic concept of alienation by adding a psychological and sociological dimension to its original economic meaning.[65] However, because he identified the male-stereotyped values of Gesellschaft with civilization, he saw little possibility for the return of Gemeinschaft, although late in his career he hoped that socialism might bring back some of the lost spirit of community.[66]

The gendered categories of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft became basic to the development of sociology at the turn of the century. Building on Tönnies’ concept of alienation, Georg Simmel asserted that modern society had created cultural forms and institutions (objective culture) that, though originally intended to enhance human possibilities, had become detached and estranged from the human spirit that produced them and thus operated to confine and constrain it. Like Tönnies’ Gesellschaft, Simmel’s “objective culture” was distinctively male: “there is no sense in which culture exists in a domain that lies beyond man and woman. It is rather the case that . . . our objective culture is thoroughly male.”[67] By suppressing the female, who for Simmel embodied subjectivity, emotional integrity, and a holistic view of reality, male objective culture had cut itself off from the wellspring of its original energies. Simmel, though a feminist, saw little prospect of women’s advancement, for, as culture was essentially male, women could not participate in its creation without denying their basic nature.[68] Simmel influenced Max Weber, the most prominent sociologist of the era, who also insisted that the triumph of rationality and calculation over female-identified emotionality was necessary—any reversal of the process would bring disorder—and developed the metaphor of civilization as an “iron cage” to express both the inevitability and the tragedy of this development.[69] These German sociologists gained international prominence as innovators in their field and interpreters of problems that were widely regarded as common to all modern Western societies.

Such prestigious figures as Tönnies, Weber, and Simmel are often taken as representative of an age of anxiety and pessimism; as H. Stuart Hughes remarks of Weber, the vision of the future that they offered “was bleak in the extreme.”[70] But in describing alienation as a universally human experience, these sociologists had failed to apply their own critique of objectivity self-reflexively and to recognize the element of subjectivity in their own ideas.[71] By contrast to this male academic elite, whose traditional cultural authority was threatened in the modern world, most feminist intellectuals of this era did not view modernity with such pessimism—though acknowledging that patriarchy was indeed an iron cage, they aspired to escape from it. The many feminist theorists of this era who cited Bachofen’s and other similar theories were not primarily interested in proving the historical existence of matriarchy; in fact, many acknowledged that the scientific evidence for such a period was ambiguous. Rather, they used the concepts of matriarchy and patriarchy (as Tönnies had used “community” and “society”) as ideal types, or generalized models through which to interpret complex issues. Some of the hottest public debates of the period—centered on such issues as the reform of family law, the rights of unmarried mothers and their children, the support of mothers by the state, and sexual morality—provided the context for feminists’ assertions of the importance of motherhood to culture. Das Mutterrecht was a useful source because it described various phases of “mother-right,” from promiscuity to the orderly, female-headed household, and could thus support varied approaches to sexual morality.

In France, a translation of the introduction to Das Mutterrecht was undertaken in 1903 by a small and vocal group of feminists, the French Group for Feminist Studies (Groupe Français d’Etudes Féministes), who focused their efforts chiefly on the reform of marriage law. They translated only Bachofen’s ample introduction (the entire volume, they explained, would have been too long and therefore too expensive for most women to buy) and struggled valiantly with the “interminable sentences in which, according to the genius of the German language, the meaning appears only with the very last word.”[72] In their introduction, the group’s president, Jeanne Oddo-Deflou, remarked specifically on the androcentric bias of supposedly objective male scholarship and noted caustically that the rejection of Bachofen’s thesis by male academics was all the more reason for feminists to take an interest in it. She rejected male scholars’ association of matriarchy with primitivism and emotionality, and of patriarchy with rationality. Like Stanton, she asserted that the mother-age civilization, in which institutions and government promoted human health and welfare, had been supremely rational. It was patriarchy that had led the human race into irrationality, the prime example of which was the legal primacy given to the rights of fathers over those of mothers; other abuses had followed from this.[73] Even though Oddo-Deflou reveled in aspects of Bachofen’s work, such as the exuberantly imaginative portrayal of women that more conventional scholars had dismissed, she was clearly much less interested in the historical accuracy of such images than in their symbolic appeal. She depicted the Amazons as role models for later feminist generations, although she reassured readers that contemporary Amazons aspired to conquer “without helmet or breast-plate . . . in the arena of reason.”[74]

In 1905, the Group for Feminist Studies founded a periodical, L’entente, which published articles not only on the matriarchate but on many other aspects of women’s history. The group became the center of an intellectual avant-garde stressing women’s right to higher education and professional development as well as the reform of family law.[75]

French socialist feminists developed a more explicitly Marxist version of this same discourse on prehistory. The prominent theorist Aline Valette harked back to an original female-headed culture that had been destroyed by male expropriation of mothers’ rights to their children—a prototype, she asserted, of the later capitalist expropriation of the workers’ right to the value of their labor. Both feminist groups envisaged the result of the downfall of patriarchy not as a new mother-age but as an age of gender equality.[76]

In the English-speaking world, where women gained access to academic positions much earlier than their continental counterparts, the feminist challenge to patriarchal bias began to have a substantial impact on some academic disciplines. Among the best known of this first generation of women academics was Jane Ellen Harrison, a distinguished classical scholar and fellow of Girton College, Cambridge. Harrison was a member of a school known as the Cambridge Ritualists (also including such prominent Oxonians as Gilbert Murray), which used methods derived from the social sciences, particularly anthropology, to develop new perspectives on the Greek and Latin classics.[77] Friedrich Nietzsche, who was deeply influenced by Bachofen, had modified conventional pictures of a rational and virtuous Greek civilization by emphasizing the Greeks’ emotional and licentious (or Dionysian) proclivities.[78] Harrison cited Bachofen as well as other anthropological literature to argue that the ancient matrilineal society of Greece had revered the forces of life, nature, change, and sexuality through its worship of male and female nature deities such as Dionysus. Later Greek civilizations had replaced these deities with the male-dominated Olympic pantheon (headed by the domestic tyrant Zeus) in order to impose the patriarchal conservatism that still dominated Western civilization. “In the Homeric Olympians,” declared Harrison, who had defied her own conventional family to become a scholar, “we see mirrored a family group of the ordinary patriarchal type, a type so familiar that it hardly arrests attention.”[79] Thus for Harrison, the idea of a matriarchal past reinforced not essentialized images of womanhood but, on the contrary, a critique of patriarchal religion in the classical past and in contemporary Western society.

Matriarchal theories also inspired many English-speaking feminist theorists of this period; only two prominent examples can be given here. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, among the most scientifically sophisticated and original minds produced by American feminism, was a great admirer of Lester Ward and his gynecocentric theory; “nothing so important to humanity,” she insisted, had “been advanced since the theory of evolution.”[80] Among the other influences on Gilman as well as on many of her contemporaries was the work of the American anthropologist Otis Tufton Mason, who had concluded from the profuse anthropological data on the role of women in non-Western cultures that women had been the original creators of industry, the arts, government, religion, and most other aspects of civilization.[81] Gilman argued that women had originally been the dominant sex, which needed men only (as in some animal species) for purposes of fertilization. “The woman, the mother,” she declared in her treatise of 1911, “is the first coordinator, legislator, and executive.”[82] The contemporary “androcentric culture,” based on an irrational glorification of the trivial male fertilizing function, had “resulted in arresting the development of half the world.”[83] For Gilman, “the matriarchate” functioned much more as an imaginative than as a scientific concept. Her fictional account of an all-female utopia, Herland, contested the conventional categories of social science by showing emotion and rationality, community and society as perfectly harmonious rather than in conflict.[84]

The British feminist Frances Swiney, who was the head of the Cheltenham Suffrage Society as well as a widely published author, cited Bachofen, Morgan, Ward, and Mason in support of a central concern of British suffragists of her era—the struggle against venereal disease, prostitution, and child mortality. Swiney was not the first to popularize these authors in Britain, for in the 1890s their theories had been discussed by such prominent reformers as the socialist and biologist Karl Pearson and the feminist author Mona Caird, both of whom were ardent believers in the “mother-age,” and the essayist and novelist Olive Schreiner, a skeptic.[85] Swiney glowingly described a golden age when male sexuality had been disciplined by women to serve the needs of orderly reproduction and health. Her best-known treatise, The Bar of Isis, lauded the decree of this ancient mother-goddess making sexual intercourse during pregnancy and lactation unlawful. Violation of this decree by the “abnormal and fostered sexuality of the human male,” she charged, had undermined the health of women, children, and the population generally and made women’s bodies into “the refuse-heap of sexual pathology.”[86] The League of Isis, a society Swiney founded in 1907, heralded a new age of empowered motherhood in pamphlets with such titles as “The Mother of the Race.”[87] The ideas of both Gilman and Swiney were publicized in the periodicals of the British suffrage and other reform organizations.[88] Most British and American suffragists evoked the matriarchal past in support of what was called the “social purity” argument, which upheld traditional standards of female sexual morality but insisted that men, too, must follow them.[89]

However, matriarchal theories could also be used to challenge such standards, and this was by far their most controversial and notorious application. In the Netherlands and Germany, highly public debates on family law, and especially on the legal status of unmarried mothers and their children, raised questions about patriarchal family organization. Feminist groups attributed the shockingly high rate of infant mortality among “illegitimate” children to laws that in the Netherlands forbade paternity suits altogether and in Germany limited child-support obligations. Whereas most feminists in both countries argued for the enforcement of paternal responsibility, small but vocal groups dissented. Citing Bachofen in support of their contention that matriliny was the oldest and most “natural” form of the family, they argued that unmarried mothers should not be forced to undergo the humiliation of paternity suits but should instead receive financial support and legal recognition from the state.

In the Netherlands, this argument emanated chiefly from a small group who in the period 1893–1895 contributed to the journal Evolutie, published by the organization Vrije Vrouwen (Free Women) and edited by Wihelmine Drucker.[90] In Germany, it was most conspicuously advanced by a group founded in 1905, the Bund für Mutterschutz (League for the Protection of Mothers). The group’s founder was Ruth Bré (her real name was Elisabeth Bouness), who was herself an illegitimate child. Bré proposed that unmarried mothers should form a matriarchal colony of mothers and children in the countryside, and she called on the state to support this scheme. The league soon attracted prominent figures: bourgeois feminists such as Helene Stöcker, socialists such as Lily Braun and Henriette Fürth, as well as some male sexual reformers. This new leadership rejected Bré’s utopian plan on both theoretical and practical grounds. Matriarchy, insisted Helene Stöcker, had been a primitive phase of an evolutionary process that should result in the reconciliation rather than the separation of men and women.[91] Likewise, Drucker and other Dutch feminists declared that parental responsibility should be shared by men and women.

But both the German and the Dutch groups attacked the moral code that sacrificed the rights of mothers and children to those of fathers, and both demanded equal inheritance rights for illegitimate children and the support of single mothers by some form of state-sponsored insurance. A major source of theoretical and practical ideas for the League for the Protection of Mothers was the Swedish reformer Ellen Key. Though not a believer in primeval matriarchy, Key affirmed Bachofen’s theory that women’s motherly love had been the first form of altruism in human society, and thus the source of all “helpfulness, compassion, far-thinking tenderness, personal love.”[92] She was among the first feminist theorists to propose that the state must take some responsibility for supporting children, a provision that would enable women to fulfill their desire for children without dependence on men. Key asserted that mother-headed families, though an offense to conventional notions of morality and propriety, were not contrary to nature, for they replicated “the arrangement which is already found in the lower stages of civilization, the arrangement which nature herself created.”[93] Many members of the league went further to affirm what they called the New Ethic: the right of women to choose their own forms of sexual self-expression, within or outside marriage.[94] Many also advocated women’s right to control their reproductive lives through access to contraception and to legalized abortion. A vision of motherhood as a creative and life-giving force, free of patriarchal restraint, inspired the program of these sex reformers. “Inviolable and universally valid is not marriage, this contract regulating sexual relations, but motherhood alone,” wrote the German socialist Henriette Fürth, “the creative principle underlying all that is.”[95]

The New Ethic was supported in the Netherlands only by a few intellectuals and in Germany chiefly by supporters of the League for the Protection of Mothers, which, though its total membership of 3,800 was large for such a radical group, included only a small minority of German feminists. Nonetheless, the influence of these groups on public discourse was out of all proportion to their size. The New Ethic became the fashionable topic of the day, and the German sexual radicals, in particular, influenced debates on sexual morality throughout the Western world.[96] Many members of mainstream feminist movements were alarmed at the implications of the new theories for the institution of marriage, for they feared that the subversion of laws on marriage and the normative status of the two-parent family might have disastrous consequences for the many women who were still dependent on male breadwinners.

Among the most scholarly and thoughtful of such moderate feminists was Marianne Weber, a leader of the mainstream German feminist organization, the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (League of German Women’s Organizations). As early as 1904, Marianne Weber had warned against the tendency to believe that the matriarchal era was a “lost paradise.”[97] Both she and her eminent husband, Max Weber, condemned the League for the Protection of Mothers as (in Max’s professorial opinion) “an utterly confused bunch,” who advocated “crass hedonism and an ethics that would benefit only men.”[98] In her monumental study, Wife and Mother in Legal History, published in 1907, Marianne devoted an entire chapter to a refutation of Bachofen and his socialist interpreters. Matrilineal family structures, she argued, had not constituted a universal first stage of civilization, and where they had existed had not ensured a high status for women, who were usually under the control of male relatives. And marriage had not enslaved but, on the contrary, advanced women by guaranteeing the legitimate status of their children.[99] Max, who was likewise concerned about the use or misuse of scholarship to support political agendas, supported these views.[100]

However, Marianne also argued that, just as the family had evolved throughout prehistoric and historic time, it must continue to change in the direction of equality. She advocated not only equal rights for women over property and children but also divorce by mutual consent. And both she and Max, who had engaged in “countless confidential conversations” with their friends concerning personal ethics, admitted that the ideal of monogamous marriage was not attainable by everyone. Marianne emphasized in a speech of 1907 that people who did not live according to this ideal should not therefore automatically be regarded as immoral. As his biographer Arthur Mitzman has noted, Max’s idea of “charisma,” the revitalizing force that overcomes alienation and restores emotional wholeness, was in many ways informed by this new view of sexual morality.[101]

Another kind of objection, equally important for the future development of feminism, was raised by the French socialist feminist Madeleine Pelletier. As an amateur anthropologist, Pelletier was skeptical about the historical existence of matriarchy.[102] As a clear-sighted and uncompromising critic of gender stereotypes, she saw many dangers in her fellow feminists’ high-flown exaltation of the maternal role, which she perceived as confining rather than liberating. Men’s respect for motherhood or worship of mother-goddesses had not brought women equality in the past, nor would it in the future. “Future societies may build temples to motherhood,” snapped Pelletier, “but only to lock women into them.”[103]

Whatever their disagreements, all of these feminist thinkers cited the evolutionary history of the family to support their contention that, like earlier forms of the family, its present-day forms were also destined for extinction. Pelletier militantly advocated the right of women to control or to reject reproduction altogether through legalized contraception and abortion. Along with many other socialists, such as the American Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the Germans Lily Braun and Henriette Fürth, and the British Alice Melvin and H. G. Wells, she envisaged new forms of family organization such as the collective household, where married and single residents would share common kitchen, laundry, and child-care facilities.[104] A particularly controversial contribution to this discussion came from the young American anthropologist and student of Franz Boas, Elsie Clews Parsons, who was also influenced by the French Group for Feminist Studies.[105] In a book entitled The Family, which was published in 1906 as a textbook for college courses, Parsons admitted that the existence and extent of the matriarchal stage of family development was “a matter of controversy.”[106] But she was in no doubt that present-day forms of male supremacy were subject to the same evolutionary forces that had shaped the family throughout its history. In order to adapt to the social conditions of the present, she argued, the family must change to provide economic independence and reproductive self-determination for women, freedom of divorce and remarriage, and tolerance for premarital sexual relations and temporary “trial marriages.” In fact, she speculated, with advancing contraceptive technology, “the need for sexual restraint as we understand it may disappear.”[107] “The morality of the barnyard!” fumed the New York Herald; “the most revolutionary and indecent performance of anything I have ever heard,” agreed the reviewer for the Evening Sun.[108]

By 1900, the discussion of the origins and evolution of the family had become so pervasive that it included many diverse groups and provided the basis for a variety of philosophical and literary agendas. Much the best-known and most influential reception of Bachofen was by a predominantly male German avant-garde, located in Munich and clustered around the charismatic poet Stefan George. The George circle, which included many openly homosexual men, so epitomized the intellectual counter-culture of the German Empire that it was known as “das geheime Deutschland” (secret Germany). Many members of this group had connections to other prominent theorists, such as the Webers, Simmel, and the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung.[109] In 1897, a subgroup that called itself the “Cosmic Circle” (Kosmische Runde), and was headed by the philosopher Ludwig Klages, the classical scholar Karl Wolfskehl, and the poet Alfred Schuler, made Das Mutterrecht into a cult classic.[110] Even this male-dominated group was not insulated from feminist criticism. The liveliest account of the group is a novel (Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen, or Mr. Dame’s Notes) written by one of its female members, the Countess Franziska zu Reventlow, who, like her contemporary Thomas Mann, had escaped from a proper North German family to lead a bohemian life in the Munich artists’ quarter of Schwabing. “Bachofen is a well-known scholar,” Reventlow’s protagonist is told when he arrives in Schwabing, “and if you want to live permanently in our neighborhood, you must read him.”[111]

For the Cosmic Circle, the world of Bachofen’s matriarchy was what Jung would later term the collective unconscious—in the words of Klages, “the original consciousness (Urbewußtsein) of the human race”—which had too long been repressed by a now decadent and declining civilization.[112] They proclaimed the imminent return of matriarchy, which would put an end to rationality, Christian ethics, and modern technological and social progress and liberate the bracing and purgative forces of sex, race, and blood. This vision included the “liberation” of women through sexual promiscuity and a matrilineal family structure that made paternity irrelevant. “According to Bachofen, hetaerism [promiscuity] was the earliest life-style,” remarks a female character in Reventlow’s novel, “and in Wahnmoching [Schwabing] we also think it’s just the greatest [die enormste].”[113]

The Cosmic Circle, like the rest of George’s entourage, rejected all of the goals of feminism along with all other manifestations of modernity. Reventlow became known as the epitome of matriarchal morality through her sexual adventures and her refusal to name the father of the resulting son, but she nonetheless saw the misogynist, racist, and generally reactionary implications of the group’s agenda. Not only did she poke fun at costume balls at which staid professors appeared dressed as Dionysus and engaged in pompous revelries, but she perceived that this male-defined conception of sexual “liberation” did not, in the end, liberate women: “for most of them,” reflects one of her characters, “it’s actually a misfortune.”[114] And she also saw the cult’s most sinister possibility: the creation of a pseudo-scholarly basis for the Aryan racial myth. The Cosmic Circle broke up due to the anti-Semitism of Ludwig Klages, who blamed the Jews for the development of patriarchal religion and thus for all the evils of civilization and turned this vitriolic accusation against his Jewish colleague, Wolfskehl.[115] During the 1920s, anti-Semitic interpretations of Bachofen would reinforce the growth of National Socialist ideology.

Thus in the pre-war era, the disturbing vision of female power evoked by the term “matriarchy” was no longer relegated to prehistory but was used in the present, by feminists and anti-feminists alike, to attack revered ideals of family, gender, and sexual morality. The apprehensions that this critique aroused were powerfully expressed in the visual arts of the era, in which themes from classical mythology were often used to depict the threat to civilization posed by the anarchic force of unchained feminine power.[116] Popular works such as Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character (1903) likewise warned against the threat to Western culture posed by the growing influence of women, whom Weininger associated with irrationality and sexual disorder.[117] In the immediate pre-war years, the flamboyant and destructive tactics adopted by British militant suffragettes added to these fears. In a widely read novel of 1909, Ann Veronica, H. G. Wells strongly suggested that the new theories of prehistory and history encouraged the “bitter vindictiveness” and the “hostility to men” that he embodied in a fictional suffragette, Miss Miniver. “The primitive government was the Matriarchate. The Matriarchate!” she stridently proclaims. “The Lords of Creation just ran about and did what they were told.”[118]

Freudian psychoanalysis, one of this period’s most influential theoretical projects, was reckoned by its contemporary critics among the symptoms of this sexual disorder, but it can also be understood as an attempt to contain sex through the restabilization of patriarchy. In its fundamental philosophical and psychological assumptions, psychoanalysis owed much to the Romantic movement, and to Bachofen as its belated representative.[119] During the years 1912–1913, the debate on the origin of the family was central to the development of the psychoanalytic movement, as it was shaped by the schism between the followers of Sigmund Freud and those of his former protégé, Carl Gustav Jung. Jung was born in Basel, where Bachofen had become a legend in academic circles, and his works of this era, although they did not cite Bachofen (who was not considered scientifically reputable) clearly showed his influence. The primary attachment to the mother in the individual psyche corresponded, in Jung’s system, to the original matriarchal phase of human development.[120] Among the many issues in the Freud-Jung controversy was Freud’s theory that the Oedipus complex—the (male) child’s incestuous desire for the mother and sexual rivalry with the father—was the universal basis of personality development. In a letter of 1912, Jung asked Freud how the Oedipus complex could have developed during the “early, cultureless period of matriarchy . . . There, the father was purely fortuitous and counted for nothing, so he would not have had the slightest interest (considering the general promiscuity) in enacting laws against the son. (In fact, there was no such thing as a father’s son).”[121] During these years, Jung was strongly attracted to the ideas of the Cosmic Circle (to which he was exposed through his colleague and patient Otto Gross); he, too, was determined to overthrow the sexual repression enforced by patriarchal religious and family structure and to return to the more permissive morality he associated with the matriarchal past.[122] Freud’s assertion of the universality of patriarchy was at the same time a defense of psychoanalysis against cooptation by the advocates of a sexual radicalism he abhorred. “Many authors regard a primordial state of promiscuity as unlikely,” responded Freud to Jung. “Mother-right should not be confused with gynaecocracy . . . Mother-right is perfectly compatible with the polygamous abasement of woman. It seems likely that there have been father’s sons at all times.”[123]

Freud’s treatise of 1913, Totem and Taboo, used anthropological data to explore the origins of patriarchy. The theoretical background to this work was the controversy over the origin of the incest taboo, which had been found to be common to all human societies. Among “primitive” peoples, anthropologists such as the British W. Robertson Smith, James George Frazer, and J. J. Atkinson had discovered that rules regulating intermarriage were enforced through the creation of groups who were forbidden to marry among themselves. These groups often imagined a distinctive totem animal as a common father and revered him through ritual feasts.[124] Atkinson started from Darwin’s picture of the original human family as a horde ruled by a single dominant male, who had sexual access to all the females and drove away his sons when they became sexual rivals. He speculated that at some point one of the females had managed to prevent the banishment of her sons by inducing them to renounce sexual relations with female members of the group, thus establishing the incest taboo, the totem group, and the law of exogamy.[125]

Freud drew a more bloodthirsty picture: the adolescent sons, mad with desire for the females of the group, had banded together to kill and cannibalize the father. But then, stricken with terrible guilt, they had renounced the rewards of their crime, the sexual possession of the females, and had raised the murdered father to the status of a god (originally the totem), whom they periodically placated through the ritual enactment of the original murder and cannibal feast. Freud conceded that a period of female dominance corresponding to Bachofen’s “matriarchy” might have existed after the father’s murder, but the creation of a new patriarchal system had soon followed. Thus patriarchy, and its enforcement through the Oedipus complex, had developed from “this memorable, criminal act with which so many things began, social organization, moral restrictions, and religion.”[126] Freud confessed himself at a loss to “indicate the place of the great maternal deities who perhaps everywhere preceded the paternal deities,” for he considered that God had always been “at bottom . . . just an exalted father.”[127]

Freud’s anthropology was soon challenged by experts. However, the Freudian theory of the human personality became immensely important to the culture of the 1920s, and thus has often been identified by historians as a factor in the decline of feminism during that decade.[128] But the implications of Freudian theory for feminism have in fact been more ambiguous. Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex recast Bachofen’s narrative: in the life of each individual, an era of maternal love and permissiveness (infancy) is ended through the imposition of patriarchy in the form of the internalized enforcement of the incest taboo, which becomes the basis of the child’s entry into the adult world.[129] By reconceptualizing a historical process as a psychic one, Freud did indeed argue that the origins of patriarchy were, and must be, replicated in each individual’s development. But he nonetheless retained many aspects of the narrative’s original structure as a story of conflict, repression, and sublimation. For Freud, gender consciousness is not entirely an innate characteristic but develops over the life of the individual, partly in response to culture. Thus the Freudian framework has accommodated some important feminist works, including those of Simone de Beauvoir.[130] And Freud himself did not glorify patriarchy but shared some of his contemporaries’ perceptions of its negative consequences: the reign of the father-gods still caused neurosis and misery. “It must be said that the revenge of the deposed and reinstated father has been very cruel,” he concluded in Totem and Taboo; “it culminated in the dominance of authority.”[131]

In 1913, in the same year as Freud wrote, the British suffragist and journalist Catherine Gascoigne Hartley told the same story with a more positive outcome to emphasize not the universality but the evanescence of patriarchy.[132] Hartley, who was widely read in feminist and other progressive circles, had much the same qualifications (or lack of them) for this intellectual task as her eminent contemporary; she, too, was an amateur in the field of anthropology, and she had read the same body of literature, including Bachofen and Atkinson.[133] Even though she accepted Atkinson’s story of the primal family, Hartley criticized its highly biased assumption that the women of the group would have played a wholly passive role. On the contrary, she speculated, the first enforcement of the incest taboo must have been due to the agency of the women, who objected to the patriarch’s sexual molestation of their daughters and banishment of their sons and, through their unity and numbers, were able to oppose his “egoistical” authority. According to Hartley, the collective action of the women had initiated the period of matriarchy that Bachofen had so poetically described. This was, however, a transitional period, for the young men and women sought partners from other groups and gradually built up the institution of the nuclear family, in which males gained authority. But the age of patriarchy was also clearly transitional, and contemporary developments, particularly of the women’s movement, pointed the way to a new age of gender equality. “We stand in the first rush of a great movement,” she concluded in 1914. “It is the day of experiments . . . We are questioning where before we have accepted, and are seeking out new ways in which mankind will go . . . will go because it must.”[134]

This article has concentrated on the period from about 1860 until 1914 because these were the years when the historical origin of the family occupied a prominent position in academic and political discourse. During the 1920s, academic social scientists gave up historical for functionalist approaches to human society, which focused on the working of institutions such as patriarchy rather than on their origins.[135] And, as feminist intellectuals aspired to enter the academy, they were under pressure to conform to the norms of academic disciplines. When Mathilde Vaerting, the only woman to gain a professorship of sociology during the Weimar Republic, attempted to revive the theory of primordial matriarchy in a book published in 1921, she was derided by her colleagues for advocating “feminism in the guise of science.”[136] Robert Briffault’s The Mothers, which used the historical development of the family as an argument for the reform of marriage, was rejected as unscientific by the prominent social scientists of the day, especially by Bronislaw Malinowski, then a leading figure in the field of anthropology.[137] However, theories of matriarchal origin continued to influence many fields, including psychiatry, social theory, and political discourse on left and right.

At the dawn of the “new” feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the theories of Bachofen and Engels experienced a brief revival in popular feminist literature. Troubled both by conventional ideas of biological determinism and Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that women had always been “the second sex,” some feminist activists responded favorably, as had their forerunners at the turn of the century, to the picture of an age when women ruled; and socialist feminists found a powerful source of inspiration in Engels’s theory that connected the oppression of women with the rise of private property and capitalism.[138] But this enthusiasm was short-lived; early texts on the origins of the family, scholars soon charged, had promoted essentialized images of women, and had furthermore been tainted with an outworn and oppressive Victorian confidence in progress and in the superiority of Western institutions.[139]

Such judgments largely ignore both the many feminist participants in the debate and its significance for the intellectual life of the period in which feminist scholarship first flourished. Far from reinforcing Victorian ideals of womanhood and the superiority of Western forms of the family, the discourse ultimately opened these ideas to contestation. Accurate knowledge of the origins of the family, wrote Elsie Clews Parsons in 1906, would sweep away “the most notable survivals of primitive taboo,” which serves “the preservation of the group’s social customs and traditions.”[140] To conventional religious and secular ideals of the family, “that fair Family Tree,” exulted Jane Ellen Harrison in 1912, “anthropology, sociology, and psychology have continued to lay the axe.”[141] Although Harrison’s triumphalism was clearly premature, for new theories of the natural rightness and universality of patriarchy would arise, they now had to be argued for rather than simply assumed. While today’s readers can certainly see elements of essentialism in the discourse on the origins of the family, feminists of this era were far more aware of the ways in which it had undermined conventional views of women’s nature and potential. In 1922, Mary Ritter Beard, who was in many ways the founder of American women’s history, paid tribute in a speech given in Tokyo to the importance of anthropological discoveries for her own evolving view of the active and creative role of women in history. In 1942, Charles and Mary Beard wrote retrospectively that, by contrast to the conventional political history that entirely ignored women, anthropological literature at the turn of the century (specifically, the works of Morgan, Ward, and Otis Tufton Mason) had “found women at the very center of civilization in origin and development—as creators and preservers of the arts and that perennial moral strength of civilization.”[142]

During the era from 1890 to 1914, feminist intellectuals used research in the social sciences in order to create new approaches to knowledge and new views of the historical and contemporary roles of women. Our recognition of the significance of this development should modify still-conventional views of the intellectual life of this period, which is usually characterized through terms such as “disenchantment,” “cultural pessimism,” and “orgiastic-nihilistic irony” and introduced by textbooks under such headings as “Culture and Crisis,” “Uncertainty in Modern Thought,” “From Optimism to Anxiety,” and “Consciousness and Confusion.”[143] If seen within the framework of the era’s own critique of objectivity and emphasis on multiple perspectives, cultural pessimism represented less a universally human “modern dilemma” than the specific dilemma of male elites who, though sometimes critical of authority structures such as patriarchy, nonetheless regarded their decline as a threat to rationality, order, and civilization itself.[144] Although they shared the same analytic framework, feminist intellectuals did not respond with uncertainty, despair, or nihilism but with a new intellectual confidence; for them, the downfall of patriarchy meant not the destruction but the realization of civilization. Nineteenth-century beliefs in progress and in objectivity had justified male supremacy. The erosion of these beliefs through the new discourses on cultural relativism and historical evolution created a climate in which gender could be recognized not as ordained by divine will or by biological determinism but as constructed by history and culture. And the view of history that these feminists created emphasized not degeneration but renewal, and not the despair of rationality but new access to its empowering potential. In 1909, members of the Actresses’ Franchise League, a British group that used theatrical performances to support the suffrage cause, enacted a play by Cicely Hamilton, The Pageant of Great Women, commemorating the achievements of women throughout history. “Feeling the riot and rush of crowding hopes,” concluded a character identified only as “a woman,” “‘Tis good to be alive when morning dawns.”[145]

Ann Taylor Allen is a professor of history at the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she received the doctoral degree from Columbia University in 1974. Her first book, Satire and Society in Wihelmine Germany: Simplicissimus and Kladderadatsch, 1890–1914 (1984), is based on a dissertation supervised by Fritz Stern. Since 1980, Allen has done research and published on the history of feminist movements in Germany during the period 1800–1920. This research has resulted in many articles and a book, Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800–1914 (1991). The present article grew out of a new project on the comparative history of feminism and motherhood in Europe and North America.


I would like to express my gratitude to the Stanford Institute for Research on Women and Gender and to the University of Louisville for providing the environment and the financial support for the preparation of this article. I also thank Karen Offen of the Stanford Institute and Marilyn Boxer of San Francisco State University for sharing the results of their research, and Karen Offen, Thomas R. Trautmann of the University of Michigan, and David Lindenfeld of Louisiana State University for reading and commenting on earlier versions of the article.

1 Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, 1930; quotation from the English translation, The Man without Qualities, Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser, trans. (New York, 1980), 3.

2 William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought (Chicago, 1997), 10–11.

3 Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (1961; rpt. edn., New York, 1965); Lawrence A. Scaff, Fleeing the Iron Cage: Culture, Politics, and Modernity in the Thought of Max Weber (Berkeley, Calif., 1989), 80; Eugen Weber, France: Fin de Siècle (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 3. For other examples, see Arthur Mitzman, Sociology and Estrangement: Three Sociologists of Imperial Germany (New York, 1973); Mitzman, The Iron Cage: An Historical Interpretation of Max Weber (1970; rpt. edn., New Brunswick, N.J., 1985); Fritz Pappenheim, The Alienation of Modern Man: An Interpretation Based on Marx and Tönnies (1959; rpt. edn., New York, 1968); E. G. Jacoby, Die moderne Gesellschaft im sozialwissenschaftlichen Denken von Ferdinand Tönnies: Eine biographische Einführung (Stuttgart, 1971); Degeneration: The Dark Side of Progress, J. Edward Chamberlin and Sander L. Gilman, eds. (New York, 1985); Susan J. Navarette, The Shape of Fear: Horror and the Fin de Siècle Culture of Decadence (Lexington, Ky., 1998). Harry Liebersohn, Fate and Utopia in German Sociology, 1870–1923 (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), dissents somewhat from this picture but emphasizes that the conventional view does emphasize “tragic pessimism” (2). H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890–1930 (New York, 1958), stresses the problematic and pessimistic implications of research in the social sciences (329–35).

4 Terry Eagleton, “The Flight to the Real,” in Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle, Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken, eds. (Cambridge, 1995), 13.

5 Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York, 1980), 20.

6 Daniel J. Wilson, Science, Community, and the Transformation of American Philosophy, 1860–1930 (Chicago, 1990), 121–49.

7 Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Boston, 1989), xiv.

8 Fin-de-Siècle and Its Legacy, Mikulas Teich and Roy Porter, eds. (Cambridge, 1990), 3.

9 Joan Kelly, “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” rpt. in Women, History and Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly (Chicago, 1984), 19.

10 Dominick LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983), 36–37.

11 Paraphrasing Karen Offen, I here define “feminist” as a person (male or female) who recognizes “the validity of women’s own interpretation of their lived experiences and needs,” protests against the institutionalized injustice perpetrated by men as a group against women as a group, and advocates the elimination of that injustice by challenging the various structures of authority or power that legitimate male prerogatives in a given society. Karen Offen, “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach,” Signs 14 (Autumn 1988): 152.

12 See, for example, George W. Stocking, Jr., Victorian Anthropology (New York, 1987), 186–238; Stocking, After Tylor: British Social Anthropology, 1888–1951 (Madison, Wis., 1995), 3–160; Thomas R. Trautmann, Lewis Henry Morgan and the Invention of Kinship (Berkeley, Calif., 1987); Elizabeth Fee, “The Sexual Politics of Victorian Anthropology,” in Clio’s Consciousness Raised: New Perspectives on the History of Women, Mary S. Hartman and Lois W. Banner, eds. (New York, 1974), 86–102. Some excellent studies of American female intellectuals of this era, for example, Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (New Haven, Conn., 1982), and Desley Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Chicago, 1997), have appeared, but their results have not been integrated into mainstream works of intellectual history. More works by feminist historians and theorists will be cited below.

13 Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, N.J., 1979), 197–202; compare also Carole Pateman, “Genesis, Fathers, and the Political Liberty of Sons,” in Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, Calif., 1988), 77–115; John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government, 1690, rpt. in The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill, Edwin A. Burtt, ed. (New York, 1939), 434–35; Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, rpt. in Burtt, English Philosophers, 193–94.

14 Joseph Campbell, “Introduction,” in Johann Jakob Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right: Selected Writings of J. J. Bachofen, Ralph Manheim, trans. (Princeton, N.J., 1967), xxxiii.

15 E. A. Casaubon, La femme est la famille (Paris, 1834), 8; see also Claire Goldberg Moses, “The Evolution of Feminist Thought in France, 1829–1889” (PhD dissertation, George Washington University, 1978), 200–06; and Susan K. Grogan, French Socialism and Sexual Difference: Women and the New Society, 1803–1844 (London, 1992).

16 Karen Offen, “The Beginnings of Scientific Women’s History in France, 1830–1848,” Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, 3–5 November 1983, John F. Sweets, ed. (Lawrence, Kans., 1984), 255–71.

17 Auguste Comte, “Social Statics; or Theory of the Spontaneous Order of Human Society,” in The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, Harriet Martineau, trans., 3 vols. (London, 1986), 2: 284; see also Terry R. Kandal, The Woman Question in Classical Sociological Theory (Miami, Fla., 1988), 7.

18 John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, 1859, rpt. in On Liberty; Representative Government; The Subjection of Women, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, ed. (London, 1912), 432.

19 Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law (1861; rpt. edn., London, 1954), 100. See also Rosalind Coward, Patriarchal Precedents: Sexuality and Social Relations (London, 1983), 35–44; and Adam Kuper, “The Rise and Fall of Maine’s Patriarchal Theory,” in The Victorian Achievement of Sir Henry Maine: A Centennial Reappraisal, Alan Diamond, ed. (Cambridge, 1991), 99–110.

20 Mill, Subjection of Women, 430; compare Coward, Patriarchal Precedents, 31.

21 Johann Jakob Bachofen, “Lebens-Rückschau,” 1854, rpt. in Bachofen, Mutterrecht und Urreligion: Eine Auswahl, Rudolf Marx, ed. (Stuttgart, 1954), 1–18; in English translation as “My Life in Retrospect,” in Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 3–21. See also Karl Meuli’s thorough biographical sketch, “Nachwort,” Johann Jakob Bachofens gesammelte Werke, Meuli, ed., 10 vols. (Basel, 1943– ), 3: 1012–79; and Lionel Gossman, Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity (Philadelphia, 1983), 1–30.

22 On the chronological perspective of Bachofen and Maine, see Trautmann, Lewis Henry Morgan, 58–84.

23 For example, by Paula Webster, “Matriarchy: A Vision of Power,” in Rayna R. Reiter, Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York, 1975), 143: “Bachofen’s work has been appropriately criticized for its lack of empirical data and its substitution of mythology for history.” Of course, very little such empirical data was available before 1861!

24 Johann Jakob Bachofen, “Mother-Right,” excerpted and translated in Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 85; Das Mutterrecht: eine Untersuchung über die Gynäcratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur (Stuttgart, 1861); rpt. of vols. 2 and 3 of Bachofens gesammelte Werke.

25 Bachofen, “Lebens-Rückschau,” 11.

26 Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 79.

27 Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 80.

28 Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 100.

29 Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 109.

30 Joan Bamberger, “The Myth of Matriarchy,” in Woman, Culture, and Society, Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds. (Stanford, Calif., 1974), 265; compare also Coward, Patriarchal Precedents, 34.

31 LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History, 36–37.

32 On Enlightenment views of male supremacy, see Karen Offen, “Contextualizing the Theory and Practice of Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz, eds. (Boston, 1998), 327–55; compare Sherry Ortner, “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” in Rosaldo and Lamphere, Woman, Culture, and Society, 67–88.

33 Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother-Right, 118.

34 Trautmann, Lewis Henry Morgan, 58–83, 205–30; Thomas R. Trautmann, “The Revolution in Ethnological Time,” Man, n.s., 27 (1992): 379–97.

35 Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society; or, Researches in the Lines of Human Progress, from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization (London, 1878), 59. See also Trautman, Lewis Henry Morgan. A survey of the various interpretations of Bachofen that, despite its very slight attention to feminist interpretations, is still useful is Das Mutterrecht von J. J. Bachofen in der Diskussion, H.-J. Heinrichs, ed. (Frankfurt, 1987).

36 John Ferguson McLennan, Primitive Marriage: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Form of Capture in Marriage Ceremonies, Peter Riviere, ed. (1865; rpt. edn., Chicago, 1970).

37 Morgan, Ancient Society, 347; John Lubbock, The Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Man, Mental and Social Conditions of Savages (London, 1870); compare Fee, “Sexual Politics,” 94; and Trautmann, Lewis Henry Morgan, 179–204.

38 See Stocking, After Tylor, 3–34; and Uwe Wesel, Der Mythos vom Matriarchat: Über Bachofens Mutterrecht und die Stellung der Frauen in frühen Gesellschaften (Frankfurt, 1980).

39 Fee, “Sexual Politics,” 100–03.

40 Karl Marx, The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, Lawrence Krader, trans. and ed. (Assen, 1972).

41 Friedrich Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums, und des Staates, 1884; quotation from the English translation, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State in the Light of the Researches of Lewis Henry Morgan (New York, 1942), 50.

42 August Bebel, Die Frau in der Vergangenheit, Gegenwart, und Zukunft (Zurich, 1883); English translation, Woman in the Past, Present and Future (London, 1885); Paul Lafargue, La question de la femme (Paris, 1904).

43 Engels, Origin of the Family, 163; Bebel, Woman in the Past, Present and Future; compare Coward, Patriarchal Precedents, 146–71.

44 Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology, 3 vols. (New York, 1901), 1: 654. Volume 1 was first published in 1876.

45 Lester Frank Ward, Pure Sociology: A Treatise on the Origin and Spontaneous Development of Society (New York, 1903), 314.

46 Ward, Pure Sociology, 297; Lester Frank Ward, “Our Better Halves,” The Forum 6 (November 1888): 266–75. See also Clifford H. Scott, Lester Frank Ward (Boston, 1976).

47 Matilda Joslyn Gage, “Woman, Church, and State,” in History of Woman Suffrage, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, eds., 3 vols. (Rochester, N.Y., 1881–82), 1: 753–99.

48 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 1898, intro. by Ellen Carol DuBois; afterword Ann D. Gordon (Boston, 1993), 430–31.

49 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Matriarchate or Mother-Age,” in Transactions of the National Council of Women of the United States, Rachel Foster Avery, ed. (Philadelphia, 1891), 223; see also the same text in Free Thought Magazine 19 (June 1901): 267–72; (July 1901): 320–25; Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church, and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Woman through the Christian Ages: With Reminiscences of the Matriarchate (1893; rpt. edn., New York, 1972), 225.

50 Gage, Woman, Church, and State, 16; Stanton, “Matriarchate,” 221.

51 Gage, Woman, Church, and State, 43; see also Stanton, “Matriarchate,” 226.

52 Stanton, “Matriarchate,” 227; Gage, Woman, Church, and State; see also Karl Pearson, “Evidences of Mother-Right in the Customs of Medieval Witchcraft,” in Pearson, The Chances of Death and Other Studies in Evolution, 2 vols. (London, 1897), 1–50.

53 Gage, Woman, Church, and State, 47; Stanton, “Matriarchate,” 270.

54 Stanton, “Matriarchate,” 218.

55 For a general discussion of Gage, Stanton, and matriarchal theories, see Donna A. Behnke, Religious Issues in Nineteenth-Century Feminism (Troy, N.Y., 1982), 159–65.

56 Among the most significant of these many works: Charles Letourneau, La condition de la femme dans les diverses races et civilisations (Paris, 1903); and Otis Tufton Mason, Woman’s Share in Primitive Culture (1894; New York, 1899).

57 Stocking, After Tylor, 151–230.

58 Edward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, 3d edn. (London, 1903), 117.

59 James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion, 2 vols. (1914; rpt. edn., 1922), 2: 210–17.

60 C. Wright Mills, “Edward Alexander Westermarck and the Application of Ethnographic Methods to Marriage,” in An Introduction to the History of Sociology, Harry Elmer Barnes, ed. (Chicago, 1965), 663, quoted in Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons, 50.

61 Stocking, After Tylor, 230; Stocking, Victorian Anthropology, 326.

62 Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie (1887; rpt. edn., Darmstadt, 1964), xxiv; quotation from the English translation of the preface in Tönnies, On Sociology: Pure, Applied and Empirical: Selected Writings, Werner J. Cahnman and Rudolf Heberle, eds. (Chicago, 1971), 22.

63 Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, 148–51; Ferdinand Tönnies, “The Concept of Gemeinschaft,” in Tönnies, On Sociology, 71.

64 Ferdinand Tönnies, “The Individual and the World in the Modern Age,” in Tönnies, On Sociology, 288–317; see also David Lindenfeld, “Tönnies, the Mandarins and Modernism,” German Studies Review 11 (February 1988): 60–77.

65 Compare Lindenfeld, “Tönnies, the Mandarins and Modernism,” 66–77.

66 Ferdinand Tönnies, “Historicism, Rationalism, and the Industrial System,” in Tönnies, On Sociology, 266–87.

67 Georg Simmel, “Weibliche Kultur,” in Simmel, Philosophische Kultur: Gesammelte Essais (Leipzig, 1911); quotation from the English translation “Female Culture,” in Georg Simmel on Women, Sexuality, and Love, Guy Oakes, trans. and ed. (New Haven, Conn., 1984), 67.

68 Simmel, “Female Culture,” 101. On Simmel’s view of women, see Kandal, Woman Question, 156–76.

69 Max Weber, “Die protestantische Ethik und der ‘Geist’ des Kapitalismus,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft 20 (1905):188; quotation from the English translation in Max Weber: Selections in Translation, W. G. Runciman, ed., Eric Matthews, trans. (Cambridge, 1978), 170.

70 Hughes, Consciousness and Society, 332.

71 Compare Fritz Ringer, The Decline of the German Mandarins: The German Academic Community, 1890–1933 (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 267–68.

72 Johann Jakob Bachofen, Les droits de la mère dans l’antiquité: Préface de l’ouvrage de J-J Bachofen, trans. and ed. by the Groupe Français d’Etudes Féministes (Paris, 1903), 14.

73 Jeanne Oddo-Deflou, intro., Les droits de la mère, 36–38. The translators acknowledged the work of Alexis Giraud-Teulon, Etudes sur les societés anciennes: La mère chez certains peuples d’antiquité (Paris, 1867), but criticized him for his skepticism about the existence of matriarchy as a universal stage of human evolution (Les droits de la mère, 13).

74 Oddo-Deflou, Les droits de la mère, 25; see also Cleyre Yvelin, ed., Etude sur le féminisme dans l’antiquité (Paris, 1908), 5–7.

75 Laurence Klejman and Florence Rochefort, L’égalite en marche: Le féminisme sous la Troisième République (Paris, 1989), 178–89.

76 Aline Valette, Socialisme et sexualisme: Programme du Parti Socialiste Féminin (Paris, 1893). On French socialist feminism, see Marilyn Boxer, “French Socialism, Feminism and the Family in the Third Republic,” Troisième République (Spring–Fall 1977): 129–67. Boxer points out that Valette’s theory of “sexualisme” was based on that of a male colleague, Dr. Paul Bonnier.

77 On Harrison’s life and work, see the excellent biography of Sandra J. Peacock, Jane Ellen Harrison: The Mask and the Self (New Haven, Conn., 1988); see also Robert Ackerman, The Myth and Ritual School: J. G. Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists (New York, 1991).

78 Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (Leipzig, 1872); English translation, The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, Francis Golffing, trans. (New York, 1956).

79 Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Cambridge, 1903), 260. On the impact of Bachofen’s thesis on classical scholarship, see Stella Gorgoudi, “Creating a Myth of Matriarchy,” in Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, eds., A History of Women in the West, 5 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 1: 449–56.

80 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture (1911; rpt. edn., New York, 1970), i.

81 Mason, Woman’s Share in Primitive Culture.

82 Gilman, Man-Made World, 183.

83 Gilman, Man-Made World, 36.

84 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland, Ann J. Lane, intro. (New York, 1979).

85 Pearson, “Evidences of Mother-Right”; Mona Caird, The Morality of Marriage and Other Essays (London, 1897), 21–36; Ruth First and Ann Scott, Olive Schreiner: A Biography (London, 1980), 289.

86 Frances Swiney, The Bar of Isis; or, The Law of the Mother (London, 1909), 53, 43. See also Swiney, The Awakening of Women; or, Woman’s Part in Evolution, 3d edn. (London, 1908).

87 George Robb, “Eugenics, Spirituality, and Sex Differentiation in Edwardian England: The Case of Frances Swiney,” Journal of Women’s History 10 (Autumn 1998): 108–09.

88 For example, “The Primal Power: Speech Delivered by Mrs. Perkins Gilman at the London Pavilion, Monday, May 19, 1913,” The Suffragette, June 6, 1913; “‘The Real Devil’: Lecture by Mrs. Perkins Gilman,” The Vote, July 4, 1913; Frances Swiney, “Womanhood versus Motherhood,” The Malthusian, November 15, 1909; see also articles by Swiney in Westminster Review, May 1901, October 1901, March 1905, April 1905.

89 On this movement in Britain, see Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880–1930 (London, 1985); and Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: Sexuality and the Early Feminists (New York, 1995).

90 Selma Sevenhuijsen, “Mothers as Citizens: Feminism, Evolutionary Theory and the Reform of Dutch Family Law, 1870–1910,” in Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood and Sexuality, Carol Smart, ed. (London, 1992), 167–86.

91 Ann Taylor Allen, Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800–1914 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1991), 173–88; many more sources are given in the notes to this chapter.

92 Ellen Key, The Renaissance of Motherhood, Anna E. B. Fries, trans. (New York, 1914), 102–03, a collection of her essays in English.

93 Ellen Key, Kvinnorörelsen (Stockholm, 1909); quotation from the English translation, The Woman Movement, Mamah Bouton Borthwick, trans. (New York, 1912), 150.

94 Sevenhuijsen, “Mothers as Citizens,” 172–74; and Selma Sevenhuijsen, De Orde van het Vaderschap: Politieke Debatten over ongehuwd Moederschap, Afstamming en Huwelijk in Nederland, 1870–1900 (Amsterdam, 1987), 138–49; Allen, Feminism and Motherhood, 188–205.

95 Henriette Fürth, “Mutterschaft und Ehe,” Mutterschutz 1 (1905): 28.

96 See, for example, Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven, Conn., 1987), 40–41, on the attitudes of American feminists toward their European counterparts

97 Marianne Weber, “Die historische Entwicklung des Eherechts,” in Frauenfragen und Frauengedanken (Tübingen, 1919), 10–19. On Marianne Weber, see Guenther Roth, “Marianne Weber and Her Circle,” new introduction to Marianne Weber, Max Weber: A Biography (New Brunswick, N.J., 1988), xv–lxi.

98 Marianne Weber, Max Weber: Ein Lebensbild (1926; rpt. edn., Heidelberg, 1950), 412; English translation, Marianne Weber, Max Weber: A Biography, Harry Zohn, ed. and trans. (New York, 1956), 373.

99 Marianne Weber, Ehefrau und Mutter in der Rechtsentwicklung: Eine Einführung (Tübingen, 1907), 24–77.

100 Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, 1921, Ephraim Fischoff, et al., trans., Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, eds., 3 vols. (New York, 1968), 1: 370–72.

101 Marianne Weber, Max Weber, 380–90. Of course, the relationship of Max and Marianne and the ways in which it influenced Max’s views on sexuality has been much discussed; see particularly Mitzman, Iron Cage, 277–98; Scaff, Fleeing the Iron Cage, 108–18; and Klaus Lichtblau, “The Protestant Ethic versus the ‘New Ethic,'” in Weber’s Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts, Hartmut Lehmann and Guenther Roth, eds. (Cambridge, 1993), 179–94.

102 On Pelletier’s education, see the excellent biography by Felicia Gordon, The Integral Feminist: Madeleine Pelletier, 1874–1939 (Minneapolis, 1990), 24–74.

103 Madeleine Pelletier, La femme en lutte pour ses droits (Paris, 1908), 37.

104 Madeleine Pelletier, “Feminism, the Family and the Right to Abortion,” Marilyn Boxer, trans., French-American Review 6 (Spring 1982): 3–24; Lily Braun, Frauenarbeit und Hauswirtschaft (Berlin, 1901); Henriette Fürth, Die Hausfrau (Munich, 1914); Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics (Boston, 1898); Alice Melvin, “Abolition of Domestic Drudgery by Cooperative Housekeeping,” The Freewoman 1 (April 11, 1912): 410–12; H. G. Wells, Socialism and the Family (London, 1906).

105 Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons, 113.

106 Elsie Clews Parsons, The Family: An Ethnographical and Historical Outline with Descriptive Notes, Planned as a Text-Book for the Use of College Lecturers and of Directors of Home Reading Clubs (New York, 1906), 297.

107 Parsons, Family, xi, 349.

108 New York Herald, November 18, 1906; New York Evening Sun, November 17, 1906; quoted in Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons, 69.

109 On these relationships, see Martin Green, The von Richthofen Sisters: The Triumphant and the Tragic Modes of Love; Else and Frieda von Richthofen, Otto Gross, Max Weber, and D. H. Lawrence in the Years 1870–1970 (New York, 1974).

110 Karlhans Kluncker, Das geheime Deutschland: Über Stefan George und seinen Kreis (Bonn, 1985), 97–107; see also Wolf Lepenies, Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology, R. J. Hollingdale, trans. (Cambridge, 1988), 258–77.

111 Franziska Gräfin zu Reventlow, Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen, oder Begebenheiten aus einem merkwürdigen Stadtteil, 1913, rpt. in Franziska Gräfin zu Reventlow, Gesammelte Werke in einem Band, Else Reventlow, ed. (Munich, 1925), 750–51.

112 Ludwig Klages, Vom kosmogonischen Eros (1922; rpt. edn., Bonn, 1963), 226; Carl G. Jung, “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious,” in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1936, rpt. in The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung, R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, N.J., 1970), 9: 87–110.

113 Reventlow, Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen, 750–51.

114 Reventlow, Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen, 759.

115 Kluncker, Das geheime Deutschland, 106.

116 Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (New York, 1986).

117 Compare Nancy A. Harrowitz and Barbara Hyams, Jews and Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger (Philadephia, 1995).

118 H. G. Wells, Ann Veronica (1909, rpt. edn., London, 1993), 29.

119 Compare Frank J. Sulloway, Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend (New York, 1979), 369–74.

120 On maternal archetypes, see Carl G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, 1912, R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, N.J., 1956), 207–393; Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (Princeton, 1994), 169–76; Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York, 1970), 727–30; Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (Princeton, 1954), 28–29 and passim.

121 The Freud-Jung Letters: The Correspondence between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, William McGuire, ed., Ralph Manheim and R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, N.J., 1974), 503 (Jung to Freud, May 8, 1912).

122 Noll, Jung Cult, 158–59.

123 McGuire, Freud-Jung Letters, 504 (Freud to Jung, May 14, 1912).

124 Stocking, After Tylor, 125–44.

125 J. J. Atkinson, Primal Law (London, 1903) (published in the same volume with Andrew Lang, Social Origins), 230–38.

126 Sigmund Freud, Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und Neurotiker (Leipzig, 1913); rpt. of vol. 9 of Freud, Gesammelte Werke chronologisch geordnet, Anna Freud, ed., 17 vols. (London, 1947–55). Quotations are from the English translation, Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics, A. A. Brill, trans. (New York, 1918), 382.

127 Freud, Totem and Taboo, 192, 190.

128 For example, by Susan Kingsley Kent, Making Peace: The Reconstruction of Gender in Interwar Britain (Princeton, N.J., 1993), 126–30.

129 Ellenberger, Discovery of the Unconscious, 218–23; Noll, Jung Cult, 171.

130 Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing, and Women (New York, 1975), 16–29.

131 Freud, Totem and Taboo, 193.

132 Catherine Gascoigne Hartley, The Truth about Woman (New York, 1913); Hartley, The Position of Woman in Primitive Society: A Study of the Matriarchy (London, 1914).

133 For example, see “Evening Discussion Meetings, Mrs. Gallichan on ‘Woman and Her Relationship to Man,'” The Vote, October 10, 1913. For biographical information on Hartley (1869–1929), who sometimes wrote under the name of Mrs. Walter Gallichan, see Who Was Who, 1916–1928 (London, 1929), 471–72.

134 Hartley, Position of Women in Primitive Society, 266.

135 Stocking, After Tylor, 292.

136 Theresa Wobbe, “Mathilde Vaerting (1884–1977),” in Frauen in den Kulturwissenschaften, Barbara Hahn, ed. (Munich, 1994), 123–35, quotation p. 129.

137 Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiment and Institutions, 3 vols., 1927; abridged edn., Gordon Rattray Taylor, ed. (New York, 1959); Briffault and Bronislaw Malinowski, Marriage Past and Present: A Debate between Robert Briffault and Bronislaw Malinowski, M. F. Ashley Montagu, ed. (Boston, 1956). The interchange published here dates from a radio broadcast of 1927.

138 Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe, I. Les faits et les mythes; II. L’expérience vécue (Paris, 1949); Elizabeth Fisher, Woman’s Creation: Sexual Evolution and the Shaping of Society (New York, 1979); Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (New York, 1976); Evelyn Reed, Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family (New York, 1975); Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Zillah R. Eisenstein, ed. (New York, 1979); Marilyn French, Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals (New York, 1985).

139 Kathleen Gough, “The Origin of the Family,” in Reiter, Toward an Anthropology of Women, 51–76; Coward, Patriarchal Precedents, 253–86; Fee, “Sexual Politics.”

140 Parsons, Family, x.

141 Jane Ellen Harrison, Homo Sum: Being a Letter to an Anti-Suffragist from an Anthropologist (New York, 1912), 11.

142 Charles A. and Mary R. Beard, The American Spirit: A Study of the Idea of Civilization in the United States (New York, 1942), 397–419; Nancy F. Cott, Putting Women on the Record: Mary Ritter Beard through Her Letters (New Haven, Conn., 1991), 26–27. For some contemporary theories about the origin of the family, see (among many other examples) Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York, 1986); Margaret Ehrenberg, Women in Prehistory (Norman, Okla., 1989); Heide Göttner-Abendroth, Das Matriarchat: Geschichte seiner Erforschung (Stuttgart, 1995); Lawrence Osborne, “The Women Warriors,” Lingua Franca 7 (December–January 1998): 50–58.

143 Eksteins, Rites of Spring, xiv; Richard L. Greaves, Robert Zaller, and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Civilizations of the West: The Human Adventure (New York, 1992), 813; John P. McKay, Bennett D. Hill, and John D. Buckler, A History of Western Society: Since 1300, 5th edn. (Boston, 1998), 927; Thomas F. X. Noble, et al., Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, 2d edn. (Boston, 1998), 880; Eugen Weber, ed., Movements, Currents, Trends: Aspects of European Thought in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Lexington, Mass., 1992), 203.

144 Hughes, Consciousness and Society, 15.

145 Cicely Hamilton, A Pageant of Great Women (London, 1910), 68. See also Lis Whitelaw, The Life and Rebellious Times of Cicely Hamilton: Actress, Writer, Suffragist (Columbus, Ohio, 1991), 86–88. Compare Liebersohn, Fate and Utopia, 194–96. Liebersohn stresses some of the utopian aspirations of this era and also finds the conventional emphasis on pessimism and alienation disproportionate. He does not, however, deal with the issue of gender relations.





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