e p i l o g u e
ixty years of colonialist women’s activism did not inevitably cul-
minate in the Rendsburg school’s cooperation with the ss. But
neither was the relationship coincidental. Colonialist women’s
organizations and o≈cial goals showed almost continuous intensifica-
tion of racism and nationalism between 1885 and 1933. They engaged in
ever more activities that presumed and relied on racial and national
distinctions, and ever less in activities that could be at least theoretically
separated from a raison d’être of racism. Among the many political
currents and cultural norms that Nazism exploited, from bourgeois re-
spectability to the glorification of work, colonialist women’s ideas of
race purity, of women’s special duty and ability to preserve Germanness,
and of the superiority of German culture and colonization were rela-
tively obvious matches with Nazi thinking.
But it would be ahistorical to allow Nazism to define everything that
came before it. The ss was only the last in a long line of groups, from
radical nationalists to radical feminists, to see promise in colonialism for
German women and men. Claiming membership in a colonizing nation
and seeing the condition of women as an index of civilization led to no
sharp divide between feminist and nonfeminist women in Germany.
These women, whatever their own politics, faced a common exclusion
from colonial settlement and planning. They seized on their unusual
discursive position as both symbols of a high level of civilization—as the
maxim about measuring civilization by the treatment of women held—
and agents of civilization, members of a newly colonizing nation. They
were able to oscillate between the statuses of symbol and agent when
arguing that colonies that lacked women’s full participation in public life
could not advance and adequately represent German cultural prowess.
The colonies were a fantasyland for both German men and German
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