When a woman wanted to become a teacher in Germany of the first half of 20th century, she had to

What requirements did a woman need to satisfy in order to be admitted to the preparatory school? Could a homeschooled girl from the upper-middle class become an elementary school teacher, if she wanted to be independent? I'm interested in Saxony during the Weimar republic period.

According to German Wikipedia

  • there was no requirement of having secondary education (Abitur) for people who wanted to become elementary school teachers until 1919, and
  • thereafter schools of education were introduced, in which a degree of secondary education was required.

These statements apply to male teachers. I'm not sure whether or not they are true for female teachers.

  • 1
    I went through my old books from university, but I found only sources for the second half of the 19th century (only very lightly grazing into the 20th). If this is of any help to you I would collect a few relevant quotes and post them this evening or tomorrow.
    – user3769
    Jul 9, 2018 at 7:29
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    I'm reading up on this on a number of German sources. One thing is that I presume if you ask "pre-WW2" you generally mean before the Nazi take-over in 1933? The system went through effectively 3 stages in line with the political situation: Kaiser, Weimar and Third Reich. Are you specifically interested in either of the first two? They differed quite a bit, so would bloat up the answer.
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 8:41
  • 1
    Oh, and just to make if more confusing it varied between states.
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 8:42
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    If you speak German (your name indicates you probably do) check out schulmuseum-dresden.de. Doesn't get more Saxon than Dresden. ;)
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 8:51
  • 1
    Comments request clarification; clarifications should be edited into the question. The question should contain all the information needed for research.
    – MCW
    Jul 26, 2018 at 11:49

4 Answers 4


After a bit of research I found that the answers to your question in the original scope could fill a library. And apparently do: or at least a whole museum.

Namely the School Museum in Dresden

Based on your comment, I'll limit the scope to the education system in Saxony during the Weimar Republic. I found just the resource for that:

Die sächsische Schulreform in der Weimarer Republik


The Reform of the Education System in Saxony during the Weimar Republic.

This is the dissertation from 2014 of Andreas Reichelt who studied at the Technical University Dresden.

He quotes a plethora of the actual laws of the period as full sources. It's a 600 page tome and I'm barely scratching the surface. Within these is the

Entwurf eines Volksschulgesetzes, erarbeitet im Ministerium des Kultus und öffentlichen Unterrichts (vom 12. Januar 1912)


The draft of a primary school law, created in the ministry for public education (*)

Paragraph 36 is

Lehrerbildungsanstalten (educational institutes for teachers)

which states

Zur Ausbildung der Lehrer und Lehrerinnen werden besondere Bildungsanstalten (Seminare) unterhalten.


For the education of teachers [using both the male and female forms of the noun separately special training institutes will be maintained.

This specifically includes men and women, making no distinction of separate paths or, as shown next, prerequisites:

Wer zum Lehramte zugelassen werden will, muß die nachfolgenden Prüfungen bestanden haben: a) die Schulamtskandidatenprüfung, die nach erfolgreicher Beendigung des Lehrganges im Seminare von dem Lehrerkollegium unter Vorsitz eines von der obersten Schulbehörde bestellten Kommissars abgehalten wird, […]


Candidates who want to be permitted to the office of teacher, must pass the following examinations: a) the school board examination for candidates, which is conducted after the successfull completion of the course at the seminary in front of the teacher's board led by a commissary assigned by the highest office in charge of schools

Yeah, I've tried to capture the stilted official German that is even worse than bureaucrat language nowadays.

Note how this speaks of male and female candidates who wish to become teachers and the examinations they must pass which are not segregated by gender

Going by this, there doesn't seem to be any distinction in the requirements to even attend the course. This law came into effect during the Weimar Republic, though it had originally been drafted in 1912.

However, there is also

Gesetz, die Abänderung des Gesetzes über die Gymnasien, Realschulen und Seminare vom 22. August 1876 betreffend (vom 14. Januar 1913)


Law for modification of the law concerning "Gymnasiums, Realschulen and Seminaries" [this isn't the place to explain the German multi-partite school system so I'm not even going to try and translate those]

which states on seminaries for (female) teaching candidates that

Aufnahme. (1) Die Aufnahme von Zöglingen erfolgt in der Regel nicht vor vollendetem 14. Lebensjahre uns setzt eine Vorbildung voraus, wie solche im Durchschnitt die mittlere Volksschule gewährt.


Paragraph 69 – Admission (1) The admission of [students] generally does not occur before the age of 14 and requires as prerequisite an education which on average is achieved in the "intermediary primary school".

What constitutes this "intermediary primary school" is not clear, except from context elsewhere which describes that the teaching seminaries last 6 years, so a student would switch over, possibly as a result of some examination results, but wouldn't have any form of "high school diploma" as the expectation was this would be the outcome of becoming a fully trained teacher.


Gesetz über die Ausbildung der Volksschullehrer und Volksschullehrerinnen (vom 4. April 1923)


Law on the education of primary school teachers [using again both the male and female forms of the noun] from 4. April 1923


Die Volksschullehrer und -lehrerinnen erhalten ihre wissenschaftliche Berufsausbildung an der Universität Leipzig und an der Technischen Hochschule Dresden, ihre praktisch-pädagogische Ausbildung an mit diesen Hochschulen zu verbindenden Pädagogischen Instituten.

which means

Male and female teachers receive their scientific professional education at the university of Leipzig and the technical university Dresden, their practical-pedagogical training at affiliated pedagogical institutes.

But makes no mention about admission requirements – except that, with the training applying to both genders, they would most likely have to also match.

In summary, at least in Saxony during the Weimar Republic, the requirements and training for male and female teachers were identical. Interestingly, the laws frequently go back to the later years of the Kaiserreich, where the reforms at least existed in draft form.

  • 1
    I wish I could upvote twice for "I've tried to capture the stilted official German. . . " Excellent answer - well researched, responsive to the question and it made me laugh.
    – MCW
    Jul 26, 2018 at 11:05
  • The intermediary primary school was a step up from regular Volksschule, almost like Realschule, and IMO also better left untranslated. Jul 26, 2018 at 12:37
  • I strongly suspect that the laws later made a steep step up in requirements? Does it not follow that receiving anything from a university required candidates to have abitur? I.e.: it's not clear to me if your "high school diploma/outcome" is meant to convey this. (If it was intended to do, is this some kind of Teaching-Fachabitur?) Jul 26, 2018 at 12:49
  • @LangLangC yes, I had mentally equated it to what would now be called Hauptschule, but as I neither could be sure, nor certain that it really would equate I merely translated the terms literally, without trying to fit it into current terms.
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 20:56

One aspect from the question that needs emphasis is the answer to

Could a homeschooled girl from the upper-middle class become an elementary school teacher, if she wanted to be independent?

The homeschooled part is the crux. This requires a definite "No way" answer. First of all because there was no homeschooling allowed in the Weimar constitution (Art 145 and following articles). From 1919 the whole Reich had compulsory education. And secondly even if homeschooling would have been somehow allowed, you then wouldn't have possessed the necessary certificates to prove your abilities. There were no homeschooled girls from the middle-upper class. The state of Saxony did commit to compulsory education from 1835 onwards. That would have not taken effect immediately for the provincial rural areas but for the envisioned class membership and early 20th century this was accomplished everywhere.

This marked the end of the Hausväterherrschaft, meaning the end of the almost unlimited prerogative of fathers to decide the fate of their daughters, at least officially, concerning the law and education. For a girl "wanting to be independent" that means there were much less offical obstacles to overcome, more private ones within the family.

The official paths to become "a teacher" were unfortunately quite complicated, thanks to a fantastically convoluted parallelism in the educational landscape.

We need to define what kind of teacher first. The higher standing a school would get in this system the higher the requirements, naturally. Höheres Leahramt being the top-level. But even the lowest form of Lehrer an der einfachen Volksschule is one form of primary school and secondary school (if the student stayed there for the full eight years) this is comparable to the secondary school level I in the present system, secondary level 2 being the typical Gymnasium and similar schools.

While some schools subscribed to co-education, many did not. Meaning that not only for gender but class as well were students selected for, despite this being in principle frowned upon. The system was slow to change and met quite a lot of resistance from conservatives who wanted as much separation and distinction from early on as possible.

The other answer already found the 1025 page dissertation by Reichelt about school reforms that highlights how Saxony went ahead in school reforms before the Reich enforced this throughout the realm. The minimum requirements for the question as asked I glean from that is that there were Volksschulen höherer Abteilung in which the necessary Hochschulreife could be obtained optionally. This was a a kind of lesser than Gymnasium abitur and enabled only a limited choice of university education. But as the question already stated: university education was required and without Hochschulreife that would not have been allowed.

Girls might also attend the "höhere Schulen", Oberschule, Höhere Mädchenschule Mädchenfortbildungsschule etc. That system is much too complex with too many path choices to boil this down for an answer here, even if restricted to Weimar Saxony alone.

But we might look at an example:

Maria Beyerle for comparison with other regions and Elisabeth Werl, Hilde Rakebrand, Margarete Junge, Maria Grollmuß, Katharina Windscheid as well as Hannelore Baender to see some example careers in roughly that time-frame.

The Lehrerinnenseminar and Rolle der Frauenbewegung in der Frauenbildung are worth a look.

  • 1
    This is an excellent point and I can only guess that I wholly overlooked it because of ingrained knowledge that indeed there was no homeschooling, so a question based on that alone would have been a non-starter.
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 20:57
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    And yes, if you read that dissertation the convolution, the plethora of terms for schools, types of teachers, education paths - in ONE state alone - was gobsmacking. I confess I like your answer better than mine. While mine certainly captures the legal framework, yours is much much more "real life".
    – Marakai
    Jul 26, 2018 at 21:00

The rules changed during the period you mention, and they varied from state to state and also according to the type of school. Here are three bullet points which all miss your precise question closely.

  • During the Weimar years there was generally a Schulpflicht, going to a public (or equivalent) school was mandatory with few exceptions. Homeschooling is uncommon in Germany.
  • In Prussia there were Pädagogische Akademien for Volksschullehrer which did require an Abitur. A Lehrerseminar didn't require an Abitur.
  • During WWII there were Lehrerbildungsanstalten with minimal entry requirements. Those are presumably past your era of interest.

From your question, are you doing research for a historical novel?

If it is just about explaining the background of a character, consider having the young lady do a stint doing social/missionary support jobs for one of the two big churches, somewhere among the German minorities in the east or with the Diakonie. Not all those jobs were lifetime career decisions.

There would have been some preparation/training and then some years in a congregation, as housekeeper for the priest or looking after the elderly in the congregation.

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