Elisabeth Selbert

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Elisabeth Selbert , née Martha Elisabeth Rohde , (born September 22, 1896 in Kassel ; † June 9, 1986 there ) was a German politician and lawyer . As an SPD member of the Parliamentary Council in 1948/1949, she was one of the four “ mothers of the Basic Law ”. The inclusion of equality in the basic rights section of the Federal German constitution is largely thanks to them.


Youth until the November Revolution

Martha Elisabeth Rohde grew up as the second of four daughters in a Christian-oriented family. She learned to embroider, knit and sew and had little time to read. The girls' high school was not affordable for the family, and so from 1912 she attended the Kassel trade and business school run by the women's education association . Her goal was to become a teacher. This also failed due to a lack of financial resources. Initially, the young woman worked as a foreign correspondent for an import-export company.

After she lost her job in 1914, she worked as a post office worker in the telegraph service of the Reichspost. She got this job because of the war-related shortage of male workers. Here, during the November Revolution in 1918, she met her future husband , Adam Selbert , the trained printer and chairman of the workers 'and soldiers' council in Niederzwehren near Kassel . Adam Selbert promoted Elisabeth Rohde and took her to political events. At the end of 1918 she joined the SPD .

Elisabeth and Adam Selbert had - after their marriage in 1920 - two sons, Gerhart and Herbert. The daughter of Gerhart Selbert and Ruth Selbert is the SPD politician Susanne Selbert , the son of the Kassel lawyer and left-wing politician Axel Selbert.

Weimar Republic

By Philipp Scheidemann , who was then mayor was in Kassel, Selbert was encouraged to actively make policy itself. After the establishment of the Weimar Republic , women were also given the right to vote and stand for election . She wrote many articles and spoke at numerous events about the duty of women to inform themselves politically and to get involved. In 1919 she had already successfully run for a seat in the municipal parliament of Niederzwehren; she worked there on the finance committee. However, their most important issue remained equality. In October 1920 she went as a delegate to the first Reich Women's Conference in Kassel and criticized

"That today we have equal rights for our women, but that this equality is still purely paper."

A year earlier, the Weimar Constitution stipulated that men and women have the same civil rights. The reality of life for most women was different, however, and the state did not change that much. In 1920 she married Adam Selbert. The first child was born a year later, and a second followed shortly afterwards. Despite the double burden, Selbert continued to work in the telegraph office, took care of the upbringing of the children and continued to take time for her political activities. But she found that she often lacked the theoretical basis for this, and hoped that one would

"Legal training would help to work politically more efficiently."

In self-study, Selbert prepared for the Abitur, which she made up for in 1925 at the Luisenschule in Kassel as an external student. After that, she was the only woman to study law and political science at the University of Marburg . Shortly thereafter, Selbert moved to the University of Göttingen . Here she was one of five women among the approximately 300 students. Selbert himself was allegedly not bothered by the excess of men, but her professors sometimes seemed overwhelmed. Elisabeth Selbert and her fellow students, for example, were asked to leave the lecture hall when the professor was talking about sexual offenses . After only six semesters, she graduated with honors.

Elisabeth Selbert received her doctorate in 1930 on the subject of marriage breakdown as a reason for divorce . Even then, she criticized the principle of guilt , which often put women in divorce without rights. She advocated a "detoxification" of the divorce process and called for a breakdown principle . It was way ahead of its time. Their proposals were only taken up and implemented in the Federal Republic of Germany with the marriage law reform of 1977.

time of the nationalsocialism

In the Reichstag election in March 1933 , Selbert ran in constituency 19 (Hessen-Nassau) on the list of the SPD, which included five of the 23 members of the Reichstag for this constituency, which Selbert did not belong to.

Adam Selbert lost his job in the early days of National Socialist rule and was taken into “ protective custody ” in the Breitenau concentration camp . Elisabeth Selbert passed the second state examination in 1934 and shortly afterwards, urged by her husband, applied for admission to the bar .

It was imperative to hurry because the National Socialists tried to force women completely out of all legal professions. Although women were generally only excluded from the legal profession from the end of 1935, Selbert was initially supposed to be rejected, but was admitted against the will of the National Socialist Higher Regional Court President, against the vote of the Bar Association , against the decision of the Gauleiter and the NS-Juristenbund on December 15, 1934 . There were two senior senate presidents who stood up for Selbert and signed their approval on behalf of the president who was on vacation. Elisabeth Selbert was able to open her legal practice in 1934. Since her husband remained unemployed due to political persecution until 1945, she was now the only one to support the family.

post war period

Elisabeth Selbert's grave in the cemetery in Kassel-Niederzwehren

After the collapse of the Nazi regime, Elisabeth Selbert was elected to the constitutional state assembly for Greater Hesse for the SPD in 1946 and then to the Parliamentary Council in 1948 , which had the task of drafting the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany . Among the 65 members, she was one of only four women. The original formulation for Article 3 came from the Weimar Constitution and was "Men and women have the same civil rights and duties". Selbert, on the other hand, wanted equality to be "understood as an imperative mandate to the legislature [...]".

With the help of women's rights organizations at the time and other members of parliament, Elisabeth Selbert was finally able - after several failed votes - to enforce the sentence "Men and women have equal rights" ( Article 3 of the Basic Law ).

It was her concern that equality was included as a constitutional principle, so that many of the family law provisions of the time (which came from 1896) in the civil code also had to be revised because they contradicted this principle. The Adenauer government allowed the date set for a transitional regulation in Article 117 “31. March 1953 “passed by inactive. It was not until 1957 that the Equal Opportunities Act was passed.

After working in the Parliamentary Council , Selbert sought membership in the German Bundestag , but was not put up as a constituency applicant, but only on the state supplementary list of the Hessian SPD in 1949. She narrowly missed a seat, but could not automatically receive the mandate of an outgoing directly elected MP because the federal electoral law provided for a by-election for this at the time. The intended nomination as the first female judge of the Federal Constitutional Court also failed in 1958.

At the end of the 1950s, Selbert, who had been a member of the Hessian state parliament in the 1st , 2nd and 3rd electoral terms , withdrew from politics and was almost forgotten. She worked again as a lawyer in her law firm specializing in family law in Kassel. Selbert operated this until she was 85 years old.

Her husband Adam Selbert was allowed to work again after 1945. He became a generally recognized Hessian local politician and was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, 1st class. At the State Welfare Association of Hesse he was appointed to the regional council, was head of human resources and temporarily deputy to the governor. He died in 1965.

Selbert was a member of the German Association of Women Lawyers .

Since 1983, the Hessian state government has awarded the Elisabeth Selbert Prize every two years "in recognition of outstanding achievements for the anchoring and further development of equal opportunities for women and men" .



  • Streets are named after Elisabeth Selbert, among others. in Berlin, Buxtehude, Munich, Kassel, Cologne, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Bremen-Osterholz , Darmstadt-Kranichstein , Münster, Coesfeld , Mönchengladbach , Moers, Oestrich-Winkel , Pulheim, Winnenden, Dietzenbach, Langen (Hesse) , Lohfelden , Langenfeld / Rhineland, Lünen, Kempten, Elmshorn, Gundernhausen, Rodgau , Hemmingen , Mainz-Hechtsheim, Seligenstadt and Regensburg-Burgweinting.
  • In 2016 a bridge in Offenbach am Main was named after Elisabeth Selbert.
  • The Hessian state government has been awarding the Elisabeth Selbert Prize since 1983 .
  • Since the Federal Social Court moved back into the modernized service building in December 2009, the newly created conference room in the inner courtyard has been called Elisabeth-Selbert-Saal .
  • A conference room in the Federal Ministry of Justice was named after her.
  • Several schools in Germany bear her name.
  • Elisabeth Selbert Haus in Berlin, Unter den Linden 62–68, office building of the Bundestag and on the ground floor exhibition area of ​​the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation


  • Barbara Böttger: The right to equality and difference. Westphalian steam boat, Münster 1990, ISBN 3-924550-44-1 .
  • Karin Dalka: great moment of a heroine. In: Frankfurter Rundschau. 18./19. October 2014, pp. 24–26.
  • Antje Dertinger : Elisabeth Selbert. A short biography. Hessian Ministry of Women, Wiesbaden 1986.
  • Hans Eichel , Barbara Stolterfoht : Elisabeth Selbert and the equality of women. An unfinished story . euregio Verlag, Kassel 2015, ISBN 978-3-933617-62-0 .
  • Heike Drummer: “Great moment in her life” - Much more than a fictional film about Elisabeth Selbert and an interview with Iris Berben. In: Hans Eichel, Barbara Stolterfoth (Ed.): Elisabeth Selbert and the equality of women. An unfinished story. Kassel: euregioverlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-933617-62-0 , pp. 137–148.
  • Heike Drummer, Jutta Zwilling:  Selbert, née Rohde, Martha Elisabeth. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 24, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-11205-0 , p. 210 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Karin Gille-Linne: Equal Rights! The social democrats Elisabeth Selbert and Herta Gotthelf in the fight for Art. 3 II Basic Law 1948/49 . In: Ariadne. Forum for Women's and Gender History, Vol. 75 (2019), pp. 44–57.
  • Karin Gille-Linne: Hidden strategies: Herta Gotthelf, Elisabeth Selbert and the women's work of the SPD 1945-1949 . Dietz, Bonn 2011, ISBN 978-3-8012-4206-0 (= Political and Social History , Volume 90, also dissertation Fernuniversität Hagen under the title: Herta Gotthelf, Elisabeth Selbert and Equal Rights ).
  • Hessian state government (ed.): Elisabeth Selbert. The great advocate of equality. Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-8218-1607-4 .
  • Jochen Lengemann : The Hessen Parliament 1946–1986 . Biographical manual of the advisory state committee, the state assembly advising the constitution and the Hessian state parliament (1st – 11th electoral period). Ed .: President of the Hessian State Parliament. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1986, ISBN 3-458-14330-0 , p. 391 ( hessen.de [PDF; 12.4 MB ]).
  • Jochen Lengemann : MdL Hessen. 1808-1996. Biographical index (= political and parliamentary history of the State of Hesse. Vol. 14 = Publications of the Historical Commission for Hesse. Vol. 48, 7). Elwert, Marburg 1996, ISBN 3-7708-1071-6 , p. 356.
  • Birgit Meyer: Elisabeth Selbert (1896-1986), "Equal rights without ifs and buts" , In: Kritische Justiz (Hrsg.): Streitbare Juristen. Another tradition. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1988, ISBN 3-7890-1580-6 , p. 427 ff.
  • Gisela Notz : women in the team. Social Democrats in the Parliamentary Council and in the German Bundestag 1948/49 to 1957. Dietz, Bonn 2003, ISBN 3-8012-4131-9 , fes.de (PDF)
  • Cornelia Wenzel: With red pencil and composure. Notes on equality with Elisabeth Selbert . In: Ariadne. Forum for Women's and Gender History , Vol. 75 (2019), pp. 188–193.
  • Heinrich Wilms : Documents on the creation of the Basic Law in 1948 and 1949. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-17-016024-9 .

motion pictures

Web links

Commons : Elisabeth Selbert  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Claus-Jürgen Göpfert: Whoever writes the rules changes reality. 1948: The lawyer Elisabeth Selbert helps shape the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany - and with a twist enforces formal equality between men and women. in: Frankfurter Rundschau from August 5, 2020, pp. 6-7 (within the series "The future has a voice").
  2. Heike Drummer, Jutta Zwilling: A stroke of luck for democracy - Elisabeth Selbert (1896–1986) - the great advocate of equality . Ed .: Hessian state government. Eichborn, Frankfurt 1999, ISBN 3-8218-1607-4 .
  3. Stefan Bajohr, Kathrin Rödiger-Bajohr: Discrimination against female lawyers in Germany until 1945, in: Kritische Justiz 1979, 39 ff.
  4. Anne-Gudrun Meier-Scherling , quoted from Bajohr, Die discriminierung der Juristin in Deutschland bis 1945, p. 48
  5. Hilke Lorenz: 61 constitutional fathers and four mothers . In: Pressehaus Stuttgart (Ed.): Stuttgarter Zeitung . No. 107 . Pressehaus Stuttgart, Stuttgart May 9, 2019, p. 4 .
  6. Barbara Böttger: The right to equality and difference. Westfälisches Dampfboot Verlag, 1990, ISBN 3-924550-44-1 . limited preview in Google Book search
  7. Cornelia Filter on Elisabeth Selbert: Dossier 60 years of the FRG. Men and women are equal! ( Memento from June 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). In: Emma , June / July 2009.
  8. ^ Drummer / Zwilling, Elisabeth Selbert, in: Heidenreich et al., Unity and Freedom: Hessian Personalities and the Way to the Federal Republic of Germany, 2000, p. 154
  9. ^ Dietfrid Krause-Vilmar : New documents on the political persecution of Adam Selbert. (PDF) gedenkstaette-breitenau.de, archived from the original on September 24, 2015 ; accessed on March 8, 2015 .
  10. Selbert, Adam in der Deutschen Biographie
  11. Elisabeth-Selbert-Strasse. In: Street name dictionary of the Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein (near  Kaupert )
  12. ^ Elisabeth Selbert Strasse in Munich
  13. Elisabeth-Selbert-Steg. City of Offenbach am Main, March 25, 2019, accessed on October 11, 2020 .
  14. Christian Stang: A matter of honor - a man's thing . Ed .: Wetzlarer Neue Zeitung. Wetzlar August 12, 2020.
  15. press release. German Bundestag, May 22, 2017, accessed on December 22, 2019 . .