To many of her contemporaries in Wisconsin, Mathilde Anneke (1817-1884) symbolized the "Forty-eighters," who moved here from Germany in the mid-19th century. A social activist, feminist, journalist, and educator, Anneke founded the first feminist newspaper in the United States in Milwaukee, earning, in the process, the harsh rebuke of male printers who organized against her.
Mathilde Franziska Giesler was born April 3, 1817, in Lerchenhausen, Westphalia. Born into nobility, Mathilde was highly educated and grew up on the estate of her grandfather. Her first marriage to Alfred von Tabouillot, a rich wine merchant, ended in divorce and, unfortunately, led her to experience the injustice of laws pertaining to married women firsthand. A prolonged controversy over their infant daughter embittered her to laws that left women powerless, and she became a staunch advocate of women's rights.
Forced to support herself and her daughter, Mathilde gained some prominence for writing and editing of stories and poems. Her drama, Oithono oder die Tempelweihe, may be the only successful 19th-century German tragedy written by a woman, performed on stage in both Germany and Milwaukee.
In 1847, she married Fritz Anneke, a young artillery officer with socialist leanings. The couple settled in Cologne, where they founded a daily paper for the working class that aimed to raise political and economic consciousness. When Fritz's political agitation landed him in prison, Mathilde single-handedly edited, managed and printed the paper until authorities banned its publication. Undaunted, Mathilde founded the first German feminist newspaper, Frauen-Zeitung, in September 1848.
Released from prison, Fritz joined the insurgents and fought in the Palatinate, with Carl Schurz serving as his aide-de-camp. Mathilde's excellent horsemanship allowed her to stay with him as an orderly, where she kept an insider's account of the revolution. With their revolution crushed in 1849, the Annekes were forced to flee, joining a large number of German refugees who immigrated to the United States.
In the U.S., the Annekes continued to fight for their ideals. Although she found a more liberal environment than in Germany, she nevertheless found the social and political condition of African Americans and women less than ideal. In March 1852, soon after arriving in Milwaukee, Mathilde started the first feminist journal published by a woman in America, the Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung, and began a close collaboration with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. An eloquent speaker at the national level, she even lobbied in Washington for women's rights.
Her notion of freedom led Anneke to vocally oppose slavery and enthusiastically support the Union during the Civil War. Stuck in Switzerland while Fritz served the in the Union Army (the Annekes had gone to Europe to report on Garibaldi's uprising in Italy), Mathilde wrote articles and stories in support of the Union cause for prominent German publications.
After the war, Mathilde was able to return to the U.S. Hoping to pass her democratic ideals on to the next generation, she founded a school for girls in Milwaukee, which she ran until her death on November 25, 1884.