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Bauhaus Women


10 April, 2024

This text was part of my PhD entitled Material Dramaturgy: Tracing Trails of Dust in the Architectural Design Process. It served as a preface before I delved into my research on the engagement with materials in the contemporary context of architecture. This collection you see now is somewhat different from the references I had in my dissertation. For Women Writing Architecture I added some literature written by Bauhaus women and secondary sources about Bauhaus women.

The (hidden) collective power of Bauhaus women

Moreover, like women, textiles have traditionally
been cast in the supportive role: one notices the
chair, but not its cover.1
–                          Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, 1993

When the Bauhaus opened in 1919, Gertrud Grunow was the first woman to teach there. She was a singer who had completed her music education and was influenced by the model of ‘rhythmic education’ as outlined by the Swiss music educator Émilie Jaques-Dalcroze. Based on three basic elements, ‘timing, strength and space’ in relation to the body, Grunow’s education resonated with the reforms to pedagogical ideas proposed by Bauhaus founder the architect Walter Gropius. Therefore, she was able to function “as the only woman in the position of a form master”,2 an exception to the dominant outlook: “the teaching staff [remained] recalcitrant against female colleagues”.3

Statistics collected for the Statistische Reichsamt in Weimar between 1919 and 1925 show that at the beginning of the winter semester 1919–20 equal numbers of female and male students attended the Bauhaus. Only one semester later, the number of female students had dropped by a quarter. This seemed to be Gropius’s aim, curbing the number of female students after their initially strong attendance. In 1921, for example, Gropius replied to a request from the young and motivated painter and potter Grete Heymann to join the pottery workshop: “in the pottery [women] can no longer be admitted for the time being”.4 He sent most female applicants to the weaving department, which was specifically intended for women, reserving room for men in the metal and wood workshops. Thus, the weaving workshop became the department most visited by female students. With seventeen female and only two male students, it was by far the largest class at the Bauhaus, while other classes were mostly represented by seven male apprentices.5 Bookbinding and mural painting, also considered typical work for women, were the second and third largest, and contained five and four women respectively. Not a single female apprentice was trained in 1920–21. It was not until the winter semester of 1923–24 that there were three female apprentices again – two in weaving and one in mural painting. In the meantime, the number of women had been reduced in the remaining workshops. Thus, only the wood sculpting/ metal workshop, pottery, mural painting, and still the largest workshop – weaving – were attended by women. The demand from women regarding apprenticeships in craft workshops was high. However, their interests were restricted, because Gropius was not the only one who believed that the “women’s question at the State Bauhaus […] was unresolved.”6 “[Women] did not belong in the building workshops”.7 In 1922, the bookbinder and master craftsman Otto Dorfner, for instance, wrote in his letter “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar” (Proposals for the Structure of the State Bauhaus Weimar) that the “textile and women’s departments” had to be further developed so that “they have a work area within which they can be productively active, taking into account their physical condition”.8 Dorfner and his colleagues dictated what women were to do: “Let us let the woman weave carpets, weave cloth, dye, print, paint, let her embroider and make dresses”.9 It is clear from his writing that women were seen as “productive force[s]”,10 but not as artists. Architecture remained men’s business, which women should furnish with their “cosy” works.11 It is therefore not surprising that in the summer semester of 1922, Dorfner’s proposal to build a “women’s and children’s clothing workshop”, in addition to the weaving and embroidery workshop, was accepted.12

There had been a completely different mood at the Bauhaus in the winter semester of 1919–20, when an interested female student, requesting whether there was a fashion and advertising class, was told that this was “not affiliated with the Bauhaus”, exposing the institutions disinterest in art forms associated with women.13 The change in view two years later can probably be attributed to the steadily increasing demand for textiles from various buyers, as well as to Gropius’s interest in bringing his Bauhaus to the market. “The weaving workshop [was] […] supplied with the most operating and turnover capital.”14 According to art historian T’ai Smith, the representation of Bauhaus fabrics in photographs had a significant impact on the demand for fabrics.15 An understanding of material was an advantage when it came to mediating the textiles. Successful photographs made it possible to present the textiles produced in such a way as to promote sales. In the short time of its existence, the Bauhaus weaving workshop managed to make a name for itself. It was not uncommon for it to have to turn down applications from interested students due to insufficient capacity. This also had an influence on production. In January 1924, there was a request from the Werkkunst der Deutschen Frauen (Artwork of German Women) for products from the Bauhaus to contribute to an exhibition on the subject of “women’s clothing”.16 Due to the “strong demand”,17 however, this was rejected because the weaving workshop “was not sufficiently equipped [with workshop products]”.18 The Bauhaus postponed the request until a later date, when the warehouses would be filled again with equipment.19 The weavings produced by women were thus used to present the Bauhaus to the outside world.

The female students had often already been trained in some form of craft before they began studying at art academies or had at least been able to mentally prepare themselves for their upcoming studies: “The soul remained hungry! It had to be craftsmanship! Almost all of us came from academies and schools of arts and crafts and wanted to free ourselves from the dry life of painting and drawing.”20 This view was partly due to recent historical developments. Young women were not conscripted as soldiers. They took over men’s roles in productive craft. In addition to all the dilettantism, there were educational institutions like the girls’ school of the Sophie Foundation in Weimar, which made sure that their “young girls” were informed about possible career paths.21 The head of the Bauhaus weaving workshop, Helene Börner, was invited to give a short lecture on the subject at the Sophie Foundation in 1924.22 The weaving workshop established itself as a vocational training centre. It counted as “a workshop in which much capital [was] anchored”.23 As a result, the weaving workshop was seen as a foundation for many women to pursue a further career path after education that regularly had nothing to do with textiles.24 Upon leaving the Bauhaus, apprentices were fully trained “prototypes for industry”.25 Through constant trial and error, weaving almost gained an equivalent status to the foundation course of painter Johannes Itten, who with his charismatic and autonomous teaching brought his students to new insights – whether artistic or spiritual. Experimentation with materials, successes and failures, brought students the knowledge of what the Bauhaus was all about.26 Not just learning, but living.

Although women achieved considerable success and were influential, they were never fully integrated into the Bauhaus community. Despite not being fully accepted by their male colleagues, the women’s idealism continued to grow. They began to describe their work and articulate their ideas and understandings of materials in essays, with their theory of weaving grounded in practice.27 The women’s work was recognised as less individual; they felt they belonged to a larger project that was given a framework by their cohesion as a group, collaborating with textiles. Positioned between the external image and the self-created internal – where did the women want to locate themselves? With whom or what had they identified? With a lot of perseverance and courage, the Bauhaus weavers designed new fabrics and made it possible to use previously unthinkable materials such as synthetic fibres. This self-awareness and sensitivity were based on empathy and trust in the materials they used, which in a way made it possible to build social structures between humans and non-humans. Above all, it made clear that material does more than depict – it communicates, mediates and performs. The cover of the Bauhaus magazine of July 1931, for instance, features a close-up of a woven fabric by the weaver Margarete Leischner.28 It shows thin fibre and coarse wool woven into an unusual structure. Twenty years later, Leischner used similar pronounced handling of the possibilities of industrial machinery, coupled with her material literacy, to re-interpret Harris tweed for the British furniture industry in Manchester.29 The material, through its performative potential, challenged Leischner to create social networks within the creative centre of the British textile industry, which, among other things, helped her settle into her exile.

This story about women’s (hidden) collective power in the development of the material culture of the Bauhaus, and its dependence on the intimate relationships with textiles that developed in the Bauhaus weaving workshop has lessons for contemporary studies in architecture:

How does material become an actor and to what extent does material trigger social action?

How does the theory of making serve practice? What creates knowledge about and with material?

How does empathy emerge in the making process?

How can trust in material be an indication of social fabric in the making?


1 Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993), 9.
2 Ulrike Müller, Bauhaus-Frauen: Meisterinnen in Kunst, Handwerk und Design (Munich: Elisabeth Sandmann Verlag, 2009), 7. Mara Trübenbach translation.
3 Anonymous. Die rote Köchin Geschichte und Kochrezepte einer spartakistischen Zelle am Bauhaus Weimar (Mainz: Ventil Verlag, 2012), 54. Mara Trübenbach translation.
4 Letter from Staatlichem Bauhaus to Grete Heymann, 28 March 1921, LATh – HStA Weimar: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, No.152, Bl. 1761. Mara Trübenbach translation.
5 Landesarchiv Thüringen, Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, No. 137. Mara Trübenbach translation.
6 Otto Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar“ (Proposals for the Structure of the State Bauhaus Weimar), 12 May 1922, 3 ll.18–19. Mara Trübenbach translation.
7 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, l.19. Mara Trübenbach translation.
8 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, ll.23–24. Mara Trübenbach translation.
9 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, ll.23–24. Mara Trübenbach translation.
10 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, ll.23–24.Mara Trübenbach translation.
11 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, ll.23–24. Mara Trübenbach translation.
12 Dorfner, “Vorschläge zum Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar”, 5 ll.19–20. Mara Trübenbach translation.
13 Letter from Bauhaus to Thora Baacke, 11 December 1919, LATh – HStA Weimar:Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, No. 128, Bl. 565. Mara Trübenbach translation.
14 Staatliches Bauhaus, 20 May 1924, LATh – HStA Weimar: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar. Mara Trübenbach translation.
15 T’ai Smith, “The Haptics of Optics: Weaving and Photography”, in Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 79–110.
16 Letter from Werkkunst der Deutschen Frauen to Staatliche Bauhaus, 8 January 1924, LATh – HStA Weimar: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, No. 303, Bl. 303. Mara Trübenbach translation.
17 Letter, Bl. 303. Mara Trübenbach translation.
18 Letter, Bl. 304. Mara Trübenbach translation.
19 Letter, Bl. 304. Mara Trübenbach translation.
20 Gunta Stölzl, “Die Entwicklung der Bauhausweberei” [1931], in Handwerk wird modern. Vom Herstellen am Bauhaus, ed. Regina Bittner and Reneé Padt (Bielefeld/ Berlin: Kerber Verlag, 2017), 154. Mara Trübenbach translation.
21 Schule des Sophienstifts, 13 January 1924, LATh – HStA Weimar: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, No. 167, Bl.1439. Mara Trübenbach translation.
22 Schule des Sophienstifts, Bl.1439.
23 Leitung des staatlichen Bauhauses, 26 April 1924, LATh – HStA Weimar: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar. Mara Trübenbach translation.
24 Wortmann Weltge, Bauhaus Textiles, 10.
25 Weltge, Bauhaus Textiles, 16.
26 Weltge, Bauhaus Textiles, 44.
27 Smith, Bauhaus Weaving Theory, 14.
28 Burcu Dogramaci, “Bauhaus-Transfer. Die Textildesignerin Margarete Leischner in Dessau und im britischen Exil”, in Entfernt. Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, ed. Inge Hansen-Schaberg, Wolfgang Thönder and Adriane Feustel (Munich: edition text + kritik, 2012), 98.
29 Dogramaci, “Bauhaus-Transfer”, 103.


Bauhaus Women

This text was part of my PhD entitled Material Dramaturgy: Tracing Trails of Dust in the Architectural Design Process. It served as a preface before I delved into my research on the engagement with materials in the conte...