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H.E.R.O. Profile -- Freida Wunderlich

H.E.R.O. Profile -- Freida Wunderlich

Author : Ammarah Ahmed

Why They're Important?

Frieda Wunderlich was a German sociologist, economist, politician and part of the women's movement and fight for equality. Most known for her research on labor and social policies and, for helping to establish labor as a branch of Economics, she was also a prominent figure in Weimar Republic (post-World War I Germany) who was later forced to leave her home because of her religion in 1933. Despite her setbacks, Wunderlich managed to not only complete her higher education and get a doctorate but, also become widely published and an acclaimed professor in both Germany and the USA, during a time when women were still struggling to gain a respectable position in society. A notable figure in the field of Economics, her works span multiple topics ranging from labor to social insurance to fascism and Nazism.

Early Life

One of three children, Wunderlich was born on 8th November 1884 in Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany to a Jewish, middle-class family (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020). Her father, David Wunderlich, was a merchant who owned a textile business (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020; Freidenreich, 2009). Education was starting to become more accessible to girls during this time due to the efforts of many women’s movements (Transregional Center, 2020). As a result, Wunderlich was able to complete her secondary education from an all-girls school in 1901, after which she started working at her father’s business for the next few years (Freidenreich, 2009). She completed and passed the German Abitur, a matriculation exam taken at the end of high school, in 1910 and started studying economics and philosophy in the University of Berlin and later in Freiburg (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020).

World War I 

However, after World War I broke out, Wunderlich stopped her studies to work in war related organizations like National Women's Service (Nationaler Frauendienst) which was related to public and private welfare work. She also worked as a specialist in industrial protection of women and employment counselling in the Brandenburg War Department for Labor and Welfare and, in the Central Board for Foreign Relief which was in charge of distributing food and clothes from other countries (Freidenreich, 2009). Her experiences in helping people during the war, especially with finding employment, led to a change in her focus and motivated her to focus on labor and labor policy (Transregional Center, 2020). Her research at university focused on public scholarship, republican governance and humane labor practices (New School, 2020). In 1919 she received a doctorate from the University of Freiburg summa cum laude and published her dissertation on the importance of Hugo Münsterberg, an applied psychologist with a focus on industrial organization, for the national economy ("Hugo Münsterberg's Bedeutung für die Nationalökonomie") (Hendershott, 2018; “Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020). Wunderlich understood the fact that Germany had to recover its economy, which went onto suffer from hyperinflation and recession, after its loss in the War. But she also wanted people to focus on workers and deal with them more humanely in terms of working conditions and policies which led to her becoming more dedicated to the message of having Social Safety Nets for Labor (Transregional Center, 2020).

Post-War Work

After the war ended, Wunderlich became the publisher of Social Practice (Soziale Praxis), a political, anti-Hitler, journal that was considered to be the focus of the social reform movement in Germany, from 1923 till 1933 (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020). She wrote many articles and books on social policy and economic theory, focusing on international aspects of women’s labor and employment protection (Freidenreich, 2009). She also acted as the head of Society for Social Reform (Gesellschaft für soziale Reform) and served as a judge in the German Supreme Court for Social Insurance, the highest court for national insurance from 1924 to 1925 (Freidenreich, 2009; “Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020). Wunderlich started her teaching career in 1914, teaching at the Graduate School for Civil Administrators in University of Berlin, alongside the Women’s School for Social Welfare in Berlin (Freidenreich, 2009) and continued on to become a professor of sociology and social politics at the Staatliches Berufspädagogisches Institut (Vocational Pedagogical Institute) in Berlin (Freidenreich, 2009; “Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020).


Wunderlich was also involved in politics, serving in the Berlin City Council for eight years from 1925 to 1933 (Freidenreich, 2009). Furthermore, she served as a representative of the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei) from 1930 till 1932 in Prussian State Parliament (Hendershott, 2018) as she wanted Germany to have a democratic system (Transregional Center, 2020). Her political work focused on social issues, politics of the labor market and women’s right. She was heavily involved in the women’s movement and believed that women could get further employment opportunities with the growth of public social welfare policies (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020).

National Socialism and "University in Exile"

However, after the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Wunderlich was forced to retire from her academic positions for being a woman and a Jew (Freidenreich, 2009). As a result, she resigned from the City Council as well and emigrated to the United States in the same year (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020) as she received an invitation from the ‘New School for Social Research’ in New York City. She worked as a professor of political and social science on its Graduate Faculty, also known as ‘the University in Exile’, as it served as a rescue program for European academics fleeing fascism in Europe (Freidenreich, 2009). One of the ten, and the only woman, founding member of the ‘University of Exile’, she was later elected to be the dean of the Graduate Faculty from 1939 until 1940, making her the first female dean of an American graduate school (“Frieda Wunderlich”, 2020; Hendershott, 2018).

New School

At the New School, Wunderlich mainly focused on social problems, the labor market and the methods of resource allocation used by totalitarian governments, especially in USSR and Germany in times of war, the last of which is amongst her most well-known work after emigrating (“Frieda Wunderlich papers”, n.d). As a professor she taught courses on labor economics and socio-economic policy and history. Wunderlich taught more than 150 courses at New School, including ‘Labor Problems’, ‘Social Security’, ‘Seminar on Industrial Relations’ and ‘Introduction to Labor Economics and Labor Sociology’ (Hendershott, 2018).

Work in USA

After coming to the United States, Wunderlich’s works focused on the dangers of national socialism, with Nazism, fascism and communism becoming a focal point in many of the courses she taught (Transregional Center, 2020; Hendershott, 2018). She also went on to write about social insurance and universal healthcare, often comparing the situation in the United States to what had had already happened in Europe (Transregional Center, 2020). All her work during this time was initially published in the New School’s journal, ‘Social Research’ such as “New Aspects of Unemployment in Germany”, 1934, “Women’s Work in Germany”, 1935 and, “Some Aspects of Social Work in the German Democratic Republic”, 1936. Wunderlich retired from teaching in 1954, a year after which she received an honorary degree from the University of Cologne for contribution to the social sciences (Freidenreich, 2009).


Wunderlich passed away on 9 December 1965 in East Orange, New Jersey (Hendershott, 2018). Her contributions to economics and particularly in helping establish labor economics as a subfield of economics continue to be of great importance till this day. In her memorial in ‘Social Research’, she is credited not only for her research and contributions to the fields of economics, sociology, social work and politics, but also for being one of the first social scientists to focus on the “role and status of women in industrial economies (“Frieda Wunderlich papers”, n.d).

Notable Works (“Frieda Wunderlich”, n.d)

  1. Hugo Münsterbergs Bedeutung für die Nationalökonomie, 1920
  2. Die Bekämpfung der Arbeitslosigkeit in Deutschland, 1925
  3. Produktivität, 1926
  4. Der Kampf um die Sozialversicherung, 1930
  5. Versicherung und Fürsorge under Krisenriskio, 1932
  6. "New Aspects of Unemployment in Germany", 1934, Social Research.
  7. "Women's Work in Germany", 1935, Social Research.
  8. "Some Aspects of Social Work in the German Democratic Republic", 1936, Social Research.
  9. "Germany's Defense Economy and the Decay of Capitalism", 1938, QJE.
  10. Labor under German DemocracyArbitration, 1918-1933, 1940
  11. British Labor and the War, 1941
  12. "Fascism and the German Middle Classes", 1945, Antioch Review.
  13. German Labor Courts, 1946
  14. Farm Labor in Germany, 1810-1945, 1961


Hendershott, C. Frieda Wunderlich. Histories of the new school (2018, April 24). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from http://newschoolhistories.org/hstrs/labor-at-the-new-school/

Frieda Wunderlich. (2020, November 22). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frieda_Wunderlich

Freidenreich, H. (2009, February 27). Frieda Wunderlich. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wunderlich-frieda

Frieda Wunderlich papers. (n.d.). The new school srchives & special collections. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://findingaids.archives.newschool.edu/repositories/3/resources/176

Frieda Wunderlich. (n.d.). History of economic thought. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.hetwebsite.net/het/profiles/wunderlich.htm

Transregional Center for Democratic Studies NSSR. (2020, November 120. Remembering Gender: Recovering Lives, Reshaping Intellectual Histories- Thursday, November 12, 2020. YouTube. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MtXgUClh9o

The New School. (2020, September 2). A Refuge for Scholars: The Women Behind the University in Exile | Women’s Legacy Project. YouTube. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3FWBfBAf8I



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