Elisabeth Selbert

* 22.09.1896 (Kassel) 09.06.1986 (Kassel) Germany
Fields of activity: women rights
Author: Erdmute Dietmann-Beckert

Elisabeth Selbert (timbre RFA)

Quotation: „Men and women shall have equal rights“. (BGB Art. 3,2)

Why do I think this woman is important?

Elisabeth Selbert had the courage to demand the above mentioned sentence to be included in the new constitution, in spite of the male opposition. Today women can invoke this paragraph when it is acted against. However, as this rule is not everywhere obeyed, this means also in professional life, women have to stay attentive.

The Pre-Parliament of 1948

After the German Reich had collapsed in 1945, Germany was split into four zones of occupation. The zones occupied by the Soviets were separated from the West. The “Cold War” threatened.

In this situation, the Americans urged the western German representatives of the three zones – the English, French and the American, to unite. They should develop a pre-constitution. The possibility for a constitution of the united Germany should be maintained for the future

Selbert’s Victory

The lawyer Selbert is called to take part in the Parliamentarians’ Council in Bonn. She is a delegate of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) in Hannover. She is one of the four women in the council. When the Fundamental Rights in Article 3 of the new constitution are discussed, a verbal dispute comes up. The majority in the Council does not want to change the sentence ‘Men and women have equal rights and duties in the community’. Selbert vetoes. After two defeats in subsequent ballots, Selbert mobilizes German women. From all over Western Germany, with the exception of Bavaria, letters and postcards arrive in Bonn demanding the formulation ‘Men and women shall have equal rights’. The third ballot is Elisabeth Selbert’s triumph. Later she will say ‘It was the moment of glory in my life’

Civic Engagement and Profession

Being a member of the SPD, Elisabeth Selbert is engaged in the local activities. Selbert had pleaded for equal rights for women long before it is balloted in 1948 in the Parliamentary Council. Equal rights of women were already in the constitution of the Weimar republic in 1918, but only in relation to civil rights.
When Hitler was in power, Selbert was forced to practice political abstinence if she wanted to continue working as a lawyer. She acquired a practice from a Jewish lawyer who is forced to sell it. Some Jewish fellow citizens in Kassel asked her to issue contracts in connection with the sale of their possessions, to be able to finance their escape from Germany. After the war Elisabeth is reproached for having enriched herself.
In October 1943 the whole city of Kassel is on fire. Elisabeth’s office is burned down. After a further bomb attack, Selbert and her husband leave the town. They settle outside the city and impatiently wait for the end of the war and Germany’s capitulation.

Family and Studies

Elisabeth was Georg and Eva Rhode’s second daughter. After her middle school exam she worked as a foreign correspondent and in the ‘Telegrapic service’. In 1918 she marries Adam Selbert. The couple has two sons.
In 1926 she does her A level as an external student. She studies law and completes it with the title Dr. jur. (Doctor of Law). Shortly before women are no longer allowed to run own legal office, she gets an official permission to practice as lawyer. Because of his political attitude, Adam Selbert is taken in preventive arrest and after being released he is no longer allowed to work. So Elisabeth is the responsible for the maintenance of the family.


Elisabeth Selbert has become an important person in the German democratic history, because she had not given in when the Article 3 was discussed. However, her effort was not rewarded by a seat in the new parliament. Nor was she appointed to the Highest Court.

Yet Elisabeth Selbert was pleased with her success. Later she was named called ‘The lucky strike for our democracy`.

Literature and links:

  • Böttger, Barbara. Das Recht auf Gleichheit und Differenz. Münster 1990.

  • Dertinger, Antje. Elisabeth Selbert. Eine Kurzbiographie. Wiesbaden 1989.

  • Selbert, Elisabeth. Die große Anwältin der Gleichberechtigung. Hrsg. Die hessische Landesregierung. Frankfurt am Main 1999.

  • http://www.hdg.de/lemo/html/biografien/SelbertElisabeth/9.2.14.

  • http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Selbert 9.2.14.

  • Bildquelle: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elisabeth_Selbert_%28timbre_RFA%29.jpg Bildrechte erteilt von Oliver Aretz (Graphik) und dem Bundesfinanzministerium Referat VIII A 7 Postwertzeichen und Münzen.