The word trauma has become fashionable. Everyone we know or hear about seems to have undergone trauma, from the most horrific to the most mundane. We speak of trauma whether some-

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one barely escaped a Russian bombardment from a Ukrainian city with no more than the clothes on their backs to the urban housewife whose husband snores at night. We have devalued the meaning of the word and additionally removed it from its context. In this essay, I attempt to show how trauma experienced over many generations was not broken by the proposals of the most sophisticated German women of the late 18th century but instead interrupted in a humble rural setting a century later, also in a German-speaking area.

The trauma addressed here is the truly troublesome experiences of women in households and child abuse, both of which were practiced generation after generation in agricultural households. Because they were uniquely affected, and still are in many societies, I concentrate on married women and female children. The abuse ran/runs from being abandoned to being abused and raped to being used as slave labor. According to Arthur E. Imhof’s (1996) The Lost Worlds: How Our European Ancestors Coped with Everyday Life and Why Life Is So Hard Today, women who married usually did so as a matter of family planning to produce many children so that some would survive, to take care of a household, to tolerate their husband’s lack of care and/or abuses, and to attend church to pray for forgiveness for sins she most likely had not committed and alleviate her pain. In general, women internalized their disappointment, bitterness, and anger better than men who could and did, for example, externalize their anger by running their households, later in history institutions as well as governments, with iron fists, as explained by Sven Fuchs (2019) in Childhood is Political: Wars, Terror, Extremism—Dictatorships and Force as a Consequence of Destructive Childhood Experiences.

From my observations of farm life, women’s greatest disappointments centered on the many lost children, the onerous daily routines, and the lack of caring attention from husbands. Lloyd deMause argued in his 1982 article “The Evolution of Childhood” that women (and men) for eons did not love their children sufficiently and saw this as the reason they lost so many of them. He is partially correct, and the lack of care concentrated more on female than male children. (The following account originated with Gottfried [Fried’l] Mantinger in 2011 of a much earlier interaction between two farmers about the arrival of a girl. “Congratulations. What is it?” asked the first. Replied the new father, “A girl.”  “Ah,” said the first, “fewer of them would be good.”)  No doubt,

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 many female lives began with this put-down and moved on to the other trauma that tumbled along from one generation to the next; mother taught daughter, she taught granddaughter, and so on. “Our mothers treat us,” goes the saying, “the way their mothers treated them.”

This essay is about discovering the rare step away from these debilitating approaches, but it did not originate in the place or time often suspected. As I noted in my article, in the late 18th century, several highly educated and sophisticated German women proposed love as a core to relationships, including marriage (Petschauer, 2018). They opposed, for example, parents determining the partners of their children; a splendid proposal, but it contradicted the needs of the time. The idea appealed to a small group of upper and upper-middle-class urban women, the most sophisticated of the time. However, most men and women continued to toil in the agricultural setting, and these few could not possibly exemplify for them the breakthrough to a marriage that was filled with love and understanding. The opposite happened. Misunderstood “love in marriage” guaranteed the continuation of abusive behaviors of women and men toward each other and their children even in the upper classes. In addition, aside from these “practical” reasons, the French Revolution’s impact on the then Germanies aided in drowning out this moderate voice.

Marriages continued to result, at best, in a supportive relationship, and at worst, in disdain. Even in supportive households, phrases like, “I did everything for you I could,” lingered into the 20th century. This expectation of accomplishing tasks meant doing everything that was expected but left out support and love. The survival of a farm, and later middle and lower-class households, superseded the needs of the individuals within it. The best and most accessible example of a breakthrough to a more moderate approach took place in the family of the Egarter farm in Afers/Eores in the Dolomite Mountains at the end of the 19th century. I grew up on this farm in the 1940s. The two main characters are the farmer and his wife, Josef and Aloisia Clara.

As background, Josef needed a wife because he was the heir to a farm, and he probably assessed which of the available girls/women he knew would best fit his needs. The Catholic church of the village surely played a role as well; Josef and Aloisia were deeply religious. Additionally, he was the church organist, and other family members sang in the choir. He was an eligible bachelor.

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Then too is the curious fact that his sister attended art school in Merano and served a noble family as a governess in Florence before WWI, then became the village elementary school teacher after the war ended.

Yet we have no readily discoverable clue about their behavior, except that Josef loved Aloisia and she loved him, and he found ways to express his love for her. The question over which I stumbled is this: How/where did his love for her originate? Important is that he was born in 1889 while she was born in 1890. He inherited the farm in 1901, after the death of his father Josef; they married 12 years later. The most promising clue is that they attended elementary school together and walked home after classes along the same path. She had much further to go than he, but for about 15-20 minutes, they inevitably walked with each other, as I did when I was a child with some girls and boys who lived further into the valley. Because they were close in age, this assumption enjoys some roots, especially because most farms were then relatively isolated; their daily walk overcame this overlooked obstacle. Even if Josef had noticed her in church, he could not have approached her readily because men and women went their separate ways after Sunday mass; she went home with the women to cook and he most likely accompanied his father to the priest’s residence, the Widum.

Josef’s approach was masterly. He carved and painted for Aloisia a small statue of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes as an engagement present. According to Maria (Clara) Mantinger, their last surviving daughter, in a 2011 interview, her mother told her that she was absolutely delighted with the present. Rather than stop his loving approach after Aloisia and Josef married in 1913, he and his sister, the teacher Agnes, reverse-painted and carefully framed images of St. Laurent and St. Agatha as gifts to the young bride. He and the teacher also created a massive crèche (Nativity scene) both for their Stube (living room) and the village church of St. Georg. Their love had not diminished when he returned from the so-called Southern Austro-Hungarian front; their last child, Maria, was born after his death.

The behavior of the couple explains their love for each other and their children as well as offers insight into a different breakthrough—a love that was deeply embedded in their faith. It was a loving approach to marriage and childrearing. Ultimately, it led to the transmission of this more moderate approach to living with each other and treating their children, going from one generation to the

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next. Aloisia and Josef bore 13 children, and whenever they lost a Maria, they named the next girl Maria. This is another hint of their love for each of their children. When I was placed on the farm in 1942, five children had survived: four girls and one son. Three of the daughters married and carried on the loving tradition.

According to Dr. Marianne Saller, a psychoanalyst in lower Bavaria, Germany, who for nearly 50 years worked with farm women, breakthroughs like this are rare, and yet they occurred occasionally, their lessons potentially lasting for generations. But the behavior rarely moved outward into other families. She also noticed that it can be interrupted in a later generation because of external events, like war or a marriage to a partner whose family has not reached this moderate approach. Interestingly, my parents had reached a similar approach to childrearing when they placed my brother and me on the Egarter farm. Neither my father nor my mother ever hit us, although my mother deeply questioned me after my brother’s death in 1946. All the same, their behavior fit in with that of the Clara family, and the two approaches unknowingly reinforced each other and were considered the norm.

The reason my father chose this family for my brother and me first to vacation and then to settle on the farm permanently in 1943 was that it stood out as a leading family in the village. Josef’s sister was the teacher; the oldest daughter cooked in the archbishop’s residence in Brixen and to whom my father was introduced; Josef, and later his son, Albert, played the organ; and almost all members of the family sang in the church choir. This status gave the family access to other ways of behaving.

As suspected by Saller, there is no evidence that households in the rest of the village made a similar breakthrough as the Clara family at that time. Still, some in this village and others in South Tyrol may have moved in a more positive direction because the area enjoyed peace for decades before WWI. “Things” were improving, older women told me. The breakthrough for the village as a whole and others in the area came in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite another lost war (WWII) and Italy retaking the area, an amazing economic recovery made households more financially secure, and a rapid decline in birthrates occurred simultaneously. Thus, as deMause argued long ago, parents could invest care with confidence in the few survivors; also, women and men began to marry not for family reasons but for availability and attraction. By the outset of the 1970s, at least Afers had changed from the crib up.

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References:

  • Fuchs, Sven (2019). (In German) Childhood is political: Wars, terror, extremism—Dictatorships and force as a consequence of destructive childhood experiences. Mattes.
  • Imhof, Arthur E. (1996). The lost worlds: How our European ancestors coped with everyday life and why life is so hard today. University of Virginia Press.
  • Petschauer, Peter (2018). (In German) Women’s education as motor of cultural progress. Home economics and progress. Jahrbuch für psychohistorische Forschung, 18, pp. 221-227.

Authors:

Peter W. Petschauer

Peter W. Petschauer, PhD, Dr hc, is Professor Emeritus of European History from Appalachian State University. He is also an author and a poet. Some of his most recent works include An Immigrant in the 1960s: Finding Hope and Success in New York City (2020) and Hopes and Fears: Past and Present (2019). The author may be reached at or peterpetschauer.com.

How to Cite This:

Petschauer, P. W. (2023). The unique breakthroughs to love in marriage. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 197-202.

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