Monday, 20 October 2014

Elsbeth Timmermann-Heuss , Elvira Castner and some other remarkable girls

Elsbeth Timmermann-Heuss
(Wunstorf near Hannover 1873 – Wunstorf 1948)
forgotten German painter and printmaker. 

Faithful reader Markus (who appeared in dear Charles' Blog recently) is pointing me regularly to hidden female German (early) printmakers in my ongoing research concerning German women printmakers born before 1900. His most recent hint was to this “Linolschnitt”, linocut print, surfacing in German Ebay.

It is titled “Plön:/ Hol. Mariënhöhe” and signed E. Timmermann-Heuss, monogramed in the block ETH. It has a lovely soft pallet and the technique of overlaying the different blocks using transparant paint creating multiple new and “in between” colors giving it an impressionistic atmosphere. Elsbeth certainly new what she was doing. Maybe she'd been in nearby Heikendorf (near Kiel), an artist colony in the early 20th century. 

Curious about the unknown printmaker what follows is what I was able to find on a rainy day. The name Mariënhöhe probably was only known to a very limited circle because the building and location, I've found, is the castle Prinzenhaus in Plön situated between Lübeck and Kiel in province Holstein north of Hamburg.
View on Castle Plön, woodcut possibly by Frido Witte (1881-1965)
The castle was refurbished in 1895 to accommodate the education of Emperor Wilhelm II's six sons. Holstein being the native province of their mother Empress Augusta-Viktoria. Wilhelm was Englands Queen Victoria's son. It was as such in use until 1910 when the boys were grown up and in 1914 it became a military hospital ("Lazarett") so between 1910 and 1914 it will have been in use as "Mariënhöhe" Garden School.  

In a 2013 newspaper article (link*) I learned Elsbeth was born in Wunstorf  10 miles west of Hannover and that Wilhelm Timmermann, a doctor, probably had been her brother. Which brings me to the curious habit of placing the (her) married/husbands name after her maiden-name. The article also stated she’d lived in the USA for some time but had returned to Wunstorf. A painting, mentioned in the article showing a location, the abby now library, in Wunstorf, and was created in 1938 probably after she'd returned ?

In a 1907 passengers list of SS Kronprinz Wilhelm” one of the great  Norddeutscher Lloyd ocean steamers, I found: Elsbeth Heuss (30) and Theodor Heinrich Heuss (41) travelling from Bremen to New-York and next to Baltimore. Could she be Elsbeth from Wunstorf ? On arriving the couple was recorded and registrated at New-York's Ellis Island’s immigrations office. Theodor Heinrich was born 05-01-1866 in Ebersbach near Heilbron which is not far away from the village of Brackenheim where a namesake was born: Germany’s first elected Federal President (“Bundespräsident”) in 1949: Theodor Heuss (1884-1963). Maybe there is a relationship: in both families Theodor and Louis (Ludwig) are common names.

Since 1910 the Prinzenhaus in Plön housed one of Germany’s Advanced Horticultural Colleges (Höhere Gartenbauschule) for (educated) Women (this one founded by Marie Schwertzel (*). These schools followed the initiative of Lady Warwick in Reading, Berkshire, England (1889) (read here for more about the Prince of Wales' mistress). In those days, women were not allowed to follow courses as academy students. Has Elsbeth been a student in Mariënhöhe? There's just the one reference to the name Mariënhöhe to be found in combination with the horticultural school in Plön. And that's in a footnote.


Dr.Elvira Castner 
(born Zempelburg 10-03-1844 - probably 1919)

Pioneer female dentist graduated 1878 in Baltimore (USA) practicing for 20 years in Berlin 
Founding mother of horticultural schools for girls in Northern Germany since 1894

Mariënhöhe school in Plön was founded by a student of a student(*) of founding mother Dr. Elvira Castner, a most remarkable woman. She was one of the first female German dentists (a colleague !), trained and educated in Baltimore USA because academic training and careers for girls were still impossible in Germany. She arrived in Baltimore in 1876 (31 years and unmarried) with SS Gellert (build one year before) owned by the Hamburg-America Line. 29 years later Elsbeth followed the same route in 1907 with the Kronprinz Wilhelm

After 20 years of practice in Berlin however already in her 50's she was more interested in training young women to produce horticultural pruducts in Germany to replace American import and creating decent professional education and careers for girls. (Read here* for more about this extraordinary woman and see below (**)

She followed in the footsteps of another great women-rights pioneer Hedwig Heyl-Crüsemann (Bremen 1850-1934 Berlin) who started the Horticultural School for Women initiative in Berlin in 1890. Heyl's father Eduard by the way was one of the owners of the Norddeutsche Lloyd (see above). 

Although Heyl undoubtedly started the idea and enterprise she supported Elvira Castner's spreading of the gospel of founding new schools led by newly educated professional women a few years later and soon after started a new greenhouse project. For women. As a free thinker and true follower of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) she believed freedom from need not only applied to the foods she and her students produced but also to her initiative and life-work: truly a great an altruistic woman.    

All further information is welcomed and will be shared with readers of this Blog. 

A request for information to the Wunstorf regional newspaper with a request for help from local readers is already underway.

(*)   Marie Schwertzel (01-05-1871 Schönhagen) she founded the Mariënhöhe school in Plön and had been in 1907-09 a student of Marta Back, herself a student of Elvira Castner starting her own horticultural school in nearby Holtenau in 1900. I could not find any biographical facts concerning these two women.
(**) Felicitas Glade 2008: Jungfern im Grünen, Berufsausbildung für "höhere Töchter" in Gartenbauschülen fur Frauen. 
("Damsels in green", professional training for "higher daughters" in horticultural schools for women. 


  1. It has taken me quite a while, but now I am positive that the artist is not Frido Witte but Josef Weisz (1894 - 1969), due to the monogram and style that goes along with his 1937 Paris world exhibition award-winning print "Wettereiche im Voralpenland" (weather oak at the foothills of the alps).
    His life and work base was Munich, which shows in almost all his art, and until now I could not find any hint what might have brought him to create a scene from northern Germany.


  2. More about Elvira Castner and her school here :

  3. Interesting woman, thank you.