Elisabet Boehm and Village Women

The former East Prussia still amazes…

Some time ago I was captured by a marvelous portrait of Agnes von der Groeben, and now – I have “stumbled” upon another remarkable woman from this land.

And everything – as usual – by accident …

Well, during our short holiday in Galiny (Galingen) – we went to Kętrzyn (Rastenburg), as I wanted very much to see the tomb banner of Botho Zu Eulenburg. The tomb banners were popular in the 17th century and later. Not many of them survived – as the material is not resistant to time and… wars (and those were numerous here throughout the history).

En route we dropped to Łabędnik (Groß Schwansfeld) – well, not everything has to match our imagination… And then we drove through Garbno. Just drove… not even giving the place a bit of interest…

What a pity we did not stop there!


To answer this – I have to start from the beginning 😉

Once upon a time…

In the Prussian times Garbno had a different name… In the 14th century it was called Laumygarbis, and in the next – 15th century the place was called Lamegarben. The name of the settlement may derive from Prussian language. “Lamem”, “lama” – meant marshes, swamps, wet place, and “garbis” – meant the hill. And so it was a “Hill among the marshes.” Also it sometimes can be read that the name derives from the word “Lauma” – witch. And the translation of the name as “Hill of Witches.” Probably the will-o’-the-wisps were mistaken for witches. 😉

And then, a standard history of these areas swept through here.  Namely: the Teutonic Knights and their new orders. Castles, manors and firstly the fortified churches were built in these lands. The newly built churches were often placed on the former (pagan) worship sites.

And so it was with the church in Garbno. It was built on a hill, probably on an ancient place of Bartian worship. See the map of the Prussian tribes (clans) in the 13th century.

The castle is not preserved – as it was destroyed during the Thirteen Year’s War .

Of course the new propaganda wanted and had to tame the place, so they made a legend about the lamb appearing at the same time and in the same place. Whenever it was caught – it escaped miraculously just to appear again in harvest time… So the church was built in the place of the lamb’s appearance.

We must however remember that the place was give to the free Prussians. Contrary to the popular belief, the Prussians were not exterminated by the Teutons. The were assimilated probably more or less in the 16th or 17th century. In the 13th century a village was founded – today’s Garbno –  based on the Kulm Law. And then, as it often happened here – the history changed its course.

In the beginning of 1521 the then Teutonic Grand Master – Albert handed ca. 14 włóka (włóka means today’s 17,955 ha, or ca.44,4 acres) of land in Garbno to Heinrich von Egloffstein. And the village stayed in the hands of this family until 1832.

However – probably the village was leased to a von Buddenbrock family while the Egloffsteins lived in their palace in Arklity (Arklitten). Here at the beginning of 1810 Gustav von Buddenbrock was born. Later he became a Prussian army officer and a Knight of the Order Pour La Merite (for participation in the Franco-Prussian War).

In 1832 Garbno gets a new owner, a Christian Bierfreund. After a few years – the property goes into the hands of Lieutenant Konrad von Redecker, who in 1856 sold it to Edward Krause.

(The Redeckers are connected with the wonderful palace in Nakomiady – formerly Eichmedien. 

In 1880 the property was handed to Otto Boehm of Głowbity (d. Glaubitten). And this is where I “stumbled upon” the aforementioned remarkable woman. Otto received the property from his father on the occasion of his wedding with Miss Elisabet  Steppuhn of Łękajny (Landkeim).

Elisabet founded the first in Germany Village Women’s Union (22.02.1898r.). The main goal of this Union was primarily education of village women and enabling them to exchange experiences. This was not all, as the Union also dealt with distribution of preserves.

Elisabeth was the organizer of the school network for women throughout Germany. These schools were aimed at preparing women to conduct household.  The idea was adopted both in Europe and overseas. Polish Village Housewives’ Circles also rose from this movement.

In 1911 the Boehms were forced to sell the property and moved to Konigsberg. The reason for the decision was Otto’s illness. However, this did not slow Elisabet’s activity. With her own funds she set up a foundation, which opened a school for housewives and village women in one of the districts of Königsberg (Princess Cecilia School in Koenigsberg-Metgethen).

The times in which Mrs. Boehm worked were quite difficult for women. In the social sense they were in fact just an addition to the man. All that was expected from them (simplifying of course) was diligence, good manners and the ability to give birth to the successor/heir.

The Village Women’s Union made a bee their sign. It was not only that it was a symbol of what was required of a village woman to be like (work like a busy honey bee). Also because the Union systematically tried to change the mentality of women. So that from the docile and passive (not to say even mindless) robots working on farms, they would become conscious companions of their husbands.

From today’s point of view – nothing extraordinary. But then it was almost a revolution!

And this “revolution” was recognized in 1913. Elisabeth was awarded  silver medal by Her Imperial Majesty – Augusta Victoria during the imperial visit in Königsberg ( Her Imperial Majesty came to visit one of the Boehm schools).

The “work at the foundations” done by the former owner of Garbno was acknowledged and appreciated. In 1920 Departments for Practical Training of Village Women were established within the Governmental Boards of Agriculture .

In 1929 Elisabet Boehm received Honorary Doctorate from the University of Königsberg and an honorary citizenship of the city.

She died in 1943 in Halle.

At the end of the twentieth century – in 1993, Elisabet image was shown on one of the German post stamps in the series “Famous Women.”

In 1998 a plaque dedicated to his exceptional woman was placed on the wall of the Garbno manor.

Elisabet Boehm was not only clever and wise but also beautiful.

What about Garbno?

Well … In 1911, it was acquired by Erich Schultz-Fademrecht. He was a famous breeder of military and agriculture horses. He ran the farm until January 1945, being also the last mayor of the village.

And then in 1945 the Russian front came, or rather hailed down on this land,  and… again new times stroke. Is this the last curve of the history for this place?

And I would have never learned about this all, if I had not found a “Newspaper in Kętrzyn” from 2006 with an interesting article about this remarkable woman…

*  /   *  

And… I thought it was all, that I could not find anything more. I was wrong 🙂 Internet is a wonderful device – and a splendid way of contacting. Recently I received a note on this article. A VERY precious note, as it comes from a member of the Boehm Family… In fact there were two notes (they can be found in the comments to this article). I put them together – and here I am pasting them as one. A very interesting supplement enriching my notes on Elisabeth. Now, she became even more familiar to me. I like her (I also had a great grand mother wearing breeches, and smoking a pipe, helping the poor in her domain, riding a horse, and… gambling…) 🙂

Dear Madam,

Otto Boehm, was a brother of my grandfather (Julius Boehm), born May 14th, 1855 Glaubitten. He died April 1st 1921 Königsberg i. Pr.

Elisabet (his wife) died at Halle/river Saale May 5th, 1943. Her urn was burried at Glaubitten (Globitty/Poland)

Otto Boehm was a quiet retired military man and his wife Elisabet was an extremely active woman more interested in ruling and working for her women association than in family matters. (She did wear the breeches)

The mother of Elisabet Boehm (Steppuhn) was Emilie Dorothea Caroline Roggerath. She was born at Gardelegen, November 6th, 1826. She died at Liekeim , May 8th, 1896

Her Husband was (acc. my resources) Hermann Julius Steppuhn. He was born at Lackmedien, May 14th 1827 and died at Liekeim May 5th, 1907

I am a member of the Boehm family.

With best regards, Gerhard Boehm, Hamburg/Germany

At the world’s end – Frombork

A small town (only about 2500 dwellers) in the north east part of Poland. It was founded in the 13th century, but received civic rights in 1310. It belonged to the bishops of Warmia (Ermland) but then was given to the cathedral charter. It was called Civitas Warmiensis (Warmian Town). And so it was – as Frombork had been Warmia’s capital.

Frombork is the town – where Nicolaus Copernicus spent his adult life. From 1510 till his death in May 1543 he lived here and worked to the glory of God and the Warmian bishops. He was an administrator of the Warmian land, and thus settled many villages – of which many exist till today. He also worked on the monetary reform (known today as Copernicus-Gresham law). When Thomas Gresham was born in 1519 – Nicolaus had the outline of his reform ready.
He also reformed the bread recipe, stating how much should there be white how much dark flour, and how big should the loaves be… He also was a doctor, and as such he served his uncle in Lidzbark Warmiński (Heilsberg, in Old Prussian Lēcbargs).

In Frombork Nicolaus wrote his “De Revolutionibus”, a book which changed the outline of the understanding of the World.

Here in Frombork cathedral Nicolaus Copernicus was finally buried.
And few years ago a sensation spread around the scientific world (pity that only around the scientific one) – the grave of Copernicus was found. Now we know how he looked like and thanks to the Central Forensic Laboratory we can look into his eyes (the linked article is unfortunately in Polish only).

Frombork was taken form Poland when the country lost independence in the 18th century. After years of a sleepy existence in the East Prussia – it returned to Poland after the tragic years of the II World War. Very much destroyed in the course of fights between the Soviet and German armies – the town was rebuilt. Unfortunately not exactly as it was before. It lost most of its charming houses. It lost also its continuation – historical continuation. New people came here after the war. New times came too.

Luckily the Cathedral Hill is still above the town, guarding the place as before through the centuries.

It is worth climbing up the Bell Tower to see the splendid view over the Wisła Lagoon, as well as to see and maybe understand the way of work of the Foucault Pendulum (for me it is enough to know that it shows that the earth is turning).

It is easy to stay here – as there are few quite decent places to sleep, and few places to eat.
There is a good bus connection with Elbląg, but unfortunately no train one anymore.

At the world’s end … the title of this note is from the letter of Copernicus to his friend – when he settled here… It seems that the town is still at the world’s end. Sleepy and not advertised well.

I dare say – it is not advertised at all! As a guide – I hope to change it.

Here are some photos of the simple beauty of this place on earth.