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

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus is currently a fashionable topic … Especially that this May his remains will be buried in Frombork. After nearly 5 years of investigation – there is a very big probability that the remains found in the Frombork Cathedral – are the ones of the famous astronomer.

The first version of this text was written on the St. Valentine’s Day. I felt deeply disgusted by the press announcements about Dr. Nicolaus and his supposed love affair with his distant cousin and cook – Anne Schilling.

So – please read this as an opening explanation and warning:

In the Valentine’s Day context it is a great abuse (and very much distasteful) – to call Gdansk a city  of the Love Affair of … Nicolaus Copernicus and Anne Schilling.

It is better to carefully read the story of loves and love in the city on the Motława River! So as no to depart from the historical truth, and so that the knowledge of the city is not build if only … rumors.

It would be best to go through the archives – to find the historical truth (which is not at all so obvious) but it would be enough to read some biographical books (but not the most recent ones… being more sensational than true).

Who wants to learn about Cupid in Gdansk, can read the life story of Maurice Ferber, who later in his life became the Bishop of Warmia… and therefore Copernicus’ boss. But before this he was a hero of a real love scandal of his times. I mean the affair with Anna Pilemann. It was a real scandal!

And for those who enjoy love stories I strongly recommend “listening” to the stories told by the epitaphs in Gdansk’s St. Mary’s Church.

For years now I have been developing a “Love Gossip Tour” around Gdansk…  as well as around the former East Prussia. And I assure – there are a lot more spicy stories to hear 😉

* * *

The rest of the article was rewritten and amended after the re-burial.

But back to Dr. Nicholas … Now – suddenly he became fashionable … And especially his private life. As if it was something new! A lot has been written about him. The list of better or worse books (including foreign ones), is quite long.

Let me remind everyone, that on 22nd May – this year (2010) Copernicus was re-buried in Frombork. After 2005 when his remains were found in Frombork Cathedral and after years of research and debate (whether it is him or not) … finally the re-burial was decided…

As I feared, as usually, unfortunately, this ceremony too remained mostly local. Just like the lost race for the tourists – right after the excavation in the cathedral. And yet the findings were at least interesting.

It was a pity therefore that the whole ceremony was not at full blast.

There has been a lot of time to blaze abroad about this exceptional opportunity to participate in the reburial of SUCH a famous person.

Once again – Frombork – from being at the world’s end (as Copernicus wrote about it) did not became the world’s center. At least for a day or two… Maybe then it would have become popular place to stay during summer. It lost its “five minutes” to become famous.

Maybe the so-called infrastructure is not the best yet. Maybe the local authorities cannot handle so much.

But then – Frombork has a splendid location.

It is a charming town on the Vistula Lagoon with a good transport connection – with not only local busses but also boats from Frombork to Krynica. And Frombork has quite a tasty food in its restaurants. Not to mention the delicious cakes and coffee served in the so-called Water Tower…

And it has more… It has this “something”… A unique atmosphere.

In the Museum there is a very interesting – though small department of the history of medicine. It also has the famous “three-cows-on-the gable”…

And it has … a sensational Last Judgment painting!!!

And… it all has just reminded me of the Copernicus Trail.

I have been working on it for several years now, and I call it a Subjective Copernicus Trail. Or – Copernicus Trail by Kasia

Of course, the trail begins far from Frombork – in Torun. It was there that our hero was born as the son of a merchant. Being in Torun it is necessary to see the Saint Johns’ Church, as he was baptized here.

But Torun is a unique city in general. Not only because of Copernicus.

There actually one can really touch gothic…

Going back to the trail – it leads then to Warmia Region – tracing the locations of the “abandoned fields” (it took me some time to develop this route – it is very interesting, and in summer – beautiful).

Also the towns en route are a MUST. The towns connected with the Administrator of the Chapter lands.

So… Driving along the Copernican route Gdańsk should not be forgotten. Doctor Nicolaus visited the town at least twice. Once in 1504 – the occasion was his cousin’s wedding (Kordula von Allen married Reinhold Feldstedt, a Gdansk wealthy merchant). And the second time was a six months’ visit in 1526.

After Reinhold’s death Copernicus was one of the three protectors of the widow and children. Other caregivers were Arendt Schilling and Michael Loitz. Arendt is the alleged husband of Anna. And Anna Schilling (supposed to have been Copernicus’ mistress) was the daughter of Nicolaus’ cousin. And who was Michael Loitz? He was a representative of the well-known family of Szczecin-Gdansk bankers. About Michael we should think, while driving to or from Nowy Dwor Gdanski (an hour’s drive from Gdansk to the east). And it was he, who was riding with his son Johann to Frombork at the news about the sickness of Doctor Nicolaus. All so that Johann could take over his canonry… But this is another story….

Going further along the Copernicus Trail – we also need to visit Malbork. Indeed, he was here few times. One can see an appropriate plaque on one of the castle walls…

It is in Malbork, in May 1528 that a Prussian Diet (Royal Prussia Seym – Council) was held. At the Diet Doctor Nicholas gave the speech “About minting.” He also reformed the Bread Rate.

We also must necessary visit Elblag! Here, walking the so called Church Path one can consider whether Nicolaus has ever walked this way?

He walked for sure! During his numerous visits to the town. We must remember that Elblag  is not far from Frombork, and at Copernicus’ times it was a very rich  town. And therefore it was a very important town too. It is enough to remember that Queen Elisabeth I of England established the branch of the Eastland Company there!!! There are many English names in the history of Elbląg (Elbing).

Unfortunately, our trail does not include Königsberg (today Kaliningrad). Nicholas stayed there too, at the invitation of Prince Albert Hohenzollern. Königsberg is not on the trail map, because after the last war there is nothing left of the known and historical Königsberg.

Deliberately I did not mention Copernicus’ observations of the sky, mainly because this is well-known, and is not the purpose of this article. It is enough to say, that he was definitely not detached from reality, and not only a “researcher of sky” – as we were made believe during years of  boring school lessons. Doctor Copernicus however was an active and excellent administrator. And also a talented strategist. This can be traced – while reading about the preparations of Olsztyn’s defense against the Teutons…. He was also an energetic land governor. The evidence of this can be traced in the documents. For example – once fishermen from the Teutonic territory were arrested for fishing on Pasłęka, the then border river. It was a typical preventive detention and it was ordered by the administrator of the chapter – Dr. Nicolaus. It was fully justified – because it took place in times of war. He twice held the post of the Chancellor of the Chapter.

He was also a consultant for Bernard Wapowski (Polish nobleman and a genius cartographer), when he worked on the map of the Polish Kingdom and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Consultation related to the topography of Prussia. Copernicus developed a map of the western part of the Vistula Lagoon.

But above all he was a doctor. Although today his prescriptions might be shocking. Well, for example, where to get powdered unicorn horn (I know, I know it could be a narwhal …). Or who would care for collecting frogs’ dung…

Visiting Frombork, a place at the end of the world (as Dr. Nicholas wrote in his letters to friends), we must necessarily climb the so-called Radziejowski Tower. Look around then – and far into the Holy Warmia.

How often must have Copernicus traveled to locate abandoned land. We sometimes drive through a place – a village or small town, which for us is just a point on the map. We do not even realize that it was located by Copernicus.

So much for Nicholas – without the unhealthy sensation.

So… till the next season – to again set off on the Subjective Copernicus Trail…