University Years in Berlin
Elisabeth Schmitz, daughter of a Reformed, as she put it, ecclesiastically ‘orthodox’ secondary school teacher in Hanau, graduated from high school in Frankfurt am Main in 1914. Afterward, she attended the universities of Bonn and Berlin as one of the few female students there and studied German studies, history and Protestant theology.
Liberal Protestantism, enlightened humanism and strong academic ethics dictated her system of values during her university years. Adolf von Harnack and Friedrich Meinecke were among her most influential teachers at the university in Berlin. She also found ethical and religious orientation in the internationally renowned liberal theologian Harnack. She was a part of his “Church History Seminar” as of 1917 – as was Dietrich Bonhoeffer later.
A close friendship bound her with Harnack’s daughter Elisabet. Schmitz also cultivated a close student-teacher relationship with the historian Meinecke under whom she earned her Ph. D. in 1920. In her dissertation, she analyzed statements made by the field marshal and political adviser Edwin Manteuffel about the policies of the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, during the Revolution of 1848. She examined the question of what influence these statements had had on the historical assessment of the king’s policies.
Schmitz’s interest in politics grew during her days as a student at the university in Berlin, especially in the troubled postwar years between 1918 und 1920. She intensely discussed politics, the church and above all theology in the circle of the “Association of Friends of the Christliche Welt”.
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