Two Centuries of Women’s Equality in the Family

Copy of the Will of Sophie Gumpel dated February 12, 1844.  Click on image to enlarge.

Copy of the Will of Sophie Gumpel dated February 12, 1844. Click on image to enlarge.

I am descended from a long line of women for whom nontraditional roles were a tradition.  My mother was a PhD economist.  My grandmother was a physician an biochemical research scientist.  My great grandmother was a portrait artist of more than usual accomplishment, and apparently so was my great-great grandmother.  The earliest proponent of of women’s equality I have found so far in my family, however, is my great-great-great-grandmother, Sophie Gumpel (died 1846).

Sophie Gumpel (née Meyer) was the wife of the Hamburg businessman, banker and philanthropist Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843).  Although the records are incomplete, Sophie and Lazarus had at least five children, three daughters and two sons. Lazarus was himself a progressive and charitable man, devoting a good portion of his fortune to building a large apartment house in Hamburg to provide subsidized housing for poor families in the city.  He was also one of the founders of the first Reformed Jewish congregation in Hamburg, significantly leading in modernizing Jewish religious practice, including greater participation for women in the liturgy.  When Lazarus died, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Ohlsdorf.  A modern gravestone replaces the original .

Modern grave marker of Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843), husband of Sophie Gumpel, in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg.

Modern grave marker of Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843), husband of Sophie Gumpel, in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg.

After Lazaruz died in 1843, Sophie prepared a new will to dispose of the considerable fortune she inherited from Lazarus.  A legal transcription of the will appears at the top of this post.  Sophie included one paragraph that was most unusual for the time:

Since the rules of Jewish law, which give preferred status to sons over daughters, are not acceptable to me, who always loved all of my children equally, I declare herewith, as I am legally authorized to do, that I constitute all of my children my heirs, and in the case that one should have predeceased me then his or her marital offspring shall take his or her place per stirpes. To all these my heirs I leave my entire estate in equal parts without exception, including furniture, household inventory, linen, gold and silver.

Interestingly, Sophie anticipated that not all of her heirs or their children would agree with her egalitarian approach to the disposition of her estate, and included the following additional paragraph:

Should any of my designated heirs, for whatever reason, not recognize this will or contest its validity, he shall be totally excluded from any right in my estate, and the share left to him shall go to the other heirs who will honor and recognize my will.

The value of the estate, by the way, came to some 52,000 Taler, the equivalent of an estate of millions of dollars today, providing plenty for everyone.

2 Comments on “Two Centuries of Women’s Equality in the Family”

  1. German Quintero says:

    Good night.
    I am very excited to see the Will of Sophie Gumpel.
    I’m doing a study of the genealogy of the family of my grandfather and by her mother goes back to Lazarus Gumpel.
    You could give me a complete copy of the Will?. I’m looking for if mention a son named Moritz is the grandfather of my great grandmother made​​.
    I saw on the blog that you live in Philly, my daughter studies in UARTS, what a coincidence!

    My grandfather’s name

    Fritz Jürgen Hamann Gumpel ( *17/10/1899. Borghorst. Gettorf / 12/07/1955 , Caracas, Venezuela).

    He is the son of

    Ernst Jürgen Wilhelm Hamann (* 10th March 1865. Borghorst. Gettorf, 21 /10/1950. Malmö/Schweden.)

    Sophie Franziska Martha Hamann Geb. Gumpel (*16/04/1870. Berlin / 17/10/1899. Borghorst )

    Maternal grandparents are

    Gustav Julius Richard Lazarus Gumpel ( *15/03/1844 . 07/05/1897 Berlin)

    Heloise Christine Wilhelmine. Geb. Lüdert ( *14/11/1844. Riepenburg. / 22/04/1884 )

    Gustav’s parents are

    Moritz Ludwig (Lazarus) Gumpel (1801 / 1853 )

    Franciska Frederike Alexandrine . Geb Riese ( 14/04/1814 Stolp / 06/02/1900 )

    Moritz is the son of a gentleman named Lazarus Gumpel.

    I think that is the son of Lazarus Gumpel, Kaufmann und Stifter, geb. 29.4.1770 Hildesheim, gest. 9.11.1843 Hamburg.

    He, was the father of 7 children, one of them named Moritz.

    Best Regards.
    German Quintero

    • Frank Hoeber says:

      To German Quitnero: One of the great things about this blog is the contacts I make with people around the world. The Lazarus Gumpel you mention at the end of your comment was, in fact, the husband of the Sophie Gumpel who is identified in my blog post. I will respond to you by email with more information. Thanks for commenting!

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