Gertrud Specht

May 6, 2008 | 9 comments
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Gertrud Specht had been a searcher her whole life before she found what she was looking for. Born in 1896 in Augsburg, she went on to Gymnasium and then to the university in Munich in 1915-17 at a time when women at the university were rare but not unprecedented, at a time also when a generation of university students was being lost to senseless slaughter throughout Europe. She studied for four more semesters in Tübingen, where she completed a dissertation on the German cotton industry.[1] Today, we would call her an economist.

Dr. Specht published her dissertation in 1919, and there her academic career ended. She never published another book, she never held an academic position, she never taught classrooms full of students, she never earned any more degrees or awards for her scholarship. Instead she married Otto Reuther (1890-1973), who had finished his dissertation in economics in 1914 before his service in World War I.[2] Gertrud Specht bore four children between 1920 and 1927 and her primary concern was with the unrecorded tasks of a wife and mother, while her husband’s academic and intellectual accomplishments were recorded for history. He traveled to Boston and the Far East, secured an academic position at the Technical College of Munich, published articles and books, served in government, authored libretti with the composer Cesar Bresgen, collected legends from his childhood home that later inspired a play by Michael Ende (and a lawsuit against Ende by Reuther’s heir)[3], and eventually was awarded a gold medal from the Brussels Academy. Like other academics who wanted to retain their positions, Reuther was a party member after the Nazis came to power. He gave a number of speeches about National Socialism, but the titles at least are not particularly incriminating (example: “The Duties of an Accountant in the Third Reich”). Like many German families, Gertrud Specht and Otto Reuther paid in blood for the crimes of their leaders. In 1942, when their youngest child was 15, they sent him away from Munich to Greifenberg, far from the Allied bombing, but he died on foreign soil in August 1945. In the years following the war, Gertrud Specht and Otto Reuther moved apart, and divorced.

Some of Gertrud Specht’s legacy to her children can be seen in their careers. All of them studied at the university, one daughter earned a doctorate, and her surviving son became a medical doctor. While her children earned degrees, Gertrud Specht continued learning, both on her own and through university courses. She studied languages, history, including her own family history, and philosophy.

When she was almost 75, she met the Mormons. “I was a good Catholic,” she said, “but I found myself in a crisis. I just couldn’t accept certain doctrines. Then I heard about the Mormons. They showed me what I felt to be right, so I was baptized.”[4] She served enthusiastically as a district missionary and branch public relations specialist, was endowed in the temple, and submitted the names of her ancestors for vicarious temple ordinances. Those who knew her describe a woman with a sharp mind, an infectious love of learning, and the joy that comes from having found what she had spent her life searching for. Eventually her health declined, and Gertrud Specht left Munich to be nearer to her family. Her children were ill disposed towards her new religion, and further contact with the church became difficult.

Sister Specht died in 1986. The facts that can be established through archives and printed sources do not provide a complete picture of her life, but there is no doubt about the strength of her faith in the gospel, nor in the profound effect she had on those who knew her.[5]

UPDATE: The genesis of this post is explained here, which refers to this. I’m posting this now as an answer to questions that have recently come up again.

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[1] Her dissertation is Organisations- und Entwicklungsfragen in der deutschen Baumwollindustrie, diss. Tübingen (Diessen vor München, 1919). It is indexed along with details of her education in Jahresverzeichnis der an Deutschen Universitäten und Technischen Hochschulen erschienenen Schriften 36/1920 (published 1921), p. 154.

[2] Otto Reuther’s dissertation is Die Entwicklung der Augsburger Textilindustrie, diss. Heidelberg (Diessen vor München, 1914). The most complete source on Otto Reuther’s academic career and bibliography is Die wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Hochschullehrer an den reichsdeutschen Hochschulen und an der TH. Danzig. Werdegang und Veröffentlichungen, published by the Institut für angewandte Wirtschaftswissenschaft (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1938), pp. 192-93, 694-95. There are also regular entries for Otto Reuther in Kürschner’s Deutscher Gelehrten-Kalender from 1935 to 1987.

[3] On this incident of legal and literary history, see Dietz-Rüdiger Moser, “Goggolore gegen Goggolori: Der Rechtstreit um den Kobold vom Ammersee,” Literatur in Bayern 8 (1987), pp. 2-16.

[4] Doyle L. Green, “Meeting in Munich: An Experience in Love and Brotherhood,” Ensign, Nov. 1973, pp. 71-83. The Ensign translates the quotation from an article in Münchner Merkur (August 24, 1973).

[5] For an example of Gertrud Specht’s effect on people who knew her, see Marc Schindler’s personal recollections. The story that Schindler was asked to comment on is, however, like most saints’ legends, largely fictional in the most sensational points, as the printed sources noted above and inquiries with relevant archives make clear.

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9 Responses to Gertrud Specht

  1. Peter LLC on March 6, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Nicht schlecht, Frau Specht.

  2. Ardis Parshall on March 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Wonderful, Jonathan! This is appealing on so many fronts — memorializing a faithful but unknown Saint, women’s history, the international church, the wisdom and humility of age, scholarship, everything. Sister Specht is now in my pantheon. Thank you for this.

  3. J. Stapley on March 6, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Splendid post, Jonathan. Thanks.

  4. john f. on March 6, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Wow. Thank you so much for writing this. Gertrud Spechts story is definitely worth telling.

  5. Jamal on March 6, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    I am reminded of a beautiful Irish Catholic woman in her 80s baptized on my mission in London in the mid-90s. Something magical simply clicked with her which I never would have suspected and where we encouraged her to slow down and be sure, she was adamant we not hold her back. She passed away within a year of her baptism, but not before her departed husband’s temple work could be completed and she could spend a little time on cloud 9 between her jaunts through the old alleys of the City of London (which she could identify every historical nook and cranny of and walk the missionaries out of breath in!). God bless those who find the truth and Spirit and remind us of the raw beauty and power of it.

  6. Kevin Barney on March 6, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Jonathan. I first learned of Sis. Specht from Marc before he died, and I appreciate very much this further information.

  7. Jonathan Green on March 7, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for all the kind responses. The story of Gertrud Specht’s life–the story that can be constructed from hard evidence–is, I think, already pretty wonderful and miraculous. Despite this, the legendary version will likely continue to spin its way through cyberspace indefinitely.

  8. Jonovitch on March 24, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Jonathan, I just had a friend forward the sensationalized “story” of Gertrud Specht, which he had received from his brother. I referred him to this very page, remembering that I had read it a couple weeks ago.

    I thank you for the honesty and the solid and thorough references in this true version of her life.

    Jon

  9. Jonathan Green on March 24, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Mission accomplished!