Frieda Wunderlich

Frieda Wunderlich (b. Berlin, November 8, 1894—d. East Orange, NJ, December 9, 1965) was the only woman in the original group of scholars that formed the University-in- Exile at The New School in 1933. Prior to emigration, she held numerous positions in Germany, many of public political importance. After receiving her doctorate from the University of Freiburg in 1919, she was a teacher at the Handelhochschule, Berlin (1919-1933), an editor of the weekly political magazine Sozial Praxis (1923-1933), a member of the Prussian State Parliament for the Deutsche Demokratische Partei, a representative to the Berlin City Council (as of 1925), and a judge on the German Supreme Court for Social Welfare (appointed in 1930). At the Berufspädagisches Institut in Berlin, she was promoted to professor in 1930.[1] In addition, she published her dissertation, Hugo Műnsterbergs Bedeutung fűr die Nationalökonomie (1920), and Produktivität (1926) before emigrating to the United States in 1933.[2]

Wunderlich taught in the Graduate Faculty (GF) of The New School through 1961, even though she officially retired in 1954. In 1939, she was unanimously elected Dean of the GF by its faculty members and served in that position one year; she was the first woman dean of an American graduate school.[3] She was also a prolific writer, regularly contributing articles to the flagship GF journal, Social Research, many of them based on her presentations to the GF’s General Seminar. She published several books in the United States, including Labor Under German Democracy (1940); Arbitration, 1918-1933 (1940); British Labor and the War (1941); German Labor Courts (1946); and Farm Labor in Germany, 1810-1945 (1961). Wunderlich also ran a study group that met in the late 1940s to examine “European Labor Policy and Reconstruction of Labor Organizations,” and she was a member of the Council of Research that governed the Institute of World Affairs, established at The New School in 1943.

Wunderlich’s most important contributions, however, may have been the wide variety of courses she taught in labor economics and socio-economic policy and history. Her first year at the Graduate Faculty she taught a lecture course on Social Policy and a seminar on Problems of the Family. Her most frequent course offerings were Labor Problems (32 times) and Social Security (28 times). Other courses she frequently offered include her Seminar on Industrial Relations (18 times); Structure of the American Economy (15 times); Introduction to Labor Economics and Labor Sociology (taught 11 times with her colleague Julie Meyer); and Employment and Unemployment (taught 8 times and the last course she taught in 1961-62). All in all, she taught over 150 courses in the graduate division.

Wunderlich also taught over 60 courses in the Adult Division of The New School, starting with a course entitled The Labor Movement and Employers’ Associations in the Chief Industrial Countries (1934-1935) and ending with Labor Problems (Fall 1959). She taught many of her graduate courses to this audience as well, including Structure of the American Economy, Introduction to Labor Economics and Labor Sociology (with Julie Meyer), and Social Security. Other courses were unique to this division, such as A Survey of American Conditions and Institutions from the Viewpoint of European Scholarship (a course offered by several GF scholars); Travel: A Personal and a National Resource; and, for me most tantalizingly, The Economics of Consumption (offered just once, in Spring 1941 with Julie Meyer, on a topic that dominated much economic and some sociological thinking in the postwar years). One of her most pervasive interests in this division was to present lectures on Nazism, whether alone or as part of a course that also provided lectures on Fascism and Communism by other professors.

Wunderlich’s pioneering research established labor economics as a subfield of economics, but the interdisciplinary sensibility displayed in her numerous courses weaved together themes and topics of sociological, political, and historical importance that presaged today’s intellectual concerns.

For more in the New School Archives on Frieda Wunderlich, see her papers.


[1] Sandra Hunt Hawrylchak, biographical sketch in the Finding Aid for the Frieda Wunderlich Papers, 1920-1941 (2005), M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, German and Jewish Intellectual Émigre Collection, State University of New York Libraries-Albany.

[2] Gary Mongiovi, “Frieda Wunderlich,” in A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, eds. Robert W. Dimand, Mary Ann Dimand, and Evelyn L. Forget (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2000).

[3] William H. Baldwin, “Woman Is Named Dean of Exiles’ University,” New York Times (21 February 1939): 4