A few days ago, on 23 Aug, I received an email from Herr Ulrich D. Oppitz, who has published a biography of Fanny Lili Imle in Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (2019, pp. 529-564). Knowing of my Imle blog, Herr Oppitz sent me a copy of his article, and introduced me to an “oh so interesting Imle,” who I had not previously encountered. Fanny seems to be big news these days. Another Ulrich, the American-German historian Ulrich L. Lehner has also been investigating Fanny's life. Before reporting on the life of Fanny Imle, I must warn my readership of two things. First nearly all that follows comes from sources other than myself. I have done relatively little family research on Imles outside the U.S. Second, nearly all those sources were written in German, and my knowledge of the German language leaves much to be desired.
Born on 2 Apr 1878 in Ellwangen an der Jangst in Germany to Hugo Karl Emil Gottlieb Imle and his second wife, Fanny Keller, Fanny Imle never married. She is, however, said to have had an illegitimate son, Walter, born 22 May 1942. Like his grandfather Hugo, Walter served in the military, dying in Belgorod, Russia, during WW II on 22 May 1942.
Fanny Imle was a champion for women's rights, an economist, a philosopher, and a lay preacher, who dared to assert herself in male domains. In 1897 she began studying philosophy at the University of Zurich, one of the few German colleges that admitted women. At the time, Zurich was a gathering point for advocates of radical liberalism, women's emancipation, and socialist ideas. Fanny Imle often appeared at the public debates and made political speeches. Around 1900, she was very active in the German anarchist movement, publishing articles in anarchist newspapers, but then moved to Social Democracy. After 1904, when she converted to Catholicism, Fanny became involved in the Christian labor movement, writing many articles on working life. In 1907 she obtained a doctorate, and in 1912, became a Franciscan Nun. And she did all this while nearly blind.
One of Fanny’s first books was her 1907 text on labor unions, Die Tarifvertrage zwischen Arbeitgebern und Arbeitnehmern in Deutschland (Collective Agreements Between Employers and Employees in Germany). In 1920 she published Die Frau in der Politik (The Woman in Politics), in which she declared “Gruß den Frauen, Sie flechten und weben / himmlische Werte ins politische Leben” (“Greetings to women, they weave and weave / divine values into political life”). But the book was not what one might expect. By that time, following her conversion to Catholicism, Fanny was fighting against moral decline, arguing for a return to traditional, religiously based norms. She declared that
“Since [August] Bebel attempted, in his book Woman to irrevocably link woman and revolution, millions of misled fellow citizens have been certain that revolutionary violence will free the female sex, and that free woman would do away with the last remnants of bourgeois order, legality, morality, and religion.”
This from a one-time anarchist!
Her change is documented. At the beginning of 1918, the former anarchist Rudolf Rocker (1878-1958) returned from internment in England to Germany and was, until his fate was clarified, imprisoned in in Goch (Lower Rhine). A head nurse in charge there gave him a stack of books, among which were the writings of Fanny Imle. Rocker had met Imle in London and was amazed at the writing. The nurse now told him,
“That was probably during her revolutionary period when she was an anarchist. Oh, she's been through a big change since then. She's a wonderful woman, we're all excited about her. Although she is completely blind, she gives lectures week after week. She now lives in a monastery in Munich.”
In later years Fanny wrote such philosophical tomes as Friedrich von Schlegels entwicklung von Kant zum Katholizimus (Friedrich von Schlegel's development from Kant to Catholicism, 1927), Novalis; Seine Philosophische Weltanschauung (Novalis; His Philosophical Worldview, 1928), and Die Theologie des hl. Bonaventura (The theology of St. Bonaventura, 1934).
Following WWII Fanny lived most of her life in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Paderborn, where many of her books were published and which was 85 percent destroyed during WW II. She died 11 Aug 1965 in Niedermarsberg, and was buried in Paderborn’s Westfriedhof cemetery. It is claimed, however, that in 1997 the grave was "leveled" ("eingeebnet"), whatever that may mean. Fanny's name is not found today among Westfriedhof burials.
Much about Fanny’s life is still unknown. In particular, it is claimed that she wrote her memoirs, which detailed the destruction of Paderborn during WWII, and which appear to have been lost.
Was Fanny part of our Imle family? Yes, according to other researchers. But one must go back a long way to find the connection. All the way back to Hans Joachim (1560-1635) and Katharine (Luthardt) Imle (1565-1635), who were the 7G grandparents of both Christopher Frederick Imle and Fanny Lili Imle.