#OTD, January 25th, 1881 the “red countess” Sophie von Hatzfeld, mother of the German Social-Democratic movement died in Wiesbaden.

She was born into an aristocratic family, the counts of Hatzfeld-Trachtenberg. To smooth a long-running feud between another branch of the Hatzfeld family Sophie was married aged 17 to her cousin, Edmund von Hatzfeld-Wildenburg-Weisweiler. He was a wealthy but debauched man who maintained a harem of mistresses in his castle in Kalkum. The marriage hit the rocks almost immediately. Sophie claimed to have been mistreated and assaulted by her husband.

In 1833 Sophie left her husband and began a life of travel. She entered into new love affairs that rarely lasted. When her family insisted she should behave with more decorum, she answered that “what is suitable for her husband, the count, she should be allowed too”. By 1846 she demanded a divorce. Most unusually she demanded her husband to pay maintenance sufficient to maintain her standard of living.

Sophie hired the then 20-year old Ferdinand Lasalle as her lawyer. What followed was a 5-year epic trial fought in 36 different courtrooms. Lasalle was an early socialist who got prominently involved in the 1848 revolution. He would later found the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, the first socialist/social democratic party in Europe. The ADAV would later become the SPD, today one of Germany’s major political parties.

Sophie supported his efforts. She famously arrived to a revolutionary meeting in Dusseldorf in a carriage flying the red flag alongside the black-red-gold flag of liberal Germany.

Sophy was already 41 when she met Lasalle who was in his 20s. Whether they had an amorous relationship has been subject of gossip for a long time. When Lasalle died in a stupid duel in Geneva in 1864, Sophie inherited his archive and continued his legacy until her death aged 71.

She was a beautiful woman, who would appear in low cut dresses, smoking a cigar and saying – “why shouldn’t I, because I am woman?”

For more interesting German women, check out the History of the Germans Podcast on all major podcast platforms or on this website