The women of the Bauhaus who rethought the world—and were forgotten

On the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, look at five groundbreaking women who were erased from art history.

The Bauhaus believed that design, art, and architecture were all interconnected, and that it would form a community of creatives who fueled one another in the spirit of collaboration and an exchange of ideas with the common desire to better society. When the Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919, its founder and inaugural director, Walter Gropius, claimed in the school’s manifesto that it welcomed “any person of good repute, without regard to age or sex.” It’s a little known fact that more women applied to the Bauhaus than men for its inaugural year. Although the females who were granted admission were often relegated to more “feminine” course tracks such as weaving or ceramics, the move was groundbreaking at the time because women weren’t allowed to formally study art. While the men who came out of the school—like Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marcel Breuer—went on to become legends in their fields, their accolades often overshadowed those of the females of the Bauhaus. Margaretha Reichardt actually developed the iron yarn used in Breuer’s iconic chairs; Anni Albers was just as good of an abstractionist as her husband Josef Albers, but she specialized in weaving; and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was an extremely talented industrial designer, artist, graphic designer, and fashion designer who died at Auschwitz. Oftentimes, the men’s wives would play a big part in their husbands’ design process. It was the age of Modernism, and the women of the Bauhaus defined the embodiment of the modern woman: self confident, independent, and full of her own ideas.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus. Founded at the dawn of the golden age of the Weimar Republic, the famed art school stayed in Weimar from 1919 until 1925, when it was forced to move to Dessau, Germany due to rising political pressure from the National Socialist Party in Thuringia, which faced pressure from the state’s more conservative cities to put a leash on the school’s experimental exhibitions. After the Bauhaus decamped from Weimar to Dessau, Gropius erected the iconic minimal Bauhaus building that went against the neoclassical aesthetic of the day. It was in Dessau that the Bauhaus achieved its most fruitful period, until 1932, when the Nazi party took control of Dessau’s city council, and forced the school to relocate to Berlin. The school operated for 10 months, until the Gestapo, the Nazis’ secret police, shut it down. They later allowed it to reopen, but Mies van der Rohe and its faculty made the decision to close the school three months after Adolph Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.  

With the Bauhaus centennial, Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin are set to become tourist destinations this year, and countless institutions and galleries across the globe are holding exhibitions in tribute. The women of the Bauhaus are also finally getting their due; The Angermuseum in Erfurt currently has the exhibition Bauhausmädels (Bauhaus Girls) on display until June 16, and Taschen is releasing a book titled Bauhausmädels. A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists. But history has largely ignored the accomplishments of the women who were part of the Bauhaus, and although books exhibitions are finally shedding light on their work, until names like Anni Albers, Marianne Brandt, and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis become as known as Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Wassily Kandinsky, the new attention is not enough. Here are just a handful of the Bauhaus women whose work should be celebrated as much as that of their male counterparts.   

Marianne Brandt, Metal designer and painter

The Bauhaus fully believed in the fusion of form and function, that a product’s design was just as important as its functionality. That belief is evident in Marianne Brandt’s work. Even though the metal designer and painter’s minimal, circular-shaped ashtrays, lamps, and teapots produced by Alessi were created in the 1920s, their look remains just as relevant in today’s design landscape. Brandt joined the Weimar Bauhaus in 1924, studying under Hungarian painter László Moholy-Nagy in the school’s metal workshop, where she quickly rose in the ranks from assistant to workshop director. Brandt negotiated contracts for the metal workshop. She left the Bauhaus and headed to Berlin, where she assisted Gropius in his studio before becoming the head of metal design at Ruppel in Gotha. Her distinct designs are considered among the best to come out of the Bauhaus and still remain ubiquitous with the design world, influencing countless designers after her. One design, the Model No. MT49 tea infuser, went for a record-breaking $361,000 at auction.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Artist, graphic designer, industrial designer, fashion designer

The Vienna-born Friedl Dicker-Brandeis’s work isn’t widely exhibited, but it should be. Her creativity spans several different mediums; she worked in graphic design, designed clothes, made furniture, conceptualized toys, and created thought-provocative collages. Several lectures by artist Paul Klee prompted Dicker-Brandeis to explore the relationship between art and the imagination of children. The multi-hyphenate studied at the Weimar Bauhaus from 1919 to 1923, sometimes working as a teacher. Dicker-Brandeis could design everything from toys to costumes to handbags to exhibition fliers, and her art ranged from colorful, expressive abstract paintings to dark collages that brought together images of Hitler, war planes, and crying babies. Because Dicker-Brandeis was Jewish, she was deported with her husband to the Terezin ghetto, where she took it upon herself to teach the children to express themselves through art. She was transported to Auschwitz in 1944, where she was murdered that year. But, she managed to safely leave two suitcases containing 4,500 children’s drawings, preserving their legacy and a narrative of the tragic period.

Anni Albers, Artist, printmaker, textile designer

Born Anneliese Fleischmann, Anni Albers studied at both the Weimar Bauhaus and the Dessau Bauhaus. Because of her gender, she trained in the weaving workshop and received a diploma from the Bauhaus. In 1925 she married Bauhaus master Josef Albers. Albers served as deputy and acting head of the weaving workshop numerous times between 1928 to 1931, eventually becoming the head in 1931. Albers and her husband left Germany for the United States because of her Jewish heritage. Their first stop was North Carolina, at the invitation of architect Philip Johnson, who connected them to teaching positions at the experimental Black Mountain College. Albers is arguably the most well known woman to come out of the Bauhaus; she was the first textile designer to earn a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1949. Albers’s patterns often involved repetitive, geometric designs. Had she not been a woman, Albers certainly would have been destined to become an important abstract artist. Earlier this year, the Tate Modern ended a solo exhibition that paid tribute to Albers bridging the gap between textile design and modern art.  

Margaretha Reichardt, Textile Designer

Margaretha Reichardt collaborated with Marcel Breuer, one of the most well-known architects and designers from the Bauhaus. She helped develop the sturdy iron yarn material that would become a pivotal detail of his famed tubular steel chairs.

Reichardt studied at the Dessau Bauhaus from 1926 to 1932, studying under Josef Albers, Klee, Kandinsky, and Moholy-Nagy, eventually earning a diploma before becoming a weaving master there. In 1933, Reichardt established a handweaving studio in her hometown of Erfurt, Germany, becoming one of the first female entrepreneurs, a rare occurrence at the time. Reichardt’s weavings incorporated bright colors and shapes, and two of the toys she designed in the wood workshop were eventually mass produced by Swiss company Naef. Reichardt would eventually become one of the Bauhaus alums to be present at the reopening of the Bauhaus Dessau. While Breuer’s name is the main one behind the tubular steel chairs still used constantly in interior design, Reichardt’s contribution to them should be remembered.

Lucia Moholy, Photographer, documentarian

Without Lucia Moholy, there would have been a lot fewer photos recording the happenings in the Bauhaus, along with the art and object that stemmed from the school. When her husband Moholy-Nagy moved to Weimar in 1923 to become a master teacher, Moholy saw it as an opportunity to explore her interest in photography, serving as her husband’s darkroom technician while apprenticing in the school’s photography studio. Moholy’s photographs documented the interior and exterior details of the Bauhaus’s architecture, allowing for the possibility to recreate what was destroyed. Moholy created a record of the Bauhaus masters’ now iconic living quarters for publicity use. She separated from her husband in 1929, and participated in an important photo exhibition in Stuttgart titled Film und Foto. After, she became a photography teacher at school directed by Johannes Itten, another Bauhaus instructor. She eventually moved to London, working as a photographer, author, lecturer, and documentarian. In 1959 Moholy moved to Switzerland, where she fought Gropius for the original images she contributed to the Bauhaus archive in order to build her own. Sadly, much of Moholy’s work went uncredited, but without her photos, many details of the Bauhaus would have been left to memories and the written word.