Discovering the contributions of academic wives to the development of labour law : Liesel Kahn-Freund

Zahn, Rebecca and Kullmann, Miriam (2024) Discovering the contributions of academic wives to the development of labour law : Liesel Kahn-Freund. Industrial Law Journal. pp. 1-23. ISSN 0305-9332 (

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This article’s starting point is a strand of historical and sociological studies literature on ‘academic wives’ which reveals the social and, above all, unpaid labour that facilitated an academic career up until the mid-twentieth century. The article then draws on primary and secondary sources in order to trace the life of Otto Kahn-Freund’s wife, Elisabeth (Liesel) Kahn-Freund. We suggest that Liesel was an indispensable facilitator of her husband’s career. She provided valuable scholarly and intellectual support; by taking on responsibility for domestic tasks and care responsibilities, she gave her husband uninterrupted time and space to build his network, travel internationally, and, perhaps most importantly, concentrate on and pursue his research. In doing so, she, and many like her, played a significant albeit largely unrecognised role in the creation of labour law as we now know it. A better understanding of the labour performed by an “academic wife” provides a more nuanced picture of where labour law has come from and the factors that went into its creation. It also encourages labour law scholars to re-evaluate what kind of labour is recognised as part of labour law and is the focus of future labour law scholarship.