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Early Modern European lives: Glückel of Hameln

Updated Friday 17th April 2015

Glückel of Hameln juggled being a mother to 14 children and took over her husband's business ventures. Read her extraordinary tale here. 

Portrait of Glückel of Hameln Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Portrait of Bertha Pappenheim (a descendant) dressed as Gluckel, wearing 17th century costume Glückel (also known as Glikl bas Judah Leib) was born in Hamburg in 1646 into a Jewish family. In 1660 she married Hayyim of Hamelin. They had 14 children together, twelve eventually ended up marrying members of affluent Jewish families across Europe. Hayyim became a successful businessman and Glückel often helped out with the business. In 1689, when her husband died, she took over the business, trading with other businesses in Amsterdam, Vienna and Paris.

After becoming a widow, she started writing diaries. In her manuscripts she outlines how she guided her children’s personal and financial life. She also gives an account of her trading deals, everyday business at her factory and historical events that had an impact on her life such as the Swedish wars and the plague.

In 1700, Glückel remarried a banker, Cerf Levy, from Metz. In 1702, he lost all of his fortune along with Glückel’s, leaving her penniless.

Glückel was left as a widow for the second time in her life in 1712. She began writing her diaries once more.

She died in Metz in 1724, at the age of 78. Her diaries give historians a true depiction into German Jewish life during the early modern era and a rare account of the ordinary working woman in the 17th century Rhine Valley.

The contents of her diaries were exhibited in the Bavarian State Library in the second half of the 18th century and then published as a book Zikhroynes Glikl Hamel in 1892. An full exhibit is dedicated to her in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, intended to show visitors everyday reality for Jewish Germans before they were liberated. 

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