Helene Demuth

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Helene Demuth
Black and white portrait on a mature woman wearing a dress.
Born(1820-12-30)30 December 1820
Died4 November 1890(1890-11-04) (aged 69)
London, United Kingdom
Resting placeHighgate Cemetery
NationalityPrussian, German
Known forHousekeeper of Karl Marx, later household manager and political confidante of Frederich Engels
Frederick Lewis Demuth
Henry Frederick Demuth

(1851-06-23)23 June 1851
London, United Kingdom
Died28 January 1929(1929-01-28) (aged 77)
Upper Clapton, London, United Kingdom
OrganizationAmalgamated Engineering Union
Political partyLabour

Helene or Helena Demuth (30 December 1820 – 4 November 1890) was a German housekeeper who worked for Jenny and Karl Marx, and later served as the household manager and political confidante of Friedrich Engels.


Helena Demuth was born of peasant parents on 31 December 1820 in Sankt Wendel in today's Saarland. In 1840 Helena and her older sister Katharina worked in Trier as maids, Helena in the von Westphalen household, her sister in the house of a soapmaker two blocks away. They only worked there for about a year, then Katharina got pregnant and both went back to St. Wendel. Helena was living in the house of her mother in Grabenstrasse, St. Wendel in 1843, when Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen. Helena joined their household in April 1845 in Brussels, where she was sent by Jenny's mother.[1] She stayed with the Marxes as a lifelong housekeeper, friend, and political confidante, and was commonly known to the family by the nicknames Lenchen or Nim.[1]

After Marx's death in March 1883, Helena Demuth moved to Engels's home, where she ran the household.[1] The pair worked in tandem to organize and arrange for the publication of Marx's literary estate, discovering in the process the manuscript from which Engels was able to reconstruct the second volume of Das Kapital.

In October 1890, Helena was diagnosed with cancer. She died in London on 4 November that year at the age of 69. She was buried in the Marx family grave in accordance with Jenny's wishes, and later re-interred in the tomb of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery.

Frederick Demuth[edit]

On 23 June 1851 Helene Demuth gave birth to a boy, Henry Frederick Demuth, the birth certificate leaving the name of the father blank.[2] Some scholars accept that the child had been sired by Karl Marx,[3] a view that reflects surviving correspondence from the Marx family and their wider circle, as well as the fact that Marx's wife had been on a trip abroad nine months prior to the birth.[2] The baby was given Friedrich Engels' first name, and family correspondence suggests that Engels, a bachelor living in Manchester and Karl Marx's closest personal friend, claimed fatherhood of the boy. But that correspondence was written years after the actual event by one of Marx's daughters, who knew it from hearsay.

The child's paternity, however, remains a subject of discussion, with the academic Terrell Carver stating that, although it has been claimed since 1962 that Marx was the father, "this is not well founded on the documentary materials available", adding that "the gossip" is not supported by "direct evidence that bears unambiguously on this matter".[4]

Shortly after the birth, the baby, to be known as Frederick Lewis Demuth, was placed with a working class foster family in London named Lewis. He later trained as a toolmaker,[5] and was active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union and a founder member of the Hackney Labour Party.[2] Eleanor Marx, Marx's youngest daughter, came to know Frederick some time after her father's death and made him a family friend.[5]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Hal Draper, "Helene Demuth," in The Marx-Engels Glossary: Volume III of the Marx-Engels Cyclopedia. New York: Schocken Books, 1986; pg. 55.
  2. ^ a b c Wheen, Francis (1999). Karl Marx. Fourth Estate. pp. 170–176. ISBN 978-1-84115-114-4.
  3. ^ Saul Padover (trans. and ed.), "Introduction: Marx, the Human Side," to Karl Marx, On Education, Women, and Children. New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1975; pg. xxv.
  4. ^ Carver, Terrell (1991). "Reading Marx: Life and Works". In Carver, Terrell (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Marx. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-521-36694-6. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  5. ^ a b Draper, "Frederick Demuth," in The Marx-Engels Glossary, pg. 55.

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