Selma "Selli" Engler (28 September 1899 – 1982) was a German writer and a leading activist of the lesbian movement in Berlin from about 1924 to 1931.
Engler grew up with eleven siblings in poor economic conditions. In 1914, after the death of her father, a manufacturer of slippers, she and her mother moved to Berlin. Several attempts to establish herself as a businesswoman failed. Some described her as a "virile" lesbian; photographs generally show her in men's clothes. She lived together with her mother at least until 1938.
According to Franz Scott, a contemporary chronicler of the Weimar Republic's lesbian scene, Selli Engler was, together with Lotte Hahm and the pseudonymous "Charly", a pioneer of the German lesbian movement.
Editor of the BIF (1924–27)
Engler's work as an activist began in 1924 with the founding and editorship of the magazine BIF – Blätter Idealer Frauenfreundschaft ("Papers of ideal women's friendship"), produced at what was probably Engler's residence, Großbeerenstraße 74 in Kreuzberg. The BIF was unique among lesbian publications of the time because it was the only one published solely by women; other comparable magazines were co-published or -written by men.
The BIF ceased publication probably in 1927. As a self-published magazine, it was not collected in archives and remains very poorly documented today.
From 1927 to 1929, Engler contributed to the magazine Frauenliebe and from 1929 to 1931 to Die Freundin. Her writings included, in particular, short fiction, poems and serial novels, but also opera librettos.
Text from her novel Erkenntnis was re-used in a parodic manner by Alfred Döblin in a part of his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz that addresses homosexual love. In this context, Döblin expert Sabine Becker described Engler's writing as using "a very trivial Courths-Mahler style". In contrast, Doris Claus's analysis of Engler's novel Arme kleine Jett emphasizes its emancipatory value: By portraying a lesbian lifestyle in the Berlin artists' scene that does not clash violently with the heroine's social environment and society at large, the novel outlines an utopia that provides a means of identification to the reader.
As an activist, Engler sought to improve the organization of lesbian women, following the lead of gay activists such as Friedrich Radszuweit and Carl Bergmann. She particularly asked lesbians to join Radszuweit's Bund für Menschenrecht.
In addition to her work as a writer, she organized ladies' clubs to allow lesbian women to gather without distraction. From 1925 to 1929, she ran the weekly "Damen-BIF-Klub", and in September 1929, she opened the ladies' club Erâto on the premises of the Zauberflöte, a well-known gay and lesbian venue. It appears to have been popular, as some of the club's events took place in venues with a capacity of some 600 persons. The club was last recorded as active in January 1931.
After May 1931, Engler is no longer recorded as being active in the lesbian movement. Her name or that of the club Erâto does not appear again in scene publications.
In 1933, she sent a play titled Heil Hitler to Adolf Hitler. The Reich Dramaturgist, Rainer Schlösser, approved of the play's ideology, but believed that it lacked artistic and dramatic merit. In 1938, Engler filed an application for membership in the Reichsschrifttumskammer, part of the Reichskulturkammer, the state organization to which all artists were required to belong. In that application, Engler described her past work with significant alterations.
- Erkenntnis (before 1929)
- Das Leben ist nur noch im Rausch zu ertragen (1929), autobiographical
- Arme kleine Jett (1930)
- Heike Schader: Virile, Vamps und wilde Veilchen - Sexualität, Begehren und Erotik in den Zeitschriften homosexueller Frauen im Berlin der 1920er Jahre, 2004, ISBN 3-89741-157-1, pp. 74–76
- Christiane Leidinger: Eine „Illusion von Freiheit” – Subkultur und Organisierung von Lesben, Transvestiten und Schwulen in den zwanziger Jahren, in: Ingeborg Boxhammer, Christiane Leidinger (eds.): Online-Projekt Lesbengeschichte, Berlin 2008, accessed 28 June 2013
- Florence Tamagne: History of Homosexuality in Europe, 1919–1939. 2005, ISBN 978-0-87586-356-6, p. 80
- Julia Hürner: Lebensumstände lesbischer Frauen in Österreich und Deutschland – von den 1920er Jahren bis zur NS-Zeit (PDF; 657 kB), PhD thesis 2010, pp. 48–50, accessed 28 June 2013
- Sabine Becker: Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblins Epos der städtischen Moderne, in: Marily Martínez de Richter (ed.): Moderne in den Metropolen. Roberto Arlt und Alfred Döblin. Internationales Symposium, Buenos Aires – Berlin 2004. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2005, ISBN 3-8260-3198-9, p. 129
- Doris Claus: Selbstverständlich lesbisch in der Zeit der Weimarer Republik. Eine Analyse der Zeitschrift "Die Freundin", Bielefeld, 1987, pp. 76–93
- Katharina Vogel: Zum Selbstverständnis lesbischer Frauen in der Weimarer Republik. Eine Analyse der Zeitschrift ‘Die Freundin’ 1924-1933 in Eldorado: Homosexuelle Frauen und Männer in Berlin 1850–1950, Geschichte, Alltag und Kultur, Berlin, 1984, ISBN 3921495369, p. 165
- Stephanie Nordt: Verdrängung und Zeugnis – Lebenssituationen von Lesben während der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus (außerhalb der Konzentrationslager), in: Quer – denken, lesen, schreiben – Gender-/Geschlechterfragen update, ISSN 1860-9805, 03/01, 2001, p. 15