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The Female Reformation Printer

One of the most prolific female printers of the sixteenth century, Magdalena Kirsenmann, helped advance the Lutheran Reformation in Tübingen.

She got into printing after the death of her husband, Ulrich Morhart (c. 1490–1554). Through his first wife, Barbara, Morhart attained citizenship rights in Strasbourg and began printing there. In Tübingen he married his second wife, Katharina Zorn, who died only two years later. With Zorn’s dowry he financed his second press, the first permanent press in the city of Tübingen.

As the only press in a university town, Morhart published many academic titles – which did not generate much income, although they did guarantee steady business. But in 1534 Duke Ulrich introduced Lutheranism, and his son Christoph instituted it as the state church, calling reformer Johannes Brenz (1499–1570) as one of his chief advisors.

Ulrich Morhart printed a catechism by Brenz in 1551 and also printed the first church order of the Duchy of Württemberg in 1553. Sources differ on whether Magdalena Kirsenmann was Morhart’s third or fourth wife, but she was certainly his last wife. After Ulrich’s death she printed a collection of statements by Martin Luther, treatises and commentaries by Brenz, and other Lutheran sermons and tracts.

In his 1521 letter, Cochlaeus complained that Reformation ideas were, “so propagated and widely spread by the book printers that even tailors and shoemakers, indeed women and other simple idiots, who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel . . . read it eagerly, as if it were a fountain of all truth.”

Luther put a more positive spin on it: printing was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” Certainly the Reformation would not have been the same without it.

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