Maria Waser in the SLA

The daughter of a country doctor, Maria Waser was born in 1878 and grew up in Herzogenbuchsee. After leaving school she studied history and literature in Lausanne and Bern. Waser made her reputation as both the editor of the cultural magazine Die Schweiz and a writer. She was married to the archaeologist Otto Waser.

Maria Waser
Maria Waser standing in front of a bookcase
© Unknown photographer, around 1900

After gaining her doctorate and spending two years in Italy, Waser moved to Zurich, where from 1904 to 1919 she was editor of the cultural magazine Die Schweiz. In that function, her influence on contemporary Swiss literature mirrored that of her conservative mentor Josef Viktor Widmann, but she also offered authors such as Albin Zollinger and Robert Walser early opportunities to publish their work. 

Waser swiftly made a name for herself with her literary début, Die Geschichte der Anna Waser (1913), a historical novel of women and artists. The collection of historical novellas entitled Von der Liebe und dem Tod (1919) was followed by a second novel, Wir Narren von gestern (1922), the story of a family beset by misfortune. Die Wende (1929) was more strongly autobiographical. The novel describes an amorous liaison and the ensuing crisis overcome through renunciation. The novelistic description of her childhood home in Herzogenbuchsee in Land unter Sternen (1930) was followed by Begegnung am Abend (1933), the literary fruit of her friendship with the brain researcher Constantin von Monakow, and the autobiographical novel Sinnbild des Lebens (1936).

Waser, who campaigned to improve women’s status in society, for example in Die Sendung der Frau (Bern, 1928), and who spoke out on Switzerland’s future in the face of the Fascist menace in her highly regarded lecture Lebendiges Schweizertum (1924), became the first woman to receive the City of Zurich Literature Award, in December 1938. She died in Zollikon on Lake Zurich on 19 January 1939. 

Last modification 11.01.2021

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