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Emma Adler, née Braun, was born to a middle-class Austro-Hungarian Jewish family in Debrecen, Hungary. She had five brothers, two of whom went into careers in journalism and liberal politics. The family moved to Vienna, Austria, when she was a child. She was privately educated, learned French, English, and Italian, and was considered a fine sportswoman. In 1878, at age 20, she married Viktor Adler, a physician and politician who founded the Austrian Social Democratic Party, with whom she had three children. They were part of a circle of writers, artists, and thinkers that included Gustav Mahler and Hermann Bahr. Emma made her debut as an author with Goethe und Frau von Stein in 1887. She wrote articles for Austrian magazines and wrote and edited for the daily newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung. She produced historical novels and other works of fiction and nonfiction, sometimes under pen names. She translated French works into German, including the novel Germinie Lacerteux by the Goncourt brothers, and Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, published under the pseudonym Marion Lorm. Her own best-known book, Famous Women of the French Revolution, 1789-1795 (1906), and her biography of Jane Welsh Carlyle (1907) are considered pioneering works in women’s history writing. With friends and colleagues Adelheid Popp and Bertha Pappenheim, she combined writing with political activity. She was a co-founder of the Austrian female workers' movement, and was dedicated to the education of working-class young people. She gave regular lectures and courses. However, the strain of all her activities took their toll: In about 1889, she suffered a breakdown and spent time in mental hospitals and convalescent homes over the next three years. In November 1918, after the death of her husband, she again lapsed into a crisis that was followed by several years of medical care and stays in hospitals. She moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where her son Friedrich lived and wrote her husband’s biography. He preserved the manuscript, and it was published in 1968.
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