Elsbeth was born 1887 in Schlüsselburg in Westphalia. Her family later moved to Mengede where her brothers were born and where her father held a post in the civil administration (Amtmann). He built a house in a nearby village and the Villa Schragmüller stands to this day. Elsbeth was educated by her grandmother and received a prussian education with special focus on languages, French was the teaching language. Elsbeth says about her grandmother that “anything that seemed to foster my education was supported by her”.
It was not a normal thing for young ladies to receive a formal certification, but Elsbeth made the grammar school exam (abiturium) what allowed her later to study. For that purpose she had to go to the most modern German state, the Grand Duchy of Baden, where the first girl’s school (Lyzeum) had been founded, 1893 in Karlsruhe. 1908 she received her certificate there. She inscribed at the university of Freiburg (Baden) and thus belonged to the first, pioneering generation of young women in the German academic world. As subject of her studies she choose Staatswissenschaften (roughly: Political economics), she went also to Lausanne and Berlin.
She worked as student assistant and finally wrote her doctoral thesis at the institute of Prof. Karl DIEHL, who marked her work with summa cum laude. So in 1913 Dr. SCHRAGMÜLLER left the university and begun working as teacher and social worker. 1914 WWI started.
She did not want to work as nurse or give out tea and soup at the station. She was a qualified woman and finally managed to get a permit to visit the fronts. Given her abilities in French and English she went to the West and made it to Brussels. She “antichambered”, finally met Field-Marshall von der GOLTZ and reported to him what she wanted. In the end she found herself in the Kriegsnachrichtenstelle Brüssel (Antwerpen was not yet fallen) checking confiscated mail from Belgian soldiers. She was good and so she was offered a full position and finally found herself in the company of (reserve-) officers with different (academic) backgrounds, where she was treated as equal. She moved to Lille for training early 1915, met NICOLAI of IIIb and returned to her job in the Kriegsnachrichtenstelle, which had moved into Antwerpen after the fall of the fortress: She kept this position until the end of the war.
She described her job as “the organization of systematic intelligence on the large Western theatre finally reaching as far as America; the recruitment of contacts, their instruction, the securing of their line of communication, personal debriefing, verification of their statements, and the production of reports for the general headquarters”.
Especially the debriefing she enjoyed. NICOLAI wrote: “It is significant that in the German intelligence service a cavalry officer from an old noble family and an extraordinary well-educated woman knew best about handling agents, even the most difficult and sly ones.”
After the war’s end Elsbeth went to Freiburg (Baden) to live with her family. She worked at the university again, as assistant to Professor DIEHL, published articles, helped to work on books, it is not entirely clear for how long. In the end of the 1920s the family moved to München. She began touring as lecturer to earn money. The 1930s were a hard time for the family, especially 1934 when her father died of natural causes and her brother Johann Konrad was killed in the “Nacht der langen Messer” (ger., eng.), he had been a high-ranking SA-officer and head of the police of Magdeburg. NICOLAI tried to get her a pension, but it is unclear whether he was sucessfull. She seemingly was not re-activated 1939 and died 1940: “Elisabeth Schragmüller, unemployed, doctor of Law and Political Economy, protestant, living in Munich, Akademiestraße 11, died on 24th of February 1930 at 3 o’clock”. I read somewhere that she died from a form of tuberculosis.
There is no grave. And no verified picture. In a newspaper-article from 1931 she is described as “super slim, fine and very reserved blonde with a girl-like voice and earnest objectivity”.
A very interesting woman.
I used this article: Hieber, Hanne: “Mademoiselle Docteur”: The Life and Service of Imperial Germany’s Only Female Intelligence Officer, in: The Journal of Intelligence History 5 (Winter 2005), 91-108.
For a German biographical article, go here.