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date: 28 September 2023

Moser, Mentonafree

Moser, Mentonafree

  • Andrea SchmelzAndrea SchmelzCoburg University of Applied Sciences and Arts


Mentona Moser (1874–1971) was a pioneer of social work in Switzerland. Following the ideas of the settlement movement, Moser initiated and contributed to fundamental social welfare activities in Zurich until the end of World War I. As a communist, from the early 1920s on, she worked on several projects of radical social work in the context of the Red Aid.


  • Biographies

Personal Background and Social Work Education in England

Mentona Moser was born on October 19, 1874, as the second daughter of the tycoon Heinrich Moser (1805–1874) and his wife Fanny Freiherrin von Sulzer-Wart (1848–1925). Born into a wealthy family, Moser enjoyed the chances of an international education and early women’s studies. In England, Moser was significantly influenced in her social work professionalization by the ideas and practices of the settlement movement. Moser attended first a girls’ boarding school in Wimbledon, followed by studies at Bedford College in London. Afterward, she continued her education from 1898 to 1901 at Women’s University in Cambridge, which maintained a settlement for practical training in Southwark, a London slum quarter (Moser, 1986).

Transnational Theory–Practice–Transfer to Switzerland

Mentona Moser brought social work ideas and practical experiences of the settlement movement to Switzerland (Epple & Schär, 2015). After her return from England, Moser dealt with her practical and theoretical insights in three writings:

Die weibliche Jugend der oberen Stände. Betrachtungen und Vorschläge (1903; English translation, The Female Youth of the Upper Class. Reflections and Proposals)

Beiträge zur Wohltätigkeit und sozialen Hilfsleistung in ihrer praktischen Anwendung (1905; English translation, Contributions to Charity and Social Aid in Their Practical Application)

Soziale Hilfstätigkeit: Hand, Herz und Verstand (1906; English translation, Social Aid Work: Hand, Heart and Mind)

In her publications, Moser took up ideas, approaches, and methods of the settlement movement and pointed out that poverty is a socially and not an individually caused problem. Therefore, she advocated for a partnership-based rather than a paternalistic social work approach in neighborhoods affected by poverty (Epple & Schär, 2015). In contrast to traditional welfare work in Switzerland, Moser understood industrial capitalism as the root cause of poverty. As a consequence, she did not explain poverty by the failure of an individual but by the unjust class relations, the social inequalities between rich and poor, and the wealth of the “upper” classes (Schilling, 2015).

Practical Social Work Activities

Moser developed further her insights from England in a broad spectrum of practical social work activities and perspectives in the context of the labor and women’s movement in Zurich. On the one hand, she was engaged in various projects of Zurich’s municipal welfare institutions (e.g., child protection, assistance for blind, tuberculosis prevention). On the other hand, she was coinitiator in the development of the garden city idea and the construction of workers’ housing estates. In the workers’ quarters of Zurich, she enforced the construction of the first children’s playgrounds and also worked for the cooperative movement (Moser, 1986). This movement saw self-help based on solidarity as an effective momentum for improving the precarious living conditions of the working class. In 1908, Moser was cofounder of the first educational program for social work in 1908 with Maria Fierz (1878–1956). One year later, she gave up the coleadership, as she did not succeed in enforcing participatory action approaches of the settlement movement, starting from the life worlds of the people in the neighborhood. After World War I, Moser joined the communist party in Zurich.

Pathway to Radical Social Work

From 1919 to 1924, Moser was employed by “Pro Juventute,” a Swiss social foundation, and served as head of the department of maternal and infant care. After that, Moser was a member of the central committee of the Swiss section of International Red Aid. “Red Aid” is the name for the “welfare organizations” of the communist parties of different countries (Schilde, 2003). Moser combined social work with political grassroots work: Working for the women’s department of the Communist Party, she was committed to women’s and social policy issues, but she was also involved in education, campaigning, and counseling regarding maternal and infant welfare. In particular, she started campaigns for reproductive rights such as free access to contraception and the right to abortion.

Projects of International Social Work in Contexts of Red Aid

Starting in 1926, Moser established an international children’s home in Waskino in the south of Moscow (former Sowjetunion). In the Red Aid, the protection of children and families of persecuted comrades was one of the most prominent social work fields. The children’s home was opened in autumn 2018 and accommodated 40 children from international Communist Party leadership from Russia and all over the world (China, Latin America, Africa, and especially Bulgaria and Romania; Moser, 1986).

In 1929, Mentona Moser focused her social, educational, and political work in Berlin. In particular, she was involved in prisoners’ aid and founded a Red Aid prison library project. Moreover, Moser carried out political educational work for the communist idea, based on films and discussions regarding property conditions, health care, and gender equality in the Soviet Union. Before Nazi seizure of power in winter 1933, Moser escaped her imprisonment and continued to work illegally before she fled from Germany to Switzerland and France.

Mentona Moser combined social and political work and understood international project work such as the children’s home in the Soviet Union or the prison library in Berlin as modules and exemplary cornerstones for social change through international solidarity.

During Nazism and war times, Moser remained involved in international solidarity, refugee aid, and conspiratorial party work despite her age and poor health. Invited by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Moser accepted German Democratic Republic (GDR) citizenship in 1950 at the age of 76. Until her death in 1971, she was cared for and honored by the “workers and peasants’ state” of the GDR (Hering, 2003).


Moser’s professionalization as a pioneer of Swiss and international social work developed between the poles of international professionalization and radical social work. However, Moser distanced herself from the mainstream path of professionalization—when she resigned from the leadership of the First Social Work Training Course in Zurich in 1908. She got politicized by the settlement, women’s, and labor movements and was convinced that social misery, poverty, and social exclusion could only be solved through radical social change, which she wanted to realize in the class struggle of the Red Aid and Communist Party. For Moser, the solution to the social question required a socialist society and could only be achieved through a transformation of living and working conditions and not on the basis of the individualization of social problems.

Further Reading

  • Brauns, N. (2003). Schafft Rote Hilfe! Geschichte und Aktivitäten der proletarischen Hilfsorganisation für politische Gefangene in Deutschland (1919–1938). Dietz.
  • Freuler, R. (2021). Mentona Moser (1874–1971): Kommunistin mit Perlenkette. In S. Howald (Ed.), Projekt Schweiz: Vierundvierzig Porträts aus Leidenschaft (pp. 85–95). Union Verlag.
  • Lavalette, M., & Ioakimidis, V. (2011). International social work or social work internationalism? Radical social work in a global perspective. In M. Lavalette (Ed.), Radical social work today (pp. 135–152). Polity Press.
  • Matter, S. (2011). Der Armut auf den Leib rücken: Die Professionalisierung der Sozialen Arbeit in der Schweiz (1900–1960). Chronos.
  • Schmelz, A. (2021). Rebellin gegen Klassenverhältnisse: Mentona Moser (1874–1971). Soziale Arbeit, 70(9), 337–344.


  • Epple, R., & Schär, E. (2015). Spuren einer anderen Sozialen Arbeit: Kritische und politische Sozialarbeit in der Schweiz 1900–2000. Seismo.
  • Hering, S. (2003). Ein “Soldat der dritten Internationale”—Der Beitrag der Schweizer Kommunistin Mentona Moser zur Roten Hilfe. In S. Hering & K. Schilde (Eds.), Die Rote Hilfe, 1921–1941 (pp. 211–224). Leske & Budrich.
  • Moser, M. (1986). Ich habe gelebt. Limmat.
  • Schilde, K. (2003). “Es lebe die Internationale Rote Hilfe!” Die weltweite “Wohlfahrtsorganisation” der kommunistischen Parteien. In S. Hering & K. Schilde (Eds.), Die Rote Hilfe, 1921–1941 (pp. 57–71). Leske & Budrich.
  • Schilling, S. (2015). Mentona Moser (1874–1971): The battle for a more just society. Critical and Radical Social Work, 3, 433–443.