Frame Conditions


Frame Conditions and Women´s Rights in Austria in the 19th Century

In the 19th century geopolitical dimensions in Austria were completely different from the present situation.

The Austrian Empire (1804- 1867) and the Austrian – Hungarian Monarchy  („K.u.k. Monarchie „ 1867- 1918) were a multi- ethnic state consisting of different nations and languages (German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Slovakian, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian etc.).

The women we have chosen for this project reflect this specific aspect of Austrian history:

They come from various crown lands and belong to different religious communities. Together with their families they move to Vienna, the capital that was the centre of administration, legislation, a centre with possibilities for education and formation.

In Vienna, daughters of upper-class families have prospects of finding appropriate husbands, whereas members of lower classes come to Vienna with the hope of finding better working conditions.

Legal conditions:

In 1811, the Civil Law Code substitutes the Code Napoleon.

Unmarried women are under the guardianship of their fathers, married women under that of their husbands.  Fathers are the only legal guardians for children. Marriage portions are brought into the husband´s property. Women are responsible for housekeeping, misconduct may lead to divorce. Any other occupation needs the approval and assent of the husband.

Social conditions (gentry, upper class, middle class):

Unmarried women are usually not allowed to enter public space unaccompanied, married women are in company of their husbands when joining social events. In Vienna, so called “Salons” are established, meeting points in the houses of members of the intellectual upper class in order to organize regular meetings. These meetings often have a certain political or literal background. Their main purposes are political discussions, discussions on cultural events, initial business contact, entertainment and often also matchmaking.  Even unmarried women are welcome to join these social events.

Educational opportunities (gentry, upper class, middle class):

Girls and women of lower class origin normally have to contribute to the family income from early years on; there are neither time nor financial means for education after primary school.

Girls belonging to upper class families or to the gentry are prepared for their future roles as perfect housewives. They take private lessons in languages, behaviour and dancing. If their personal interests go beyond this basic education, they need an understanding, liberal thinking father who is willing to pay for higher formation. Painting, writing and sculpturing are esteemed as “respectable” occupations.

Until 1897 women are not allowed to study at Austrian Universities, because final examinations - main requirement for access to universities- cannot be passed at women´s private high schools. In 1892, the first public high school for girls is founded, but final examinations have to be taken as extern students in a boys´ high school.

From 1897 on, women are allowed to study at the faculty of philosophy at the University of Vienna.

These general social political rules are not always stuck to: During our research for the project “Unless” we found women who succeeded in spite of all these obstacles. As members of the lower classes did not have the opportunity to influence social developments, the women we present belong to the upper class and nobility. The remarkable aspect in the biographies of these women is that they dedicated their work to gain emancipation in rights and education for all women.

Authors: Gerti Zupanich/ Elisabeth Rigal

Translation: Elisabeth Rigal