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Mobilizing Conservative Women: The Viennese Katholische Frauenorganisationin the 1920s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 February 2009

Laura S. Gellott
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Kenosha, WI 53141–2000.


In the 1920s newly enfranchised Austrian women crossed the line separating the private sphere of home and family and entered the arena of political participation. Catholic women, schooled in the experience of their church organizations, were no exception. But although they mobilized within the democratic framework and under the rights and privileges provided by the First Republic, their initial agenda consisted of a commitment to the primacy of woman's role as mother and homemaker, and saw involvement in the political arena merely as an expedient in defense of the domestic sphere. Furthermore, the Weltanschauung of Catholic women was initially hostile to parliamentary democracy, to the very system that allowed—or in their eyes made necessary—their political mobilization.

Copyright © Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota 1991

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1 KFO-Arbeit (Vienna), 03 1932Google Scholar.

2 Stoehr, Irene, “‘Organisierte Mütterlichkeit.’ Zur Politik der deutschen Frauenbewegung um 1900.” In Hansen, Karin, ed., Frauen suchen ihre Geschichte (Munich, 1983), p. 223Google Scholar.

3 The first president of the KRFO was Melanie, Countess Zichy- Metternich, daughter of the nineteenth century's most famous personage. She was succeeded by Princess Klementine Metternich, daughter of Pauline and granddaughter of Prince Metternich. The third KRFO president, whose tenure spanned the interwar era, was Princess Fanny Starhemberg, descendant of the distinguished Austrian military family and mother of Prince Rüdiger von Starhemberg (who played a highly controversial role in the politics of the 1930s). Without exception the early leaders of the various Land KFO organizations came from the nobility. See Motzko, Alma, Der Weg der Frauen zu Recht und Geltung (Vienna, 1959), p. 148Google Scholar; MotzkoSeitz, Alma, “Die katholische Frauenbewegung in Österreich.” In Frauenjahrbuch 1927 (Vienna), p. 142Google Scholar. (Motzko occasionally used a hyphenated form of her name, placing her maiden name second, in her writing).

4 Motzko-Seitz, , “Die katholische Frauenbewegung,” Frauenjahrbuch 1927, pp. 142–43Google Scholar.

5 Ibid., p. 144.

6 Ibid., pp. 144–45.

7 Schöffmann, Irene, “Ein (anderer) Blick auf die katholische Frauenbewegung der Zwi-schenkriegszeit,” Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur 28:3 (1984), p. 159Google Scholar.

8 Ibid., p. 157. For Alma Motzko's views on the “double bind” of clerical and noble leadership in the early organization see Motzko, , Der Weg der Frauen, p. 149Google Scholar.

9 Plechl, Pia Maria, “Vorwort.” In Motzko, Alma, Leben, Welt, und Gott (Vienna, 1970), pp. 910Google Scholar.

10 Ibid., pp. 10–11.

11 Motzko-Seitz, , “Die katholische Frauenbewegung,” Frauenjahrbuch 1927, p. 146Google Scholar.

12 Ibid., p. 141.

13 Ibid., p. 142.

14 “Ständige Zunahme: Eine Folge der sozialdemokratischen Ehezerstörung,” Frauen-Briefe (FB) (Vienna), 10 1930Google Scholar.

15 “Sie wollen keine Kinder…” FB, Mar. 1935.

16 “Das sozialdemokratische Agrarprogramm und die Frauen,” FB, April 1927. A very different perspective, and an example of what Karl Marx called “the idiocy of rural life,” can be found in the Socialist women's paper Die Unzufriedene. An article entitled “Der Leidensweg der Frau im Dorf–Das Schicksal der ungarischen Bauernfrauen” is highlighted by a drawing of a crucifix on the wall, along with pictures of the Sacred Heart and Blessed Virgin. An enraged husband, fists clenched, advances on a barefoot, weeping woman, who holds one hand to her forehead in a gesture of despair. The article states: “Women resign themselves only in appearance to this fate. Many resort to the Church; they seek comfort in the fervor of religious zeal or in the hope of happiness in the next world. The leaders of the Church in the villages rely primarily on the Bäuerin, not because women are less intelligent or innately more religious than men, but because they are unhappier and more vulnerable. Other women, recognizing this, do all they can to escape the villages.” See Die Unzufriedene, 9 May 1931.

17 FB, Nov. 1929.

18 Frauenjahrbuch 1928, p. 124.

19 “Zur Zwanzigjahr-Feier des Bestandes der K.F.O.,” FB, May 1927.

20 Stoehr, p. 231.

21 Ibid., p. 223.

22 Stoehr, p. 228. Stoehr's use of the term “moderate” (“gemässigte”) women's movement is intended, in her context, to apply to the same constituency and movement that in the Austrian context I have labeled “conservative.”.

23 Motzko, , “25 Jahre katholische Frauenorganisation,” FB, 01 1932Google Scholar.

24 Pichl, Berta, “10 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht in Österreich,” FB, 05 1929Google Scholar.

26 Frauenjahrbuch 1928, p. 124; and Frauenjahrbuch 1930, p. 174.

28 Frauenjahrbuch 1928, p. 124.

29 Gulick, Charles A., Austria from Habsburg to Hitler, vol. 1, Labor's Workshop of Democracy (Berkeley, 1948), pp. 689–91Google Scholar.

30 Pichl, , “10 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht,” FB, 05 1929Google Scholar.

31 Motzko, , Frauenjahrbuch 1927, p. 47Google Scholar.

32 “Rund 30,000 christliche Frauen wollen sie gewinnen!” FB, Jan. 1931.

33 Arbeiter-Zeitung (Vienna), 18 10 1920Google Scholar.

34 Hamer, Thomas L., “Beyond Feminism: The Women's Movement in Austrian Social Democracy, 1890–1920,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1973), p. 179Google Scholar.

35 Gulick, 1, p. 690.

36 “Die Beteiligung der Frauen an den letzten Wahlen,” FB, June 1927.

37 Gulick, 1, p. 712.

38 “Die Beteiligung der Frauen,” FB, June 1927.

40 “Zur Zwanzigjahr-Feier des Bestandes der KFO,” FB, May 1927.

41 “400,000 rotorganisierte Frauen!” FB, Sept. 1928.

44 Gulick, 1, p. 688.

45 Die Unzufriedene, 10 Oct. 1931.

46 “Rund 30,000 christliche Frauen,” FB, Jan. 1931.

47 KFO-Arbeit, March 1932.

48 Frauenjahrbuch 1927, pp. 146–47.

49 See Frauenjahrbuch 1927, p. 146; Frauenjahrbuch 1928, p. 124; “Zur ersten weiblichen Bundes-präsidentschaft,” FB, Feb. 1928; Pichl, , “10 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht,” FB, 05 1929Google Scholar.

50 pichl, , “10 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht,” FB, 05 1929Google Scholar.

51 “Das erste Gesetz,” FB, Feb. 1933.

52 “Zur ersten weiblichen Bundespräsidentschaft,” FB, Feb. 1928.

53 Stoehr, p. 223.

54 “Zur ersten weiblichen Bundespräsidentschaft,” FB, Feb. 1928.

55 Frauenjahrbuch 1928, p. 148.

57 “Was wir wollen!” FB, Nov. 1930.

59 Ibid. For an explanation of the extent of Christian Social and Heimwehr cooperation in the 1930 elections see Gulick, Charles A., Austria from Habsburg to Hitler, vol.2, Fascism's Subversion of Democracy (Berkeley, 1948), p. 912Google Scholar. “In Vienna and Lower Austria the [Heimwehr] groups led by [Emil] Fey and [Julius] Raab had formed a bloc with the Catholics under the name of ‘Christian Social party and Heimatwehr,’ and in the rest of the country the Christian Socials and the Heimatbloc were at loggerheads and abused each other in speeches, press, posters, and leaflets…. The confusion was great.

60 Gulick, 2, p. 922. See also Pauley, Bruce, Hitler and the Forgotten Nazis: A History of Austrian National Socialism (Chapel Hill, NC., 1981), p. 64CrossRefGoogle Scholar: “The Nazis profited very little from industrial unemployment, as the proletariat generally remained faithful to its Marxist parties, at least until 1938. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence to prove that the unemployed Austrian intelligentsia were solid supporters of the Nazi party from an early date and for primarily economic, not ideological, reasons.”

61 Pauley, p. 65; Gulick, 2, pp. 911–915. For an explanation of Austria's proportional representation system, see Gulick, 1, p. 687.

62 Pauley, pp. 78–79.

63 In one sense, all 15 of the Nazi mandates can be said to have come at the expense of the Christian Socials. According to Gulick: “By the constitutional amendments of 1929 the number of seats in the city council of Vienna had been reduced from 120 to 100. Since the Christian Socials had held 40 seats in the old council they had to secure 33 in the new to maintain the same position. Actually they elected only 19 representatives in 1932. These facts are the basis for the statement above that they lost 14 seats.” Gulick, vol. 1, n. p. 972.

64 “Das Ergebnis der Wahlen,” FB, May 1932.

65 “Their economic program is ruinous, their tax system Bolshevistic, and a hindrance to production. Their cultural program is worthless, alien, and anti-religious, with its turn toward stark materialism. Their welfare activities are mechanistic, in that their strongest motivation arises out of party interest, and results in the harm of those who need help, as civil leaders eliminate private welfare and its institutions. Their democracy is a sham, their practices brutally arbitrary.” “Das Gemeindeprogramm der Wiener christlichsozialen Partei,” FB, April 1932. The paper goes on to contrast the spirit and accomplishments of the Lueger era with the last 13 years, and to call for a return to Christian Social rule in the city. See also “Wie werden wir wahlen,” FB, April 1932: “For us there is only one deciding factor: which party has a Christian foundation written into its program and is strong enough to bring this to realization? Only the Christian Social Party.”

66 “Das Ergebnis der Wahlen,” FB, May 1932.

67 “Rund 30,000 christliche Frauen wollen sie gewinnen!” FB, Jan. 1931.

68 KFO-Arbeit, March 1932.

69 See, for example, “Das erste Gesetz unserer Nationalrätin Kapral,” FB, Feb. 1933.

70 “Das Ergebnis der Wahlen,” FB, May 1932.

72 “Politisch oder unpolitisch?” FB, June 1932.

73 “Das erste Gesetz…Kapral,” FB, Feb. 1933.

74 “Politisch oder unpolitisch?” FB, June 1932.

75 “Die nationalsozialistische Auffassung der Ehe,” FB, July 1931.

77 “Wahltag,” KFO-Arbeit, April 1932. Other articles in the Frauen-Briefe warned against the dangers Nazism posed to Christian concepts of marriage and family. A cleric, Cyrill Fischer, writing in the KFO paper in May 1931, charged National Socialism with having a “pagan” view of women, making of her a “maid and servant…and slave.” He compared the Nazi view of family life to that of ancient Sparta. Interestingly enough, he also took issue with the fact that a future “Third Reich” would deprive women as well as men of their right to vote (Wahlrecht), on the grounds that (quoting Rosenberg) “the right to vote is no magic divining rod, but rather the tool of disintegration (Zersetzungswerkzeug) of alien demagoguery.” Coming from the conservative camp, which had in the past expressed philosophical objections to partisan politics as a system antithetical to corporative notions of society, and which would in the future advocate a Ständestaat as a way around the divisiveness of liberal democracy, this argument is noteworthy. See “Nationalsozialismus und Frau,” Frauen-Briefe, May 1931.

78 “Die nationalsozialistische Auffassung der Ehe,” FB, July 1931.

79 Gellott, Laura and Phayer, Michael, “Dissenting Voices: Catholic Women in Opposition to Fascism,” Journal of Contemporary History 22:1 (01 1987), p. 95CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

80 Schöffmann, pp. 166–67.

81 Stoehr, p. 226.

82 Frauenjahrbuch 1927, pp. 146–47.

83 “Das erste Gesetz,” FB, Feb 1933.

84 Stoehr, p. 226. There is an extensive literature on this subject in the history of U.S. women. See, for example, Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs: A journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1 (Autumn 1975), 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Freedman, Estelle, “Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870–1930,” Feminist Studies, 5 (1979): 512–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

85 “Die Katholische Frauenbewegung und das Heimwehrprogramm,” FB, Oct. 1929; “Was wir wollen,” FB, Nov. 1930.