Madeline McFarland and Dr. Michelle James, German and Russian Department
In between the World Wars, German-speaking Europe was split into two major groups: The Weimar Republic, which consisted of current Germany, and the SocialDemocratically run Austria. Due to this SocialDemocratic government, the capital (and eventually time period) was referred to as “Red Vienna.” While the Weimar Republic has many firsthand accounts that have been made available to scholars, teachers and historians, relatively little has been compiled from Red Vienna. Our goal with this project was to discover more sources that dealt with Gender and Feminism in Red Vienna, as well as more female authors to gain a more complete and fair perspective of what this city was.
In order to find these works, we began with contemporary newspapers such as the Workers Union News, or Arbeiterzeitung. A rather unexpected challange came in the form of the type; this newspaper, and many others of the time, used a very gothic and difficulttoread font, known in German as “Fraktur.” Fraktur was very small and complex, and many of the letters seemed strange: the ‘s’ looked like an ‘f,’ for example. Once I had been trained on reading Fraktur, though, we were able to go through decades of various newspapers, scanning each page for articles on gender and female authors. These were then linked and uploaded to the Sophie Project, a BYU-run Database of German Female authors.
Overall, we were able to find hundreds of articles and novels by dozens of women. The Red Vienna section is far more fleshed out, and we have a better understanding of what it was like to be a woman in red Vienna.
Women were actively encouraged to work outside the home, in schools, factories and stations. Many living in Vienna or other cities lived in government-sponsored housing, huge, boxy skyscrapers built in a square, with a courtyard in the middle. These houses had cafeterias and grocery stores built into the lower levels, as well as gyms, laundry and childcare facilities. Dozens of families lived on one floor, hundreds in a building. They lived in very close quarters, often creating community projects like playgrounds and gardens in their courtyards. The government also sponsored public areas, such as swimming pools, gyms, parks, and playgrounds. Raising a family became a community effort, with everyone watching each other’s children and the government assisting and creating opportunities where possible.
The advent of these comfortable and communal houses did little to affect male authors, who had always had the luxury of retreating to a cafe or park when things at home were far too crazy to write. If only male authors had been speaking about the changes that the SocialDemocratic government had made, there likely would have been an outcry about how much money was going towards the family. These women’s voices paint a different story, though. With cheap and readily available childcare, they were free to not only pursue a career in a factory, but to write. Although their numbers were still surpassed by the males, there was a small explosion of female authoresses and illustrators, and their contributions can be found in articles, pictures and serial novels in these newspapers.
Shifting attitudes also meant that women were getting more education, getting married later, and traveling more. Ann Titzia Leitich, one of the most prolific writers spent much of her time traveling through America and pointing out the differences between her hometown and the various places she visited.
Why does this matter? Isn’t it just as discriminatory to only study articles from women?
In traditional history, it doesn’t matter. These women were not great men who participated in great events. There is an untold story to this type of history, though, that allows the common man and woman to fall through the cracks. The women of Red Vienna lived an experience that doesn’t match the narrative of a ‘Fallen Germany,’ nor view of Socialism that many of us still hold today. While this government ultimately did not last, it contributed to the views contemporary Austrians hold on the family, the Government, and women. Austria still has socialized healthcare, childcare, and still encourages Women to contribute outside the home as well as inside.
Without these voices, history would miss an important counterpoint to the narrative we were familiar with. As fifty percent of the population at the time, the women of Red Vienna created the society as much as the men did. Without their voices, we only see half the story.