When at MAK the other day, we went into its very hip gift/bookshop, where I found this book offering walks through Vienna focussing on women in the city’s history. Written by an ”academic feminist,” the informative and quite readable stories are written in an anecdotal style and lead you through different parts of the city to experience sites of important moments for Viennese women. Since our neighborhood figured in several of these stories, I decided to go take a walk in some fascinating, if at times predictably sad, footsteps.
Rahlgasse–named for a 19th century academic painter Carl Rahl–is a one-block street at the city end of Vienna’s main shopping street Mariahilfestrasse, very near the Museumsquartier; one has to walk down a flight of elegant stairs from Mariahilfestrasse to get there. On the east side of the street stands what is today called the Bundesgymnasium und Bundesrealgymnasium Rahlgasse,
a coeducational progressive high school, but which began as the first gymnasium for girls in Vienna–and this only happened in 1892, after years of struggle to allow advanced education for women. (A Gymnasium in German is an advanced high school, like a college in Australia.) Until this time, women had to be taught at home, and were of course not admitted to the university. Marianne Hainisch (1839-1936) began to work toward this goal in the 1870s, against fierce opposition from men in authority.
A plaque in her honor appears on the school’s facade.
Just think of the amazing number of incredibly brilliant women who taught here, and those who began their careers here! In her video interviews that I have just listened to at the Albertina, my art history professor Anna Spitzmüller recounts that her parents moved to this side of Vienna in 1913 because of the educational opportunities provided here. This must have been the school that she was referring to, since she lived very near by, on Windmühlgasse.
The other plaque shown here honors another of the school’s brilliant graduates, Gertrud Herzog-Hauser (1894-1953).
While her real passion was for classical philology and philosophy, no possibility of an academic appointment for a woman existed, and so Herzog-Hauser became an influential teacher of girls, as well as a writer of textbooks for the school curriculum. In 1937 she was named director of the Rahlgasse Gymnasium, only to be kicked out the next year when the National Socialists came to power. Although a convert to Christianity–she was also married to the Expressionist painter Carry Hauser–she was forced to flee Austria as a Jew. Their 4-year-old son was shipped to England as part of the Kindertransport, while she managed to live through the war in Holland. She returned to Vienna after the war, but still experienced anti-Semitism and was never able to re-establish a career. She died at only 59, in 1953.
The other plaque on the side of the school honors yet another graduate and another story of struggle for recognition despite formidable achievements, that of Marietta Blau (1894-1970).
As the plaque states, Blau was a physicist, ”a groundbreaking researcher in the development of photographic methods of particle theory. Her techniques led to the discovery of nuclear ‘stars.”’ Despite her tremendous contributions to nuclear research, Blau suffered the same fate as Herzog-Hauser; the plaque ends with those stark words, ”Blau was forced to leave Austria in 1938.” She, too, returned to Vienna after the war, but despite some belated recognition, was never able to be appointed to an academic post, and died in penury. A very sad period for women, for Jews, for humanity, indeed.
Turning around and back up the stairs to Mariahilfestrasse, women’s stories continue at the other end of the cultural spectrum, in the world of fashion and theater. On the corner at the top of the stairs one finds the building still called Casa Piccola. In the 19th century and into the early 1900s, the building was the site of a beloved cafe, frequented by the more bohemian figures of Viennese literary and artistic life.
The owner of the cafe at this time was Karl Obertimpfler, whose daughter Lina, a famous beauty, became the architect Adolf Loos’s first wife.
After a disastrous scandal leading to her lover’s suicide, Lina Loos left Adolf, fled Vienna and became a well-known actress and writer, both in the U.S. and then back in Europe, and finally in Sievering in Vienna’s 19th district. As the plaque on the side of the Casa Piccola describes her, she was always open to ”the new”. I think today she would have been a famous hippie beauty or a movie star.
And the other woman on the Casa Piccola plaque is one better known to some of us: it was in this building that Emilie Flöge (1874-1952), along with her sisters, had their famous Modesalon, designed by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann as the epitome of the Secession era’s artistic and fashion reform movement.
Flöge, of course, is more famous as the ”life partner”–the main squeeze, the muse–of Gustav Klimt, for whom she designed his flowing robes and for whom she posed for some of his most famous and sensuous paintings, but she was an influential designer and artist in her own right.
Klimt died in the flu epidemic of 1918; Flöge ran her shop in the Casa Piccola until the Depression and then the Anschluss forced her mostly Jewish clientele to flee. She lived until 1952, but as Petra Unger writes in Frauenspaziergänge, her last years were spent in obscurity. She never wrote about her years as Klimt’s muse.
Finally, my own thoughts on the subject of women in Vienna: I think it is telling of the inequalities that women in the 20th century have had to endure that in my research on Anna Spitzmüller–the first woman curator in Austria, a decorated scholar, a participant in the events that have made the ”Monuments Men” so famous–I have found no photos of her in any Viennese collections or archives, and only a very few notices on her death, while photos and notices of her father and her uncle–and of many far less influential men–abound. Only my own observations, but there does seem to still be tremendous gaps in the recognition of women’s accomplishments and their part in the cultural history of this city. But I’m very happy to find this book; I’m going to take the other walks described here, to find out more about these women who made their mark, and whom I am just getting to know.