Universität WienAn Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

Archiv der Universität Wien



For centuries university study was the exclusive preserve of men. Although female students were nowhere explicitly forbidden, the stubborn and traditional allocation of gender roles and the "men's club" structures of the University were sufficient to make all thoughts of formal study leading to a doctorate seem impossible to women. This changed in the course of the 19th Century. During the 1860's "study for women" became a slogan throughout Europe. From 1863 onwards women were permitted to enrol at the University of Zürich, and between 1870 and 1894 women in almost all European countries were granted access to university studies. Prussia and Austria were the exceptions. Here the university and school reforms of 1849-50 gave the opponents of women studying an unintended but welcome advantage: without a school-leaving diploma (Matura) university study was not possible. The legal basis for women to acquire this school-leaving diploma was only created in 1896. The constant pressure of Women's Associations and social necessity ultimately led to the admission of women to the Philosophical Faculty in 1897. In 1900 they were also admitted to the Faculty of Medicine. In the period of the monarchy, however, this opening up of Austrian universities went no further. It was only in 1919 that women were allowed to register in the Faculty of Law, in 1923 in the Faculty of Protestant Theology, and 1946 in the Faculty of Catholic Theology.

While the proportion of women students remained small up to the First World War, in the following decades it grew significantly, if not continuously. Since the 1980's the proportion has been above 50%, and in the Winter Semester of 1996-97 around 58% of all students in the University of Vienna were women. For women aiming at an academic career, however, the situation is less favourable. Although Elise Richter, as the first woman, had already completed her Habilitation in the Philosophical Faculty in 1907 and been appointed (again as the first woman) Extra-Ordinary Professor in 1921, women's share of professorial positions at the University of Vienna was still only around 7% in 1997.

Lit.: Waltraud Heindl und Marina Tichy, "Durch Erkenntnis zu Freiheit und Glück ..." Frauen an der Universität Wien (ab 1897) (= Schriftenreihe des Universitätsarchivs, Universität Wien, Bd. 5, Wien 1990).


Gabriele Possanner von Ehrenthal gains her Doctorate, 2nd April 1897

Gabriele Possanner von Ehrenthal (1869-1940) was the first woman to gain a doctorate at the University of Vienna. On 2nd April, 1897 she was awarded her doctorate in Medicine by the Rector, Prof. Leo Reinisch, a supporter of women's right to study. She had studied medicine at the University of Zürich and obtained a doctorate there in 1894. In order to be able to practise as a doctor in Austria she had first to overcome considerable opposition before she was allowed to undergo the viva voce examination a second time, this time before Viennese examiners. (Original in the Illustriertes Extrablatt, 7th April 1897)


Elise Richter (1865-1943)

This scholar was the first Austrian woman to receive the Habilitation, in the Philosophical Faculty in 1905. Two years later she received the venia legendi (=right to teach) and was appointed Dozent (= Associate Professor). In 1921 she was given the 'title of Extra-Ordinary Professor'. From 1920-30 she chaired the Association of Austrian Academic Women, which she had also founded. Although her considerable linguistic publications were widely respected internationally, she was denied the title of 'Ordinary Professor'. As a Jew she was dismissed from her university post in 1938 and, together with her sister, Helene Richter (a scholar in English and Theatre Studies) she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, where she disappeared without trace. (Photo in the Picture Archive of the Austrian National Library)