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The Pioneers of the TU Wien - The first female students at the TU Wien as pioneers for changes in the traditional image of women

On the occasion of Women's Day on March 8, TU archivist Dr. Juliane Mikoletzky talks about the beginnings of women at the TU Wien, when female students were first admitted, the hurdles they had to overcome, and how this helped to change the image in of women in society.

[Translate to English:] Mathematikerin Katherine Johnson

[Translate to English:] Mathematikerin Katherine Johnson, Copyright: NASA

From 1896, women were able to enroll for studies at philosophical faculties in Austria. Access to other faculties, including colleges of technology, was only opened to them considerably later. This was less due to reservations about women’s basic “ability to study” than to a strong orientation of the Austrian university landscape towards preparatory professional training and the lack of correspondent socially acceptable job profiles for women.

Thus, though female candidates for teaching posts were allowed to register at colleges of technology as external students in subjects relevant for them, especially descriptive geometry, from 1913, women first had to fight for acceptance of their professional ability in the distinctly male-connoted field of engineering.

The employment of many women in the armaments industry during the First World War, e.g., female chemists trained at universities, contributed to reducing gender-stereotyped prejudice. In combination with the social democrat Otto Glöckel’s taking the Staatsamt and Federal Ministry of the Interior and Education, conditions early in the First Republic made the admission of women as regular students possible as well. By order of April 7th, 1919, they were also allowed to register at colleges of technology – provided they “find their space according to existing spatial and scientific facilities of individual colleges without damage or disturbance for male students.”

Effectively– except for the war years 1943 – 1945 – female students at Austrian colleges of technology continued to be a small minority (less than 10%) into the 1970ies. At the Vienna College of Technology, most female students were to be found at the faculties of architecture and chemical engineering; more specifically, engineering sciences, they continued to constitute a tiny fraction. Nevertheless, many of them successfully finished their studies and achieved respectable careers in their professional lives.

However, a career in science and research for women continued to be the exception for a long time, especially in technological sciences. Though there were isolated female assistant professors at the Vienna College of Technology from 1918 – primarily female chemists who had studied at a university – they were often employed because of a lack of suitable male applicants. Only a very few among them were able to establish themselves at the college permanently. A woman's first ‘Habilitation’ was submitted in 1940; the first female associate professor was appointed in 1974, and the first female full professor in 1996.

There is progress, indeed, but it is slow.