Mathilde (Tilly) Hanzel-Hübner

The first female guest student at the TH in Vienna


Headmistress of a Bürgerschule (citizen’s school), Schulrat

Date of birth and death

Born May 27th, 1884 in Oberhollabrunn, Lower Austria
Died Oktober 1970 in Vienna

Black and white picture of Mathilde Hanzel

short interview Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner

Born as the daughter of a grammar school teacher and a former governess and private teacher, Mathilde (Tilly) Hübner first went to a private citizen’s school for girls in Vienna, and later to the Höhere Töchterschule (girl’s secondary school) of the schooling association for daughters of civil servants (Schulverein für Beamtentöchter).
From 1899 to 1903, she attended the k.k. Lehrerinnen-Bildungsanstalt (female teacher training college) in Vienna (Hegelgasse), and graduated with distinction. Afterwards, she stood in as a substitute teacher for a few years. In 1907, she earned the teaching certificate as a teacher at Bürgerschulen.
In 1909, she got her first real employment as a Bürgerschul teacher 2nd class at the girl’s Bürgerschule at the Wasserturm in Vienna’s Favoriten district.
In 1910, she married Ottokar Henzel, who was a candidate teacher for secondary schools. In spite of having two daughters in 1911 and 1914, she continued to work as a teacher. In 1926, she became headmistress of the Bürgerschule in Redtenbachergasse in Vienna’s 17th district, and in 1934, she was awarded the title “Schulrat”. At the same time, she was forced to retire because of the austerity measures of the so-called “double income” law of the Dollfuß government.
Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner was involved in the middle-class women’s movement from an early time and served as vice-president of the Allgemeine Österreichische Frauenverein (General Austrian Women’s Association) from 1910-1914. Afterwards, she devoted most of her time to pacifism and education politics.

Tilly Hübner was very eager to learn and was especially interested in mathematics and pure sciences. She would have liked to study at university. However, she lacked the necessary degree, and possibly also the financial support of her family. Therefore, she chose the “detour” of female teacher training which was typical for women’s educational careers at the time. At the same time, she passed the Matura (school leaving certificate necessary for university enrolment) as an external student at the Staatsrealschule in Vienna’s 5th district. Her first experiences of teaching seem to have inspired her interest in questions of building hygiene.
Possibly through her acquaintance with Ottokar Hanzel, her later husband, who had trained as a teacher at the College of Technology in Vienna (TH Wien), Tilly Hübner applied for admission as a regular student at the TH Wien. As women were not admitted to technical colleges at the time, her application was refused. She persisted, however, and finally succeeded when the Ministry of Education granted permission for her to be admitted as a guest student for individual lectures in building hygiene and political economy in the term of 1908/1909. Thus she may be viewed as the first female guest student at the TH Wien.

An important factor for Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner’s professional career was surely that her parental home was relatively liberal and questions of education were rated highly: “My father was a secondary school teacher of classical languages, my mother was a highly educated and liberal woman.” (Life review, 1953)
Her acquaintance with the engineering student Ottokar Hübner also played a significant role, as he supported her in her preparations for the school leaving exam as a private teacher and later became her husband.
Beyond that, her involvement in the “first” Austrian women’s movement” was decisive, especially concerning her political commitment.

Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner’s professional career was mainly affected by the huge formal and social barriers for women in realizing their life scripts. Overcoming them was one motive for her trying to gain admission for studying at the TH Wien.
“From an early time I was conscious of the deficient educational options for girls at the time, and I therefore wanted to do my part in order to prove that no course of studies was too hard for women.” (Life review, 1953)

The issue of “reconciliation” probably presented itself rather differently to Tilly Hanzel compared to present-day discussions: In the First World War, she was forced to take care of herself and her two small daughters, as her husband was drafted into the army. During the inter-war years, living in their accustomed style for a middle-class family without property was practically impossible unless both parents were earning an income. For her as well as for many women of her generation, the alternative was mainly “professional life” versus “forced celibate”.
Mathilde Hanzel’s retirement from professional life in 1934 did not proceed from her own wishes but from political pressure based on the so-called “double income” law which prohibited gainful employment of married women.

As a young woman, Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner was an advocate for the attitude that “women only need an opportunity in order to develop their abilities.” In later years, she was clearly more sceptical about the time necessary for change. However, she was always convinced that women needed to engage with politics in order to assert their interests, and argued for a girls’ education that empowered them to do this by offering relevant economic, social and civic insights.

Sources: Monika Bernold/Johanna Gehmacher: Auto/Biographie und Frauenfrage. Tagebücher, Briefwechsel, politische Schriften von Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner (1884 – 1970). Vienna 2003.
Juliane Mikoletzky/Ute Georgeacopol-Winischhofer/Margit Pohl: „dem Zuge der Zeit entsprechend…“ Zur Geschichte des Frauenstudiums in Österreich am Beispiel der Technischen Universität Wien. Vienna 1997

Image Source: Mathilde Hanzel (1915)
Estate of Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner, Sammlung Frauennachlässe (collection of women’s estates) at the Department of History at the University of Vienna