I was able to track down Marianne Hainisch. Born in 1839, she was the founder of the Austrian Women’s movement. I told her I was writing a book on social change in Europe. She was quite eager to talk to me. Here is an excerpt of our interview. I’ve tried my best to translate from the original German. I hope I was faithful to the spirit.
Howe: What was the deciding event that prompted you to try to change society’s views about women? Did you feel stifled by the limitations society had fostered on you?
Hainisch: Actually I was quite happy. I was married to a successful factory owner and had two lovely children, Michael, Jr, and Maria. Then when I was about thirty I had a real eye-opener.
Howe: What happened, pray tell, madame.
Hainisch: I had a close friend fall on hard times. Her husband had fallen ill, so she decided to go out and get work to support her family. She’s very talented, quite musical and can speak several languages. She couldn’t find a thing. Everyone told her she didn’t have the proper education.
Howe: Your friend didn’t go to school?
Hainisch: No, she was given a "proper" education. Unfortunately the education of girls and the education of boys are two different things. Women are expected to be wives and mothers and nothing more. My friend wanted a job because she was a wife and mother, and her husband was unable to provide for his family through no fault of his own.
Well, let me tell you, this made me very angry. I wrote an article titled “On the Education of Women.” I was quite proud of my effort. I took it down to the newspaper, but they refused to print it. So I took it to their competitor. Not one newspaper would dare to accept it. In desperation I took it down to city hall and read it at a meeting. That made the newspapers! I hadn’t planned to cause a scene, but they left me no choice.
Howe: I must say, that is quite deplorable. How long did it take you to get anyone to listen?
Hainisch: Apparently someone did listen. Can you imagine my surprise when the First Austrian Savings Bank donated 40,000 gulden to found a girls' school? I mean what’s more conservative than a bank?
Howe: Perhaps the bank felt they were investing in more clients if women could make money and open bank accounts.
Hainisch: Perhaps. Although it was a good start, one school was not going to solve the problem. So four years ago I started the League for Extended Women's Education. Women need more than just an elementary education. They need to be allowed to enroll in colleges, too!
Howe: I’m sure you and your friends will win in the end.
Hainisch: We only want what’s fair.
We continued our conversation. Marianne Hainisch will have a happy ending. She will live long enough to see her efforts bear fruit. She will see women graduating with degrees and getting the vote. She will celebrate the Mother’s Day in Austria she pushed for. She will watch her own son become president of Austria. I’m sure she wouldn’t believe me if I told her she would live to be ninety-seven.
Vienna will name a street for Hainisch, Austria will issue a stamp with her photo, and her birthplace, Baden, will erect a statute to her.
Marianne Hainisch is a very charming and intelligent woman. Just meeting her made the trip worthwhile. Oh, did I mention she makes the best tea?