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Czech Feminists and Nationalism in the Late Habsbltrg Monarchy: "The First in Austria"1 Katherine David The concurrence of the Czech women's emandpation movement with the rockiest stretch of the nationality conflid in the Austrian half of the Habsburg Monarchy presented no quandary to Czech middle-class feminists . As a non-dominant nationality seeking greater rights and autonomy in Austria-Hungary, the Czechs were, by the last four decades of the nineteenth century, intermittently locked in parliamentary altercations with their German political adversaries and the Austrian authorities. In the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, where Czechs constituted approximately two thirds of the population, Czech life revolved around a struggle for cultural and economic ascendancy, or at least equality with the ethnic German minority.2 While it might be expeded that the demand for national unity in the period between 1890 and World War I would have collided with the aspirations of Czech feminists, in fact, it did not. As this study of the women's movement demonstrates, women's rights activists drew strength from their identification with the Czech national movement and viewed their Czechness as, in many respects, advantageous to their struggle as women. The national cause and the feminist cause seemed to them to be complementary and indeed interrelated aspects of a common challenge to Vienna. In his book, The Feminists, Richard J. Evans describes Czech feminism as "fanatically nationalist." He argues that progressive Czech women had to "strike a bargain with nationalists" which introduced considerable restrictions as well as benefits to the ferninist movement.3 The first part of the proposition—on the nationalist proclivities of Czedi feminists—is undoubtedly true, by Anglo-American standards. I would, however, offer the caveat that integral nationalism was hardly an extremist ideology among the Czechs or other minorities in the Habsburg Monarchy at the turn of the twentieth century. In a nation struggling with statelessness, nationalism informed almost any political activity. Faced with a pronounced diversification of sodety in the late nineteenth century, Czech nationalist sentiment proved to be a protean force, not the property of a single dass or political current. Czech ferninists inevitably laid claim to the national tradition and adopted its rhetoric and arguments to justify their own goals. © 1991 Journal of Women-s History, Vol. 3 No. 2 OFall) 1991 Katherine David 27 Evans's second point—the contention that Czech ferninists lost as well as gained through their alliance with nationalists—certainly merits examination . I have found no evidence that feminists traded away any radical demands in exchange for support from liberal nationalists, a category which encompassed almost the entire Czech middle class. While women's rights activists did include demands for national equality in their programs and sometimes expressed their feminist objectives in nationalist terms, they were motivated by sincere patriotism and by the assumption that promotion of the national cause would further the women's movement. Contemporary descriptions suggest that Czech male politidans and cultural figures rallied behind women's issues, whether in parliament or publications, more forcefully than other central European men. Astonishingly , the Czechs eleded a female candidate to the Bohemian Diet (legislature ) on a multi-party ticket in 1912, a feat unprecedented in Europe. Though the delegate-eled was never permitted to take office, the episode illustrates how Czech men wielded women's rights issues as a convenient weapon, albeit not a lethal one, against the Austrian regime. Czech feminists had little to lose by availing themselves of their support—except perhaps a potential solidarity with German Austrian women. If the tactical and programmatic freedom of Czech feminists remained circumscribed, this was not due to their bid for nationalist support, but to repressive conditions in the monarchy. The strid Austrian laws on assembly constituted one of the distinctive f adors, besides the nationality situation , which shaped the Czech women's rights movement. Until 1912, women in Austria—Czech, German, or otherwise—were forbidden to join political organizations. A second fador was the impotence of the Reichsrat and the provindal diets, whidi limited the effectiveness of feminist alliances with political parties.4 Another notable circumstance was the crucial infusion of ideas and support which the Czech women's movement received...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 26-45
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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