Käthe Leichter, leader of the Women’s Section of the Vienna Chamber of Labor beginning in 1925, was the founder of a network of women drawn from academia, politics, and trade unions, and spanning different class backgrounds. Jill Lewis analyzes the effects of these connections on national and international Social Democtratic political events.
Since 1989 and the publication of the first volume of Edward Timms’ biography of Karl Kraus, the image of fin-de-siècle Viennese cultural life as a set of interlocking circles of intellectual creativity has been very influential. Many of these circles were formal, but many were informal. The networks did not cease to exist in 1918, although some of the new arrivals were very different from the coffee house cliques. The groups surrounding Käthe Leichter, born Marianne Katharina Pick in 1895, are one example. Leichter studied with Max Weber in Heidelberg in 1917 and then worked with Otto Bauer, Joseph Schumpeter, and Wilhelm Ellenbogen on the Austrian Socialization Commission. In 1925 she was appointed as leader of the Women’s Section of the Vienna Chamber of Labor. It was in this position that she established a network of women drawn from academia, politics, and trade unions—a network that cut across different class backgrounds — to investigate the lives of working women both at work and at home. Their findings, published in four separate volumes between 1927 and 1931, constitute the first detailed studies of working women in Europe. But who were the investigators? How were they brought together? And how did they relate to each other and to debates in Red Vienna and within the Austrian Social Democratic Party, in which almost all of them were active? It is equally important to ask to what extent the Viennese Leichter network reflected the work of activists in the Labor and Socialist International at large, and in particular its Women’s Conference, in which Leichter was also active. Jill Lewis’ lecture addresses these topics.