100 Years of Women in Law
In 1919 the first woman was admitted to study law at the University of Vienna – a milestone in the history of women in law. Today, 100 years later, women are represented in all legal fields – but they are still facing challenges in their work life. So let’s take a closer look at the history of women in law in Austria.
Access to University
The faculty of philosophy was the first faculty of the University of Vienna to admit women to their studies in 1897. But it was not until 1919 that the faculty of law opened its doors for women. One of the reasons why it took so long is that obtaining a law degree was a pre-condition for most jobs in the civil service. And as these professions were seen as male-only, it wasn’t necessary for women to study law, as they would not work in the public sector anyway. Therefore, the judicial benches were a field reserved for men until 1947.
Women in Courts
A petition concerning the admission of women as judges was put forward to the government in 1930. Again, the opponents argued that women were too emotional and sensitive. Therefore they could not decide rationally and would not be assertive enough. The petition was not successful – it remained unanswered and the debate about admitting female judges fell silent. It was not until the late 1930s, during the National Socialist regime, that women could work in court service due to staff shortages. They continued their jobs in the courts after the restoration of the Republic. Finally, in 1947, the first two women became judges in Austria:
Johanna Kundmann and Gertrude Sollinger.
The first Female Lawyer
Actively involved in the debate concerning the opening of the profession of judge to women was the first female lawyer in Austria – Marianne Beth. After obtaining her doctorate in 1921, she took the bar exam in 1924. Coming from a family of lawyers, she later took over her father’s law firm. During her work as a lawyer, she founded various clubs and published articles. Providing help and information for other women was one of her main concerns.
Women in Legal Professions Today
Looking back at the history of women in law and their achievements, it may seem like equality in the legal professions has been attained. Especially in the profession of judges, the numbers have been increasing constantly over the years. Today about 55 percent of all judges are female. It can be reasonably predicted that the numbers are going to rise even higher in the future, as 66 percent of candidate judges nowadays are women. Also, slightly over half of all public prosecutors are female.
But when looking at the numbers, it becomes obvious that especially in the profession of lawyers, women are still underrepresented. Just about 22 percent of lawyers in Austria are female. But considering that half of all lawyer candidates are women, there is a positive outlook for improvement in the future.