Heidrun Zettelbauer


Processes of (self-) mobilisation of patriotic and ‘völkisch’ female
protagonists in voluntary war-welfare in Styria 1912–1916

During WWI patriotic and German-Nationalist female activists in the Austrian province Styria
contributed to war-welfare up to a high extent on a material and ideological level, by voluntarily
caring for wounded soldiers in convalescent and military hospitals, by supporting war through
care packages sent to soldiers, by charity events or by prolonging war propaganda as journalists
and authors. Taking gender specific war debates and politics in this regional context as a case
study, I would like to deal in my paper with the question, how war requirements addressed
patriotic and German-Nationalist women in war-welfare and how war-supporting female
activists were included respectively integrated themselves into (voluntary) war-welfare politics.
My temporal focus concentrates on the period from 1912 onwards, when (against the
background of the first Balkan War) the Styrian governor Count of Clary and Aldringen
initiated the regional development of medical/nurse services in case of war, explicitly and
broadly addressing voluntary female nursing personnel. The paper will shift attention to the
first two years of the war, addressing conflicts between the military and the provincial
administration on the women’s presence in voluntary war-welfare. As a result, in spring 1916
the military reduced considerably the number of voluntary convalescent homes and excluded
female volunteers from Styrian military hospitals. I will deal with contemporary and
contradictory gender debates framing the conflict and with ambivalent processes of (self-)
organisation and (self-) integration of protagonists of patriotic and ‘völkisch’ women’s societies
into war purposes. How patriotic/‘völkisch’ women affirmed war requirements by underpinning
allegedly female responsibility for caring/nursing and at the same time subverted such gender
specific war discourse by extrapolating social and political participation or decisional power
from their engagement? How the military restrained war-supporting women in their scopes of
action for transgressing gender norms? In what manner gender intersects with nation and class
as crucial categories of social difference within these debates on voluntary war-welfare?