Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The war economy demanded full commitment by everyone, and the civilian population, particularly women, were involved in the ‘total war’. They took over jobs that had been previously carried out by men, and their effort on the home front had a democratizing effect that changed social expectations with regard to the state.

The new role of women can be clearly seen in the industrial (promotion) films from 1916 and the shots of the Austro-Hungarian armaments industry – mostly short films. In the propaganda film Munitionsfabrik Hermann Weiffenbach Ges.m.b.H. Wien (A 1917) the war effort is emphasized by showing the skill and speed of the women workers as they sit at long benches performing ‘war work’. The camera sweeps over busy hands as the sequence of operations is depicted. The well-organized manufacture of flares and fuses is shown. The women are observed continuously – not only by the camera but also by the male supervisors walking up and down behind the women and checking over their shoulders.

The pictures reflect genuine attitudes. In spite of the loss of male workers on account of the war, companies often refused initially to employ women. The main reason for their refusal was that they were not subject to military discipline. The films from the Weiffenbach ammunition factory show that the increasing shortage of male personnel made it necessary to hire women, who were nevertheless strictly supervised. In Vienna the proportion of women in the workforce rose from 31 per cent in 1913 to 53 per cent in 1918. Over 50 per cent of the workers in the Manfred Weiss and Wöllersdorf ammunition factories were women, and in the Enzesfeld armaments factory they made up 45 per cent of the employees.

On the home front women also knitted and sewed for the soldiers in the field. At the start of the war tobacco and home-made Christmas trees could also be sent, as the film propaganda was at pains to show (Christmas Presents for Allied Troops, A/D 1915). Resources soon ran out, however. Nettles were collected for clothing production, and inner soles for shoes to protect from damp were made from newsprint.

Translation: Nick Somers


Hanisch, Ernst: Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftspolitik im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994

Wegs, Robert J.: Die österreichische Kriegswirtschaft 1914–1918, Wien 1979

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Mobilisation of the civilian population

    During the "Gold for Iron” campaign, gold rings or jewellery donated to finance the war were exchanged for iron rings. The civilian population was called upon to play an active role in welfare and aid associations and to offer its services for the fatherland. Women and children collected clothes and blankets for the army and hospitals, and materials like wastepaper and iron for recycling. They knitted and sewed, and these "Liebesgaben” or charitable gifts were sent to the front to provide emotional encouragement to the troops.


  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Depicting the war

    The photo by Alexander Exax shows a scene in the trenches in Galicia in 1915. The title “im Feuer” [“under fire”] gives the impression that the picture has been taken in the middle of the action. Dynamic photos like this were typical of the pictorial iconography of the First World War. The illustrated weeklies were among the most important distribution media, but there were others: exhibitions and posters, picture postcards and cinemas collaborated with private picture agencies and the official propaganda to provide a visual depiction of the war.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?

  • Development

    Gender roles: change/no change?

    It is a widely held view that the First World War revolutionised the traditional roles of men and women in society. Photos of tram conductresses, female coach drivers and postwomen would appear to confirm this, as does the assumption by women of the traditional male role as providers for the family. But did things change that much, and what was left of the supposed changes after 1918?