Outbreak of the war
End of the war

How does a collection of letters come to be stored in an archive?

In 1989, as part of an exhibition celebrating seventy years of women’s suffrage in Austria, a group of female historians, headed by Edith Saurer (1942–2011), professor of Modern History, an important pioneer and representative of the history of women and gender in Austria, placed an appeal in the press for private holdings of letters and documents relating to this topic. This appeal led to contact with the descendants of Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner, as a result of which the first extensive holdings of accounts and letters were handed over to the archive.

Today the literary estate of the Hanzel-Hübner family constitutes one of the largest holdings in the Sammlung Frauennachlässe and has been worked on as part of several research and publication projects. It preserves documents from Mathilde Hanzel’s forebears from the second half of the nineteenth century as well as extensive material from her own childhood together with diaries and correspondence with female friends, with fellow campaigners in the first women’s movement in Austria (Allgemeiner Österreichischer Frauenverein; General Austrian Women’s Association), with her daughters and with her husband Ottokar Hanzel.

From the time of the First World War more than 2,000 field post letters and postcards have been preserved. The major part of these – apart from brief periods in the first two years of the war when both also used short-hand – are written in Kurrent (old German script) on writing paper, in both ink and pencil. Although the orthography is conventional, the handwriting – often faded and in tiny Kurrent script, makes some passages very difficult to decipher, especially in the case of pages written in pencil.

As is the case with many other holdings of field post, some letters are missing from the correspondence, in particular letters written by Ottokar Hanzel. This is unusual; often it was the letters written by the women that went missing at the front, whether due to enemy attacks or sudden troop movements during an offensive. However, this does not mean that women’s letters to soldiers are only rarely preserved. The correspondence between Mathilde and Ottokar Hanzel is only one example of the large number of extant letters written by women to soldiers at the front during the First World War.

Translation: Sophie Kidd



Bernold, Monika/Gehmacher, Johanna: Auto/Biographie und Frauenfrage. Tagebücher, Briefwechsel, Politische Schriften von Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner (1884-1970), Wien 2003

Gerhalter, Li unter der Mitarbeit von Brigitte Semanek: Bestandsverzeichnis der Sammlung Frauennachlässe am Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien, 2. Auflage, Wien 2012

Gerhalter, Li: „Quellen für die Frauen- und Geschlechtergeschichte haben wir auf jeden Fall benötigt“: Die Sammlung Frauennachlässe am Institut für Geschichte, in: Szemethy, Hubert/Klemun, Marianne/Fuchs, Martina (Hrsg.): Gelehrte Objekte? – Wege zum Wissen. Aus den Sammlungen der Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät an der Universität Wien (= Ausstellungskatalog des Österreichischen Museums für Volkskunde), Bd. 98, Wien 2013, 122-141

Hämmerle Christa: Entzweite Beziehungen? Zur Feldpost der beiden Weltkriege aus frauen- und geschlechtergeschichtlicher Perspektive, in: Veit Didczuneit/Jens Ebert/Thomas Jander (Hrsg.): Schreiben im Krieg. Schreiben vom Krieg. Feldpost im Zeitalter der Weltkriege, Essen 2011, 241-252

Rebhan-Glück, Ines: Liebe in Zeiten des Krieges. Die Feldpostkorrespondenz eines Wiener Ehepaares (1917/18), in: ÖGL (2012), 56/3, 231–246

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Staying in contact

    The First World War separated thousands of families, in some cases for many years. It was therefore all the more important for each individual to stay in touch with loved ones far away. Many people hitherto unaccustomed to writing now took up a pen or pencil and attempted to stay in contact with absent families, friends and acquaintances.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Relationships during the war

    The subject of this propaganda postcard of a soldier setting off for war and swearing to be faithful to his loved ones recalls the separation brought about by war. Millions of men were sent to the front and separated from their families and wives. The war marked an important break in many partnerships, families and friendships. The soldiers serving far from home found themselves in a completely new social environment with new superiors and comrades. They made new friendships and entered into new relationships.

  • Person

    Ottokar Hanzel

    Ottokar Hanzel was a mathematics and descriptive geometry teacher from Vienna. During the First World War he was a Landsturm captain on the Italian front.

  • Person

    Mathilde Hanzel (geb. Hübner)

    Mathilde Hanzel, a teacher in Vienna, was a member of the AÖFV, an association that militated constantly during the First World War for peace.

  • Object

    Personal war testimonies

    For a long time, the First World War was narrated only from the point of view of prominent personalities or generals. The way in which the people of the Austro‑Hungarian Monarchy experienced and survived it remained unheard. Personal documents like this diary give us new and diverse insights into how individuals experienced, understood and felt about the war.