“Frauen, ihr müsst selbstbewusst werden!”

[Women, you must become confident!]

With these encouraging words, Marie Tusch tended to conclude most of her speeches in front of female audiences. This paper aims to trace the social and political activism of Tusch during the interwar period. Born into abject poverty as an illegitimate child in Celovec/Klagenfurt (Carinthia), she ended up as a so-called Tschickmensch at the tender age of twelve years. Tschickmenschen [tschick is Austrian slang for cigarette] was the derogatory term for tobacco workers at that time in the German-speaking parts of the Dual Monarchy. Especially in Carinthia before World War I, the tobacco industry flourished, and cigarette factories employed mostly women and girls as cheap labour force. Next to many other social stigmata and disadvantages, these female workers also had to face additional discrimination in everyday life, due to the odour of their clothes and their brownish-stained fingers from handling the tobacco produce.

Marie Tusch was such a labourer, and around the turn of the century she committed herself to fighting for better working conditions, more workers’ rights, and gender equality at the workplace. After the Great War and the decline of the tobacco industry in Carinthia, she even entered the political stage on a national level. In the first Austrian elections with universal suffrage in February 1919, she gained a parliamentary seat. Thus, she joined seven other women, pioneering female representation in the Austrian parliament. As the only non-Viennese MP amongst them, Tusch continued her engagement in labour, legislative, and social reform, sometimes also against her male colleagues’ agenda of the Social-Democratic Party. My talk attempts to highlight Marie Tusch’s achievements and setbacks within the context of post-war un/employment and gender issues, as well as increasing fascist tendencies in Austria generally and Carinthia specifically.


Dagmar Wernitznig obtained her doctorate in History from the University of Oxford with a DPhil thesis pertaining to the life, work, and (political) activism of the international pacifist, feminist, and suffragist Rosika Schwimmer (1877–1948). Having graduated in literature and modern languages, she also holds a second PhD degree in American Studies and lectured, tutored, and published extensively in the academic fields of gender, post-colonialism, critical theory, and cultural criticism as well. Additionally, she worked as a postdoctoral and, subsequently, an associate fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, plus earned a business certificate from the Saïd Business School. Her most recent publications include, for instance, a journal article for a special issue of Women’s History Review (“Out of her time? Rosika Schwimmer’s (1877–1948) Transnational Activism After the First World War”, 2017) and book chapters for editions and collaborative compilations by Bloomsbury, Brill, and Palgrave Macmillan.

She collaborates on the EIRENE project.