WOMEN IN LINZ
Linz is a true city of women. As early as 2004, the “Linz City Guide” drew attention to women who shaped the city’s history; in 2013, the historian Gabriella Hauch dedicated herself in her city yearbook “Frauen.Leben.Linz” to the history of women and gender in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The “Linz Women’s Prize” is awarded annually by the city’s Women’s Office in order to recognise feminist concerns and encourage the population to act in a gender-democratic manner. The symbol of a “witch’s broom” is presented to women who, despite difficult circumstances, go their own way and defy traditional images of women – if Katharina Kepler had remained in Linz, she would certainly have been spared the persecution of witches in Württemberg.
Born in the monarchy, Hedda experienced profound political and social changes that affected society and her own life.
Hedwig Elisabeth Maria was born in 1876 as the only child of the neurologist Karl Wagner and his wife Anna in Niedernhart near Linz. At that time it was customary for doctors to live on the premises of the hospital, so Hedda came into contact with the sick at an early age. Encounters that sharpened her social awareness. She received a high school education – unusual for girls at that time – and mastered seven foreign languages. Her musical talent became apparent early on and she was taught by well-known teachers such as Anton Bruckner’s last piano pupil, Franz Hayböck.
In 1896 she passed the state examination in composition and piano with distinction at the Vienna Conservatory of Music. Her first piece of music: the song “Blauschimmernde Tage”, composed in the Romantic style.
From 1910 Hedda began to write poems, which she also set to music. She wrote over a thousand poems and songs as well as the novel “City in Flames”. In addition to operas, songs and choral works, she created many smaller compositions. Her singspiel “Das Spiel vom letzten Krieg” was performed at the Varietetheater in Linz. The performance was sold out and was even positively received in Germany.
As a person Hedda can hardly be classified into a scheme, not even chronologically, because her work was characterized by romanticism, expressionism and naturalism.
During the Nazi period, she was banned from being published and performed because of her socialist convictions. She used this “time of involuntary leisure” to develop herself artistically. However, none of the three operas composed at the time was ever performed.
Hedda’s life’s work was honoured in a place that went down in history as the starting point for the Austrian Civil War of 1934: the former Hotel Schiff. It still stands today on the Landstraße and is reminiscent of times gone by that were marked by hatred and resistance.
Katharina Guldenmann was born in 1546 in the Württemberg village of Eltingen. She married the son of the mayor, Heinrich Kepler, and cultivated a small piece of land with him.
The marriage was not blessed with good fortune. The father-in-law rejected Katharina, and the couple was worn down by quarrels. Heinrich left the family, Katharina had to raise four children alone. A single, independent woman was not welcome at that time, this way of life contradicted the traditional image of women. This could also have been the reason for the accusation of witchcraft.
When she got into an argument with her neighbour, she could not have guessed that this would lead to the accusation of witchcraft. Katharina would have wanted to murder her with a poisonous potion, the neighbour explained.
At that time it was not unusual for women to use medicinal herbs. For example, Duke Friedrich’s wife had a pharmacy with natural medicine products in Leonberg. Her status as a noblewoman protected her from the accusation of witchcraft – a privilege that Katharina did not have. Unpleasant women were often blamed for strokes of fate. In the early modern period, natural disasters increasingly led to the persecution of witches.
At that time Catherine’s son Johannes already lived in Linz as a recognized astronomer. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, he brought his mother to him. Katharina stayed with him for one year. When she returned to her hometown, she was tried in 1619, with 49 charges such as stable magic, desecration of a grave and damage magic. Thanks to the interventions of her famous son she was acquitted after six years in prison and many negotiations. One year later she died as a result of her imprisonment.
It is said that Katharina aroused and encouraged her son’s interest in astronomy. In Linz, many sights bear his name. In the future, a commemorative plaque will also commemorate Catherine and the dark period of the witch hunts.