Vienna Urania, built in 1910 by the architect Max Fabiani as a “Workers’ University”


The cultural and educational policy was dedicated to pedagogical experiments. The city of Vienna carried out six model experiments for a general school for all 10- to 14-year olds in order to break up the educational privileges of the well-to-do. The educational policy for primary schools heavily relied on the principle of the then new and revolutionary Montessori concepts: free provision of schoolbooks and equipment, creative and practice-oriented learning. The Pedagogical Institute was founded to train teachers and link teacher training to scientific research. The competing schools of experimental psychology, individual psychology and psychoanalysis were represented there. Vienna developed into the centre for developmental psychology and developmental therapy with the foundation of the Viennese Psychological Institute, where Charlotte and Karl Bühler worked.


In the 1920s and early 1930s a gigantic educational and pedagogical movement characterised Vienna which could not be found in any other city in those days. Ellen Kay called Vienna “the capital city of the child”. In this place a variety of educational and pedagogical concepts were developed, public and private initiatives and institutions abounded. All this would not have been possible without the development of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s “psychology of the individual” Education was seen as a complex concept and had the highest priority, not only in the family, schools and day care centres, but also in cultural, sports and leisure clubs and party organisations.


The interesting characteristic of the Viennese school reform is its closeness to Alfred Adler`s individual psychology. It was better suited to the Social Democratic idea of education than Freud’s psychoanalysis as it stressed the ideal of the “community man”, is characterised by unfailing optimism in education and an uncomplicated therapeutical method of explaining, teaching and counselling. Psychoanalysis on the other hand stresses the individual and is characterised by a rather sceptical stance towards the state and the community. Psychoanalytical methods developed in Vienna outside municipal institutions, except for August Aichhorn, who was an educational counsellor at the Public Welfare Office. One of the earliest and most important psychoanalytical initiatives was the children’s home “Baumgarten” (1919/20), a boarding school for 300 war orphans between 3 and 16 years of age, initiated by Siegfried Bernfeld, a psychoanalyst and pedagogue. Anna Freud later said that that was the first attempt at applying psychoanalytical principles to education. Unfortunately the children’s home had to be closed after nine months because of lack of funds. August Aichhorn also founded a home for young people immediately after the war in Oberhollabrunn. It was a radical reform-pedagogical project for the peaceful and violence-free education of neglected young people. He further set up a centre for education and youth counselling of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society which he headed until 1938. It was a kind of psychoanalytical out-patient clinic, where children and young people with various problems concerning education, school and job were treated free of charge. Lots of experts worked there as counsellors. This society further promoted the training of teachers and educators, offered courses and published a magazine for psychoanalytical pedagogy, initiated by Anna Freud. Even Ludwig Wittgenstein was involved in the pedagogical reform project. He published a dictionary for primary schools in 1926.


In order to improve the health of the working class children and adults sports clubs were founded and in Vienna many new public sports facilities were established, especially beaches on the Danube, swimming pools and sports grounds. Apart from famous outdoor and indoor swimming pools like the Amalienbad and the Kongressbad, several sports grounds were constructed, and the big Prater stadium. The cultural society “Children’s Friends” (Kinderfreunde) tried to promote the education of the workers’ children at an early age. They based their educational concepts on new pedagogical models, rejecting any kind of beating, promoted solidarity; parents and educators were supposed to co-operate. In 1929 the organisation had 100,540 members and concentrated on charitable child care, child welfare, holidays for children and group activities for the older ones modelled on the scouts.


In addition to the home, the traditional place for socialization of working-class children and youth in Vienna was the street, providing a variety of urban niches free of adult supervision and control. The reformers characterised the street as a place of disorder, promiscuity and decadence which posed a serious risk and from which the young had to be rescued. The rough and ready activities in which groups of children engaged in their “territories” was believed to lead to criminality. For boys this meant stealing and for girls the danger of prostitution. It was claimed then that the proletarian family lacked the capacity for the proper rearing of the young generation due to inadequate living conditions, high divorce rates and the situation of both parents working outside the home. Interestingly enough, also adult authoritarianism was quoted as a reason why the working class family should not be entrusted with the education of their children. Therefore programmes for children and youth were at the centre of the reform programmes of Red Vienna. The main function of the above mentioned cultural society “Children’s Friends” was to counteract the prevalent street socialization and to eliminate the involved risks for the six- to ten-year olds. Furthermore various supplementary educational facilities and programmes were initiated with the focus on after-school centres in which homework was done under supervision and community responsibility was instilled. The strict discipline and regimentation in these centres discouraged some children and especially older boys from attending them. “The Red Falcons” for children aged ten to fourteen were an adaptation of the regimented Boy Scouts with strict discipline, personal “purity” and obedience to the leader. By 1932 the organisation in Vienna numbered 6,000 boys. The Socialist Worker Youth was designed for the fourteen- to twenty-one-year olds and the guiding principles were abstinence, sexual sublimation and Puritanism. Their activities concentrated on sports and education. The Vienna organisation numbered around 10,500 young people in 1932. To prevent the risks of alcoholism, smoking, early parenthood and crime, the programme was somewhat directed towards the postponement of adulthood, which might have been appropriate for middle-class youth still involved in formal education, but was unrealistic for working-class youth who were considered as adults at their work places from the age of fourteen on.


The idea of the reformers was that the function of parents was reduced to providing emotional ties and tenderness at home, for all other aspects of youth socialisation experts were provided. The whole effort of youth socialisation was revolutionary in the way that it brought together both sexes in various activities and even encouraged the “natural association” of the sexes. This was virtually unknown in Catholic Austria before. Yet the arising questions of sexuality were generally avoided or treated in an idealised way with an emphasis on postponement of gratification. The effectiveness of the concentration on sexual purity and sublimation was very limited. The main remedy for transgressions was sports, offered in the belief that physical health would lead to mental health. The sexes participated together in all sorts of activities, but no sexual interaction was expected to take place. This naiveté, Puritanism and blindness led to fierce critique of the whole youth programme, especially by Wilhelm Reich and Ernst Fischer, and was termed “the crisis of youth” between 1930 and 1933. Reich claimed that the dominant bourgeois culture used sexual repression of the workers as a means of subjugation and the poverty of worker sexuality from abstinence to brutality is maintained by the conditions under which workers are forced to live. For youth, sexual deprivation led to a crisis which the socialist organisations evaded and even aggravated. Reich was of the opinion that attempts to sublimate youthful sexuality through sports and other activities left youth with sexual conflicts that frequently led to psychological disturbances and by that to new risks. Ernst Fischer charged that the socialist youth organisations added to the repressive mechanisms against youthful sexuality already existing in the dominant culture. Sports could not be a substitute for “all that was missing”, especially not for the sexual drives of the young. Some socialist women, such as the sociologist Käthe Leichter and the psychologist Sophie Lazarsfeld seemed to agree with this criticism, although not openly.


Despite all these efforts at concealment, working-class children and youth were well-informed about sex, they talked about it rarely and then without reserve or shame. For working-class children sexuality was a matter-of-fact part of their daily lives and formed part of their experience from earliest years on. The source for sexual knowledge was the family and the street. Young people continually dipped back in later years into their street experiences, or these simply flowed along with maturation. They built on many improvised strategies for survival based on “street wisdom” learned earlier. Sexual relations were as unsupervised as were their whole lives, when they were unemployed for instance. It was the domain of birth control where working-class youth and adults needed most support, but this was denied by the social organisations. The methods of contraception available to workers were primitive, unreliable and dangerous. Abortion was practised widely as a form of birth control and posed an enormous risk for girls and young women as a threat to their health and a breach of the law (article 144). Yet Viennese judges seemed to have balked at punishing women who had undertaken these desperate acts. Only midwives or “Makers of Angels” with prior arrest or conviction records were given prison sentences of two to nine months in the years 1921-32. Clearly, life in cramped quarters and the resulting lack of privacy, put limits on sexual expressiveness and the use of contraceptives, apart from the costs. Under the typical conditions of working-class life of the young, not the feared promiscuity, but a sexual life of deprivation was the norm. In combination with widespread unemployment this situation led to a prevalence of psychological depression.


Göllner, Renate, Hauptstadt des Kindes und des Antisemitismus In: Riedl, Joachim (ed), Wien, Stadt der Juden, Wien 2004

Gruber, Helmut, Red Vienna. Experiment in Working-Class Culture 1919-1934, OUP 1991

Mit uns zieht die neue Zeit. Arbeiterkultur in Österreich 1918-1938, Vlg. Habarta & Habarta 1981

Papathanassiou, Maria, Zwischen Arbeit, Spiel und Schule. Die ökonomische Funktion der Kinder ärmerer Schichten in Österreich 1880-1939, Vlg. für Geschichte und Politik 1999