From Austria With Love

From the diary of Katharina Wollf, meteorologist. September 1890.

Why must the accomplishment of women be onerous, and even detrimental to one’s family?

I am to serve on Sovereign as part of the British-Austrian alliance over gravitar and its use. Alas, the news has brought my family little joy. Fortunately, I did not expect it to. My mother retains shock and feels disgust that I will be bunking with men of various classes although I have assured her that the new Woman’s Royal Navy Service means there will be other women on board, and that accommodations will not be mixed. Despite her grievances, I believe I see some relief in her eyes. I have forever been a subject of questionable circumstances for her.

Less so for my father, although some might think otherwise for he has often referred to me as ‘a plain beauty’, which must seem insulting to those who do not understand his meaning. My penchant for keeping my features unpainted, and my hair swept back from my face reveals that I am quite unlike the woman people assume my father describes. I am a natural beauty, my features pleasing, but there the attraction ends for most men of society. I am tall for a woman, and although I do not carry needless weight, I am too lean of shape and too muscular for many men to find me attractive. Suitable husbands are more taken with my younger sister who will make an ideal mother and hostess. This fails to bother me. I have no particular use for a man, and until such time as I do they are simply of the same species, although intellectually with the right gentleman I can enjoy his company, and…should I confess I have developed a talent for knowing how to be accepted by those of a less academic nature. Even then…men seem to have difficulty with a woman who matches or surpasses them in a scholarly way.

I have even found Vienna to be a disappointment in this regard. I can recall the day we arrived, my father Leopold Wollf taking up a position in the Austrian Academy of Sciences. I had heard Vienna classed as a ‘comparatively modern capital of a relatively backward empire’ so even as a young girl I had hopes far outweighing realistic expectations. I have forever envied my father for being a man who could move about the hallowed halls of learning, and my brothers for being able to claim a place in their chosen fields of study and profession.

I cannot say Vienna has been entirely frustrating. To one who has a passing propensity for the use of languages, the city provided access to diversity as well as opportunity. And it is definitely a city undergoing much growth, particularly economically. There is much change politically and socially, although the city feels overcrowded to me, and I hope one day the major transformations taking place will one day be extended to the poorer of our society.


A cutter arrives in Vienna, 1890.

I have digressed. My parents upon seeing I was unhappy to take the traditional role of my sex, accepted my future lay elsewhere. My mother quickly gave way to tears, my father to trying to assist me. At home I am one of six children, two of which died young, one of whom is married. Johann is the remaining boy and Emmalina a mere slip of a girl. My father has forever been the more open-minded of the household, although his encouragement has been reserved. I’ve often received his approbation by means of a wink more than a verbal agreement. His thoughts, I am sure, are always freer than one might expect from his actions. He is a rational being, one might call him a humanist, although not too loudly for my father tempers his beliefs with caution so as to be seen to fit in with society. He often pushes at barriers gently, although he has his moments when it seems only brute force will suffice whereby he is poised to break into a tantrum. On such occasions I need to remind him not to do anything that would put any of us at a disadvantage.

Even from a young age I found the people he chose to entertain interesting. He never chased me off to bed—that ruling was left to my mother’s domain if she caught me awake of an hour later than I should be—but my father allowed me to sit quietly in dark corners of rooms particularly in that of his study where he would partake of a brandy and a cigar while arguing intellectually with men of similar cerebral leanings. Hence I was subjected to an open way of thinking and educated to a degree way before an appropriate age. I looked forward to learning—a lesson in ultimate disappointment when I discovered that my required training in life was of the type to teach me to be a good wife. Naturally, I rebelled.

Girls are not permitted a place at university, so my father paid for tutors. My mother wished me to study something other than my main interests so that if I continued in my dislike of the idea of applying my entire existence to marriage I would have a way to support myself, but my father would not hear of it. He is of a generation of men who wish to change the world and open the way for women. He proclaims that in the next decade women will finally be allowed to study at university.

A colleague of his—a lecturer of some renown whom I shall not name here—supports his theory. I believe this fellow possibly has future romance in mind, but I am offering no such thing in return for his collaboration. Neither is my father. To my own purposes, I have been auditing his lectures, and it is under the guidance of these men that I have already published papers in my chosen fields of meteorology and ecology, be they under a false and male label. Many would be surprised by my verbosity in my written work, which I do not retain upon speaking, but I have discovered that this is a requirement to fit in with current expectations and helps to disguise my associations with my published documents.

These same people would be more surprised by the hidden truth that I am more educated than most of the men running the university. I am only allowed to associate with such beings in a secondary way. The first position I took was without pay and as an assistant only. Even when my experiments and knowledge exceeded that of my fellow researchers too often my accomplishments were attributed to those of a male persuasion. My father is awaiting the day I am called to lecture on one of my papers and a woman stands before a hall of gentlemen. The possibility is not yet upon us and will have to wait, for within a few days I will have been called away.

I have to admit I am in two minds. I could not ask for a greater opportunity and yet it puts my long term plans on hold somewhat. I fear that the papers I have already penned will drift into obscurity in my absence. Although I will be able to continue to write papers while away, enhanced no doubt by knowledge I will gain during the journey, and I will likely return to Earth with stories of the unimaginable, what I will be able to reveal will be in the hands of greater authorities than my father.

Despite these misgivings and at their basis, worries, the opening is not one I can refuse. Even if I am able only to reveal an edited rendition of my discoveries, I will be the only female scientist who has ventured past the asteroid belt, and I know it is through my father’s connections that this is possible. Father tells me that if the world changes in my absence as he believes it will, I will be able to claim the papers so far published and step into a position already built upon a good reputation. He has promised to do everything he can to pave a way for me to become a professor of the university and to head my own department. I cannot see this ever being possible for women, but I admire my father’s tenacity, and have only advised caution to not be seen as this being a case of nepotism. I have thrown his very words back to him—those he has spoken to me so often during my younger years: we must all learn to walk before we attempt the complicated business of running.

My mother is distraught to see me go; my father delighted but sorrowful. I share his mixed emotions, though I would never admit so in his presence. I will miss his influence and erudite conversation.

One thing I will not miss. I understand that the manner of dress for women will be quite impractical during this journey and I will be assigned something of a uniform to undertake various tasks. I could not be more elated, as is evidenced by my smile as I write this journal entry. If there are changes coming as my father predicts, then if these alternatives in clothing prove to be as comfortable as I believe they will be, I may have to add another endeavour to my list upon my return to Earth—that of changing the despicable garments of women’s apparel. If I can understand the art of calibration, I am sure I can take measurements that will allow for the design of a more comfortable dress, or even a variation of a suit as a respectable substitute.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: