Female Badasses in History: Adelheid Popp (1893-1939)
Adelheid Popp is known as the founder of the Proletarian Women’s Movement in Austria and was an important figure in the International Women’s Committee of the Socialist International.
Popp was born in 1893 in Vienna into a poor proletarian family. She had to leave school after three years and had to start working in a factory from age ten on. Her brothers, also workers, were Socialists and started taking her to meetings, demonstrations and gatherings from an early age on. At one of these meetings, presumably in 1910, she spontaneously spoke at one of these gatherings about the workers’ living situation and the audience was so impressed by her that she was asked by the Socialist Party of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy to write an article. She agreed but since she only had three years of school education realized she had to learn how to read and write better first. She started teaching herself to read and write after her 10-hour workday. Popp succeeded and the people in the party were so impressed by her that she started rising in the ranks of the Socialist Party, even becoming a founding member of the official party newspaper, “Arbeiterzeitung”, a couple of years later.
Popp became a female Socialist icon in Austria, especially after she and her allies in the party managed to influence party line to support suffrage in 1918 after the Austrian republic was founded. Up until 1934 she was a member of the Austrian parliament and fought a long hard fight for the rights of female workers and against the prohibition of abortion in Austria. She is credited with introducing and pushing through legislation that granted time off to pregnant workers, shortening the work day in Austria from 10 to 8 hours, better health regulations for women in the work place, availability of some free health benefits to women in Austria, the introduction of the International Women’s Day in Austria as well as the first anti-discrimination regulations in Austria’s history.
With the abolishment of democracy in Austria in 1934 her political activity became illegal, the Austrofascist government however did not persecute her for her political conviction especially since she was connected internationally through her role as the successor of Clara Zetkin as the president of the International Women’s Committee of the III. Socialist International. Adelheid Popp died in 1939 shortly after the annexation of Austria by Nazi German. The exact circumstances of her death are not known.
Today she is remembered not only as a pioneer for women’s rights in Austria but also an internationally as a female Socialist icon fighting for women’s and worker’s rights.