Rehor, Grete (1910–1987)

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Rehor, Grete (1910–1987)

Austrian politician and trade union official who was the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in her nation's history (Minister of Social Administration, 1966–70). Born Grete Daurer in Vienna, Austria, on June 30, 1910; died in Vienna on January 28, 1987; father killed in World War I; had two sisters; married Karl Rehor; children: daughter, Marielies Rehor.

In October 1965, Austrian politics underwent a sea change when the 20-year coalition of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) and Socialists (SPÖ) dissolved. In the March 1966 national elections, the ÖVP won an absolute electoral majority, and on April 19, 1966, Joseph Klaus of the ÖVP announced the formation of a single-party government. Among the most important aspects of these changes was the fact that for the first time in Austrian history, a ministerial portfolio—that of Social Administration—had been awarded to a woman, Grete Rehor. Rehor was born in Vienna in 1910 into a conservative Roman Catholic family. Her father was a state official, her mother a registered nurse. As was the case with countless other families during World War I, the great conflict brought them tragedy. Rehor's father was declared missing in action in 1918. From this point on, economic necessity played an important role in young Grete's life. By age 14, she was working to help with the family budget and pay for her school tuition. Even before she was out of her teens, Rehor had lost her mother and had to abandon any thoughts of higher education. By 1925, she was working in a textile factory. Soon after starting full-time work, Rehor became active in the Christian (i.e., non-Socialist) trade union movement, working without pay. In 1933, she advanced to the post of general secretary of the central organization of Christian textile workers.

The years 1933–34 were crucial in the history of modern Austria, witnessing the end of parliamentary democracy and the creation of an ultra-conservative, authoritarian Corporative State that attempted to create a new "Christian" social order which was neither capitalist nor Communist. Grete's concerns during these years were centered on the needs of her fellow textile workers, but were also personal. In 1935, she married Karl Rehor, a fellow Catholic who also believed that the working class, previously loyal to the Marxist Social Democratic Party, could be won over to conservative political ideals if their social and economic concerns were addressed fairly. In 1938, Grete gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter named Marielies Rehor .

The Rehors were not among those Austrians cheering Adolf Hitler when he proclaimed Anschluss (union) between Austria and Germany in March 1938. The new Nazi rulers arrested and briefly imprisoned Karl, and he lost his job. In 1940, he was drafted into the German Wehrmacht. He was declared missing on the Russian front three years later, probably having been killed during the battle of Stalingrad. Despite the risks involved, Grete joined a conservative resistance circle, becoming a member of the "hard core" of anti-Nazi Catholic trade unionists within the Austrian resistance movement. Fortunately, she was never arrested, and survived to see Austria liberated from Nazi German rule in the spring of 1945.

After 1945, Rehor resumed her work as a leading Catholic trade unionist, and in November 1949 began serving as an ÖVP member of the Austrian National Assembly. A conscientious member of her party, she would be reelected several times and serve until her retirement in 1970. In April 1966, Federal Chancellor Joseph Klaus appointed Rehor to the ministerial post of Social Administration. In a bureaucratic welfare state like Austria, this was one of the more important portfolios, and some doubted that a woman—even an experienced trade unionist like Rehor—could do the job. The Viennese mass-circulation newspaper Der Kurier speculated, "What will happen when a ministerial meeting drags on too long, will [Rehor] then only be thinking of whether or not her kitchen pots are boiling over?" As it turned out, Rehor's tenure as Minister of Social Administration was full of accomplishments, including her creation in 1966 of a new division for women's issues within the ministry. Although philosophically a conservative who believed that, ideally, society ought to be able to find ways to get women back into the home to be with their children, she was also a realist and pragmatist fully aware that such ideas did not reflect reality for many families. The social welfare net remained strong in Austria during her administration, in some ways becoming even more comprehensive than it had ever been. Rehor retired from her ministerial responsibilities in 1970, withdrawing from politics at the same time. She died in Vienna on January 28, 1987, a respected pioneer for women in Austrian political life.


Steininger, Barbara. "Grete Rehor," in Herbert Dachs, Peter Gerlich, and Wolfgang C. Müller, eds., Die Politiker: Karrieren und Wirken bedeutender Repräsentanten der Zweiten Republik. Vienna: Manzsche Verlagsund Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1995, pp. 479–485.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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