Austrian-Hungarian Empire Schools (1867-1918)

Figure 1.--The Austrian-Hungarian Empire was composed of many nationalities. One of those nationalities was Italian. Ever after Italian unification, lrge areas of northeastern Italy including Venice were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I'm not sure about the language of instruction at these schools. Here we have an image showing the school in "Ronchi dei Legionari", a village 130 km from Venice. The photo was taken in 1903 and at that time Ronchi dei Legionari was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The picture shows the 3rd grade.

Prussia defeated Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) this ended the Hapsburgs' attempt to unify Germany. Rather the Hapsburg lands were recreated as a dual monarchy with extensive possessions to the east and south of Germany. The result was the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867)The Empire was governed by a German and Hungarian ruling class. Other nationalities has lesser rights. The Empire had to deal with increasing demands from subject nationalities for autonomy or even independence. The issue of nationalities became the most difficult for the Empire. And one of those issues was the language of instruction in the schools. People tended to want their children taught in their own native languages. And here the languages used in schools varied from province to province. We see ethic outfits being worn in some of tghe provinces. Knee pants became increasingly common in the late -9th century. Sailor suits continued to be popular and were commonly worn to school by younger boys.


Of course in Austria itself the language of instruction was German. I do not know at this time if there were any exceptions to this. Schools in Austria was significantly affected by a Concodat with the Vatican (1855). The primary schools were effective. A course of study which is still used was drawn up for the gymnasia (secondary schools). The University of Vienna achieved a world wide reputation. This basic organization influenced or was implemented in other regions of the Empire.


The Banat is a relatively small province with an extremely complicated history and is further compivated beause it was also divuded, meaning that the history varied by area. Geographically it is part of the Pannonian Basin bordered by the River Danube (south), the River Tisa (west), the River Mureș (north), and the Southern Carpathian Mountains (east). The historic capital is Timișoara. With the Ottoman move into the Balkans and defeat of the medieval Christan Serbian Army at Kosovo Polje, large areas of the Balkans were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire (1389). The Ottomam defeat of the Hungatians st Mohács (1526) brought the Ottomand furher into Europe. A 16,000 man Ottoman army conquered Timișoaraand and established it as their regional capital (1552). The city was defended by only a small local militia. They captured the local Christian military commander, Stefan Losonczy, and beheaded him. Timișoara and the surrounding area was rulled by the Ottomans for more than 150 years. It was a frontiet region. The Sultan ruled Timișoara directly (like other cities including Belgrade and Budapest). These cities had a special status in the Empire. Muslim communities developed in the cities. Prince Eugene of Savoy fighting in the name of the Holy Roman Empire conquered the Banat (1716). The Banat thus came under Imperial or Austrian rule, with minor exceptions. During the Ottoman rule, because of the incessent warfare, regions of the Banat were largely depopulated. Areas reverted to marsh, heath and forest. The Austrins ppointed Count Claudius Mercy (1666–1734), who was appointed governor of the Banat of Temeswar (1720). He proceeded to adopt measures aimed at restoring the economic life of the rehion and repopulating it. He recruited German artisans and farmers as colonists. They were guaranteed cultural privileges like keeping their language and religion. Farmers were able to bring their families and belongings on rafts down the Danube. This played a major role in restoring farming. It also introduced Germans into an area traditionally populated by Serbs and Romanians along with smaller number of Hungarians and some Jews. The Ottoman threat gradually wained and Timișoara evolved from a fortified starategic town to an important economic and industrial center. Emperess Maria Theresa also took a special interest in the Banat, in part because of the opportunities for German colonization. She also promoted exploitation of the mineral resources. The Germans colonists came from Swabia, Alsace, and Bavaria along with Austria. As a result, settlements in the eastern Banat were founded by Germans and had ethnic-German majorities. This group of Folk Deutsche became known as the The ethnic Germans in the Banat region became known as the Danube Swabians, or Donauschwaben. The Banat was incorporated into the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary. With the May Assembly, the western Banat became part of the Serbian Vojvodina (a Serbian autonomous region within the Habsburg Monarchy). During the Revolutions of 1848, the Banat was respectively held by Serbian and than Hungarian troops (1848-49). The Banat (together with Syrmia and Bačka) after the Revolution was designated as a separate Austrian crownland known as the Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar. Rgw province was disolved and most of its territory was incorporated into the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary. After 1871, the former Military Frontier, located in southern parts of the Banat, came under civil administration and was incorporated into the Banat counties. Factories appeared and rail lines from Austria and Germay reached the city. Timișoara became one of the first cities in Central Europe to be electrified (1884). The city was defortified and roads began to be extended into the suburbs and rural areas. Metal bridges spnned the river.


The Hapsburgs gained control of Bosnia from the Ottomans (1882?). The Hapsburgs declared Bosnia a “crown land”. They governed it through a special joint commission under the Ministry of Finance which was a Austrian-Hungarian common ministry. The Hapsburgs moved gradually after gaining control of Bosnia. The old Ottoman administrative structure was retained. Emperial laws were only gradually introduced. The Hapsburgs announced the formal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1909). I'm not sure what education was like in the Ottomon Empire. I suspect that schools in Ottomon controlled Bosnia were very limited. The Hapsburgs built three secondary schools and nearly 200 primary schools. They did not intriduce compulsory education until formal annexation (1909). The Hapsburgs built substantial shools, some if which are still in use. I am not yet sure about the language of instruction.

Bohemia (Czech)


The principal Austro province with a Polish population was Galicia. Austria acquired Polish Galicia in the 18th century Polish Partitions (First Partition). It was a generally poor agicultural area, with little industry. Imperial officials apparently gave aow priority to the province. [Garlicki, pp. 11-12.] Living tandards were below that of the German and Russian Polisg areas. Large numbers of Poles from the privince emigrated to America in the late-19th and early-20th century. The Austrian imperial government for most of the 19th century made few concessions little or no concessions to their Polish subjects, [Lukowski and Zawadzki, p. 129.] One historian explains the ustrian imperil attitude toward patriotism in heir multii-ethnic empire. Imperial officials believed that a "patriot was a traitor – unless he was a patriot for the [Austrian] Emperor." [Murad, p. 17.] That said, by the time of World war I, the Austrians had conceded more autnomy to Galacia than was the case in the Polish lands ruled by the Germans and Russians. The Austrians titled the provincial government the Governorate Commission (Komisja Gubernialna) and it had considerable authority in local affairs. The term would be picked up by the Germans in both World War I and II. Polish language publishing was permitted. We are not sure about schooling in the Polish era or in the Austrian Empire era. We do know a little about the Austro-Hungarian era (1867-1918). The Austrian imperial government was recognized as the official regional language on Polish soil. It was used in schools. Here we believe this was primarily primary schools, but we believe that there were also Poish-language secondary schools. Polish cultural organizations weregiven some freedom to operate. Polish political parties could formally participate in Austro-Hungarian politics. [Garlicki, pp. 11-12.] Galicia was a majority Polih area, but there was substantial Ukranian and Jewish minorities. As is the case of imperial powers from time im memorial, imperial authorities pursued a divide and conquer/rule policy. Imperial officials appear to have promoted Ukranian cultural organizations. Imperial authoities referred to Ukranians as Ruthenians so as not to recognize conections with Tsarist controlled Ukrania. The Poles were disturbed by this. One Pole charged that "Austria-Hungary had invented Ukrainians". [Subtelny] There were also Ukrainian-lnguage schools. After the failed 1848 revolution, imperial officials allowed the Ukrainians to form political parties. Austria-Hungary gave Ruthenians (Ukrainians) far more rights than the great mass of Ukranians in the Tsarist Empire. [Magocsi] The Austrian imperial government has compulsory school attendabce laws. They aopparently were not strictly enforced. But an even greater problen was that there so few schools. Many children lived in areas that were not near a primary school. As aresult, lieracy rates, were rther low among Poles and Ukranians, espcially when compared to Jews which were primarily urban communities. One assessment suggets literacy rates in the villages of only about 40 percent. [Garlicki, pp. 11-12.]


I am not sure what the language of instruction was before the dual monarchy was formed (1867). After the Austro Prussian War (1866), the Magyars forced the Emperor to accept a dual monarchy. This compromise was called the Ausgleich and recreated the Hapsburg Empire by setting up a Dual Monarchy--Austria-Hungary. This created two separate countries with different constitutional arrangements. They were linked in the person of a common ruler. There were some joint ministries. Each country had a separate government and parliament. The joint ministeries were Finance, Defence and Foreign Affairs. There was also a joint parliamentary body (known as the Delegations) with equal members from Hungary and Austria. Education was under the control of the Hungarian government. Thus the lnguage of instruction was Hungarian. We note some boys wearing uniforms. We do not know yet what kind of schools these were.


An Italian reader tells us, "The language of instruction was certainly Italian. Since 1861 (Kingdom of Italy proclamation) Venice was Italian, but northern of Venice was Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were three regions in modern Italy that were were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: the capitals were Trieste (in the far East), Trento, and Bolzano (in German Bozen). Only Bolzano was (and still is) a German-speaking region. Ronchi dei Legionari is in the Trento region."



Ruthenian was the Austro-Hungarian term for Ukranian. It was adopted to demphaize the ethnic connections with Ukranians in the Russian Empire.


Within the Dual Monarchy, Slovakia was ruled from Hungaria. Hungarian policy was to discourage the development of Slovakian nationalism. This was reflected in Hungarian policy which discouraged education and the use of the Slovakian language.



The Sudetenland is the mountaneous fringe around Bohemia where the Sudeten Mountains separated Czech Bohemia from Bavaria and the rest of southern Germany. The Habsburgs integrated the Kingdom of Bohemia into their monarchy (17th century). Conflict between Czech and German nationalists emerged after the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century. During the Revolutions of 1848 the German-speaking population wanted to become part of a new unified German state. The Czech-speaking population resisted any inclusion of Bohemia. The name "Sudetendeutsche" (Sudeten Germans) emerged in the early 20th century as poltics became more ethnically tinged. Comparable terms emerged at the same time for other German ethnic groups within the Empire. The Alpendeutsche (Alpine Germans) wre the Germans in Austriaitself. The Balkandeutsche (Balkan Germans) were the Germans in Hungary and the eastern regions. The term "Sudetendeutsche" became partivularly pronounced because of ethnic and cultural conflicts within the Czechs in Bohemia. The population was largely German-speaking. I am not sure at this time what the constitutional arrangements were within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nor do we have any details about the schools in the Sudeten region. The Austro-Prussian War (1866) serttled the role of Austria in Germany. It led after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) to the unification of Germany under Prussia. There were, however, Germans left out side if the new German Empire. The Germans in the Sudetenland were some of these Germans. Etnic Germans played an important role in the 19th Century Bohemian industrial revolution. The Germans were favored by the Habsburg regime and they tend to look down on the more agricultural Czech and Slovak neighbors in Bohemia. The region after Wotld War I was combined with the Czech and Slovakian lands to form Czechoslovakia (1919). Hitler of course made it an issue and threatened war until the British and French turned it over to NAZI Germany at the Munich Conference (1938).


Transylvania was ruled by the Hungarians. It had a majority Romanian population. The schools were taught in Hungarian. After World War I, Transylvania was transferred to Romania.


Garlicki, Andrzej. Polsko-Gruziński sojusz wojskowy (Polityka: Wydanie Specjalne, 2008).

Lukowski, Jerzy and Hubert Zawadzki. A Concise History of Poland (Cambridge University Press: 2001).

Magocsi, Paul R. A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples (University of Toronto Press, 2010), 894p.

Murad, Anatol. Franz Joseph I of Austria and His Empire (Ardent Media: 1968).

Subtelny, Orest. Ed. Ukraine: A History (University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 2009 4th Edition).

Carefull, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand book: New eBook on New Zealand schools available
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America
  • Apertures Press New Zealand book: New eBook on British preparatory schools available


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