About Ilse Arlt

A pioneer in the science of social work in Austria

Ilse Arlt was born on 1 May 1876 in Vienna as the second-youngest of four children. Her father was an ophthalmologist and her mother a trained painter. As a child, Ilse Arlt was educated privately by her mother and passed her school examinations with distinction. At the age of 16 she moved to Graz with her family. She prepared for the state examinations in Latin and English and at the age of 20 passed the secondary school teaching examination in English. She was subsequently a guest at lectures given by leading socio-political scientists in Austria-Hungary. The lecturers included Professor Eugen Philippovich von Philippsberg, an economist in Vienna, and Prof. Mischler, a statistician and social scientist from Graz. At this time, Ilse Arlt was working as a scientific assistant in the Statistical Office of Styria and she was becoming active in the newly founded Association for Social Education (in Vienna), where she assumed responsibility for the Night-time Industrial Work unit. At this time she wrote a well-received article about a conference on housing that she had attended in Munich.

At the age of 25, Ilse Arlt was the first woman to be nominated as an industrial inspector, although she was unable to take up the position for health reasons. She continued studying in Vienna until 1905, gaining practical experience by visiting workers’ meetings, businesses, flats and slums. She wrote numerous articles and gave lectures, and was also closely involved in developing the social work profession. During the course of her studies she realised that, in contrast to the enormous technological advances of her time, there was still a lack of basic knowledge in the field of social sciences relating to the level of human satisfaction. In addition, only very rudimentary data were available on this factor. This criticism, and her observation that the science to help alleviate poverty that she was seeking did not yet exist, were central to Ilse Arlt’s decision to establish an independent science of social care, which was closely connected to macroeconomic matters (as well as medicine and didactics).

In 1910 she gave a lecture at the International Congress on Care in Public Work and Private Welfare in Copenhagen, where she outlined her ideas on the social work profession for the first time.

In 1912 Ilse Arlt founded the first school for public welfare in Vienna, which was named “Joint Courses on Care for the Population”. In 1938 she was banned from teaching and publishing because of her Jewish ancestry on her mother’s side. The school for public welfare was closed and her books destroyed, while the collection of materials she had started for her planned museum on welfare and households was scattered to the four winds. She was pushed to the verge of financial ruin, although she was not forced to leave Austria. The school reopened in 1946 with the support of former students, but four years later it had to close its doors for ever owing to financial difficulties.

On 15 January 1955 Ilse Arlt was presented with the Dr Karl Renner Award – the only accolade she ever received for her work. Her final book, Approaches to the Science of Welfare, was published in 1958.

Ilse Arlt died on 25 January 1960 at the age of 83.

Selected publications of Ilse Arlt

  • Arlt, Ilse (1902): Die gewerbliche Nachtarbeit der Frauen in Österreich. Bericht erstattet der internationalen Vereinigung für gesetzlichen Arbeiterschutz [Industrial night work by women in Austria.  Report to the International Association for Legal Protection at the Workplace]. In: Schriften der Gesellschaft für Arbeiterschutz [Proceedings of the Association for Protection at Work]. Vol I. Vienna, 3–37
  • Arlt, Ilse (1906): Fürsorge für alleinstehende Frauen in Österreich, Wien. [Welfare for single women in Vienna, Austria.]
  • Arlt, Ilse (1910): Thesen zur sozialen Hilfstätigkeiten der Frauen in Österreich [Ideas on social help given by women in Austria]. In: Glaser, Arthur: Die Frau in der österreichischen Wohlfahrtspflege [Women in welfare work in Austria]. Copenhagen, 61–67.
  • Arlt, Ilse (1911): Die fachliche Ausbildung sozialer Hilferinnen [Education of female social workers]. In: Dokumente des Fortschritts [Documents of progress]. Internationale Revue. Berlin 7 (4), 471–474
  • Arlt, Ilse (1921): Die Grundlagen der Fürsorge [The basis of welfare]. Österreichischer Schulbücherverlag, Vienna.
  • Arlt, Ilse (1923): Die Gestaltung der Hilfe [The orrganization of help]. In: Lebenspflege in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart [Life-long care in the past and the present]. Vol.IV. Vienna, 71–141
  • Arlt, Ilse (1923b): Die Berücksichtigung der Volkspflege bei der Schulreform [Paying attention to welfare in the school reform]. In: Volkserziehung. Nachrichten des Österreichischen Unterrichtsamtes [Educating the people: News from the Austrian Education Office]. Pädagogischer Teil, Vienna, 189–195
  • Arlt, Ilse (1930): Armutskunde [Studies of poverty]. In: Fortschritte der Gesundheitsfürsorge. Monatsschrift der deutschen Gesundheitsfürsorgeschule [Progress in health care: monthly journal oft he German School of Health Care], Berlin, 3 (7), 65–73
  • Arlt, Ilse (1932): Exakte Armutsforschung als Hilfsmittel in der Fürsorgekrise [Precise studies of poverty as a tool in the welfare crisis]. In: Keller, Franz (Hg.): Jahrbuch der Caritaswissenschaft 1932 [Annual of Charity Science 1932], Freiburg i. Br., 65–75
  • Arlt, Ilse (1934): On the Way to the Scientific Analysis of Poverty. In: Charity Organisation Quarterly. A Journal of Case-Work and Social Effort. Ed. Robert Webb. Vol. VIII. London. Nr 1. 2–21
  • Arlt, Ilse (1937): 25 Jahr Volkspflege [25 years of welfare]. Lecture given on 25 September 1937 on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Joint Courses for Welfare, Vienna, Linz
  • Arlt, Ilse (1950): Nekrolog der ersten österreichischen Fürsorgeschule [Necrology of the first Austrian school of welfare]. In: Österreichisches Wohlfahrtswesen. Monatsblätter für soziale Fürsorge [Austrian welfare system: monthly bulletin for social care]. Ed. Federal Minsitry of Social Management, Vienna, 8 (1950). 8– 10
  • Arlt, Ilse (1958): Wege zu einer Fürsorgewissenschaft [Paths to a science of welfare]. Verlag Notring der wissenschaftlichen Verbände Österreichs, Vienna

Source: Ertl, Ursula (1995): Ilse Arlt – Studien zur Biographie der wenig bekannten Wissenschaftlerin und Begründerin der Fürsorgeausbildung in Österreich [Ilse Arlt – Studies on the biography of the poorly known scientist and founder of welfare education in Austria]. Diploma theses submitted to the Social Sciences Departmentof the  Würzburg-Schweinfurt University of Applied Sciences.