„Secretly Pregnant“

1784 – 1854

The „Gate of the Secretly Pregnant“ is one of the „Tore der Erinnerung“ ("Gates of Remembrance") on the campus of the University of Vienna, which was built in 1998 on the site of the Old General Hospital (AAKH), and addresses a historical and social peculiarity from the time of the establishment of the General Hospital in 1784. It is the only original outer gate from the time of the opening of the facility in the 18th century that has been preserved today. It is also the only gate on the campus through which it is not possible to pass, as the security area of the Austrian National Bank already begins on the outside.


Ehrung Titel Datierung Fakultät
Gate of Remembrance Tor der Heimlich Schwangeren 1998/99

Between 1784 and 1854, hundreds of unmarried women passed through this gate every year, who were able to give birth anonymously and relatively safely in the birthing house without being socially stigmatized. Although these „secretly pregnant women“ were only a small proportion of the hundreds of thousands of women who gave birth here, they were a special feature of the AKH birthing center.

Protection and anonymity

The "Gate of the Secretly Pregnant" was an inconspicuous entrance, only accessible through the narrow Rothenhausgasse or Neue Gasse (later: Thavonatgasse, no longer in existence today), flanked by the cemetery wall,[V1] infantry barracks (today: National Bank) and hospital. The gate was always locked, but was manned around the clock by a specially employed porter who only opened it if a pregnant woman made herself known at the bell and demanded entry. This meant that women could enter the institution anonymously after paying a certain fee, give birth safely and leave the building again, with or without their child. Their names were not recorded. A different entrance was provided for less privileged women.

„Paternal State“

Infant and child welfare were defined as a central task of the state for the first time. On the one hand, this was intended to increase population growth, but on the other, it also demonstrated a new and more rational approach to illegitimate births and infanticide - unmarried mothers were strongly stigmatized and ostracized by the church and society, which led to clandestine abortions with high risks to the health and life of the pregnant woman or to child abandonment and infanticide. The new maternity clinic offered an alternative here. The state's utilitarian thinking behind it: Every surviving child was a future laborer, taxpayer or soldier. However, the utilitarian thinking also extended to the dead infant: children's corpses were made available to the prosecture and were used for the training and further education of the doctors and medical students working at the AKH (at that time exclusively men).

It was not until 1899 that the maternity ward at the AKH - and with it the anonymity that could be bought - was finally closed.

AKH maternity clinic

When the AKH was founded, a separate maternity ward was set up in what was then the easternmost wing (now Hof 7). As the Vienna Maternity Hospital, it had an eventful history - until 1904 - and was in part completely independent of the hospital.

At that time, births mostly took place as home births with midwives. As announced in a "message to the public" in 1784, the birthing house offered a "place of refuge", especially for unmarried mothers-to-be, to save them "from shame and hardship". They could find discreet accommodation here for childbirth and the puerperium.

Despite the anonymity that was maintained to protect them from the "shame" of illegitimate motherhood, for most women, admission also meant exposing their female bodies by giving birth in public to male doctors and students for academic teaching and research, as the free class was also a clinic of the Medical Faculty of Vienna University. Only paying women could avoid this. All others had to be available for medical instruction in return for the admission of their children to the Foundling Hospital.

In contrast, women who were wealthy were divided into three classes and could enter the maternity hospital anonymously through the so-called "pregnancy gate" and bring their own servants with them.

Over the course of history, almost 700,000 women used the protection of the birthing house. The babies could be taken away or - as happened in the vast majority of cases - handed over to the adjoining foundling hospital. They were then immediately given to foster parents "in Kost".

In the middle of the 19th century, the illegitimacy rate, the proportion of children born out of wedlock to all births, was almost fifty percent in Vienna; more than a third of all children born in Vienna at that time were delivered in the foundling hospital. The birth registers of the Alser Vorstadt parish, in which all the children born in the foundling hospital between 1784 and 1904 were recorded, are therefore the most comprehensive in Europe.

Double naming

In 1998, the gate was named "Holzknecht-Tor" after the famous radiologist Guido Holzknecht in addition to being named after its historical-social peculiarity and was thus identified in the campus plans and publications.

Verena Pawlowsky

Zuletzt aktualisiert am 01/14/24