Fordham Graduate Princess Serves Others

Archduchess Charlotte of Austria was a Fordham woman for others.

Archduchess Charlotte of Austria was a Fordham woman for others.

By Katie Quinlisk

Archduchess Charlotte of Austria was a Fordham woman for others. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Follow columnist Katie Quinlisk as she sheds light on Fordham’s female history, one woman’s experience at a time.

We’re living in the age of the empowering princess. Moana followed her gut and saved her island sans romantic plot line, Elsa and Anna literally climbed mountains for sisterhood and the live remake of Beauty and The Beast’s Belle—though admittedly un peu problematique from a feminist standpoint—stars UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador and Brown University grad, Emma Watson.

The story of Fordham’s own Archduchess Charlotte of Austria fits right in with these modern royal heroines. The Archduchess was born to Charles I, the last monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Queen Zita in March of 1921—in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles and the 1919 Habsburg Law, which barred all nobility from Austria.
The 1919 Habsburg Law stripped Charles I of his crown, and in just the year of Charlotte’s birth alone, Charles I staged two consequential attempts to reclaim the Austro-Hungarian throne. Both attempts failed, and Charles I and Queen Zita were separated from their children in exile in Madeira, a Portuguese island in the North Atlantic.

Charlotte and her six siblings were relocated to Switzerland’s Wartegg Castle where they were cared for by a nurse until the family was reunited a year later. After a short reunion in 1922, Charles I died of pneumonia, and the family was relocated once again in 1923 via Spanish warship to the Basque region of Spain.

It was in Spain where Charlotte began her education—an education she would chase for years to come. She was taught by Austrian tutors until the family relocated to Belgium in 1930 to pursue Charlotte’s siblings college education at the University of Leuven. In Belgium, Charlotte continued her own studies at the local Dames of Marie School, and in 1939 she began studying economics at the University of Leuven.

At age 18, Charlotte’s education was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of Belgium. In May of 1940, the family became refugees. They initially fled to Northern France, but the Nazi forces pushed further. The family moved south until they were finally granted visas to join Charlotte’s brother, Archduke Felix, in the United States in July 1940.

The family landed in New York City before moving to Quebec that September to chase their education at Quebec’s l’Universite Laval. Charlotte continued her studies in politics and economics at l’Universite Laval, and after graduating in 1942, Charlotte moved to New York to study social work at Fordham’s School of Social Service. Charlotte graduated from her social work program in less than the expected two years, and she dove into her work upon graduation.

At just 21 years old, Charlotte was already a target for American public attention. Her royal title followed like a shadow throughout her schooling, and her association with the British Royal Family—born from her family’s accompanying Princess Alice of Athlone and Alexander Cambridge Earl of Athlone to the Canadian National Gallery and Ottawan ice hockey games—cast an elitist shadow on her philanthropic efforts.

In 1943, Archduchess Charlotte began working under the alias Charlotte de Bar. De Bar focused her efforts in working with children in East Harlem with the Caritas charity of the Catholic Church. She worked in East Harlem until she married Duke George of Mecklenburg in July of 1956. Upon her marriage, Charlotte relocated to Sigmaringen, a small town in southern Germany where she lived until she was suddenly widowed in 1963.

After her husband’s death, Charlotte resumed her social work in Munich, Germany with the Caritas charity. She focused her work on reforming the German prison welfare system and tending to the needs of Munich’s women and girls. Charlotte, known again as Charlotte de Bar, continued her social work in Munich until her death in 1989. Archduchess Charlotte of Austria was a princess with a modern Fordham spirit. She was an advocate for others and a refugee hungry for an education and a future—and her story seems more relevant now than ever.