The first Jewish woman mentioned in a document in the Duchy of Austria was a business woman, Dreslina, whose name - from Drazna, meaning “the Graceful” - hints that she might have come from a Slavonic country, was a money-lender who entertained business contacts with the provost of Klosterneuburg, a powerful landowner in the Duchy of Austria.
Women from the poorer families worked mostly as maids, servants or washerwomen for other Jewish families and left only few traces in written sources. However, Jewish wives and widows of rabbis or other leading figures of the Jewish society were a quite visible group in economic life. Compared to Christian women they had more independence and were not only supposed to be trustees of their children's money. Widows would continue their husband’s lending businesses using their private assets and the money from the ketuba (or marriage contract) as capital. The ketuba specified the amount of money that a woman should receive if her husband died. She had priority over the heirs. If insufficient cash assets were available on her husband’s death, widows could petition the Jewish court for other properties or loans that had not yet been repaid.
One outstanding example of a successful Jewish business women in the Middle Ages was the widow Plume from Klosterneuburg, the founder of the financial imperium of the Steuss family and grandmother of the powerful David Steuss. She gave large loans to nobles and bishops.
David Steuss’ daughter, Hans(?), married the renowned rabbi Meir Baruch Halevi of Fulda in Frankfurt an der Main who served as the rabbi of Vienna in 1396-1406. Hans(?) whose lifestyle can be compared with that of contemporary Christian noble families, owned one of the biggest and most expensive houses in Vienna. She appears always as “des steussen tochter” (“daughter of Steuss”) in documents, never with the name of her husband. The business activities of the couple show a broad range, each of them gave loans on his or her own or with other business partners, but very rarely they co-operated and appear to have worked rather independently from each other.
Rifka, wife of the scholar and Viennese rabbi Abraham Klausner, however, was a successful businesswoman in her own right while her husband was alive. Her business thrived after his death and she expanded her business contacts. In one case Hans(?) and Rifka co-operated and gave a common loan to a Viennese citizen.