The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/Czech Women Real Patriots

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
3477790The Czechoslovak Review, volume 2, no. 11–12 — Czech Women Real PatriotsOlga Masaryková

Czech Women Real Patriots.

By Miss Olga Masaryk.[1]

It is a fact of history that among the ancient Czechs, women were held in high esteem and accounts have been handed down from prehistoric days of Bohemia of the rule of Amazons over men. The most famous person in the days before history was written in Bohemia was the mighty and wise Libuše, its ruler. When we come down to definitely recorded facts, we find the great role played by women during the Hussite period, when Bohemia (early in the Fifteenth Century), a hundred years before the German reformation, raised the banner of religious, political and national liberty.

During the long period of oppression, inaugurated by the Hapsburgs and lasting years, the Czech women, under the in fluence of foreign customs, lost their position of equality with men. But when the Czech nation awakened to new life, after the French Revolution, the women again had thier share of the work in creating a national culture.

They have made their mark, especially in the field of literature. The mother of the realistic school of the Czech belles-lettres was Božena Němcová (1810–1860). Her best-known book, “Babička” (Grandmother), describes the life of the Bohemian peasantry and draws the character of a wise old woman in a realistic yet tender fashion. The book was translated into English by Frances Gregor about 25 years ago, but it is now out of print. Němcová suffered such persecution from the Austrian authorities that her life was cut short prematurely. She was not merely a great author, but also a mentor of her people, awakening in them a better knowledge and appreciation of the qualities of the peasants, and thus laying a secure foundation for their political life.

Other women authors who came after her in point of time were not merely strong literary personalities, but exerted n in fluence upon the social and political life of the Czech nation. Two well-known novelists, Karolina Světlá, and her sister, Žofie Podlipská, in addition to their literary work took part in the wider national life, which of course in their days, when reaction and persecutions were supreme, had to limit itself to the education of young girls and to the strenghtening of national conscious ness by work in the literary and social spheres. Another great Bohemian woman whose activity estended almost to the pre sent day is Eliška Krásnohorská, who for years occupied a prominent place among the poets of Bohemia. Her poems are womanly soft, some sentimental, but they aroused in the people a feeling of pride in their nationality and contributed to the development of full national consciousness. This woman poet realized that the nation is founded on the family, and that the strength of the family depends on the education of women; and so she laid the foundation of the girls’ gymnasium (an eight-year classical course preparing for the university). This school, known as the “Minerva,” wáhich was opened in Prague in 1893, before the Germans had any such school, made it possible for girls to enter the university and opened the way for them to enter the learned professions.

The best known Czech woman author is Božena Viková-Kunětická. She is not only a successful novelist, but is a leader in the movement for equal social and political rights for women, and she has done much in the service of this great cause. She is the type of the strong, mature and socially and politically progressive Czech woman. All her literary work has contributed powerfully to the emancipation of women, and she received the honor of being elected the first woman deputy to the Diet of the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Another great woman worker, a Social Democrat, well known in the circles of the workingmen, both Czechs and Americans, is Karla Máchová, she having traveled in this country. She is a gifted speaker, enlisting the interest of the masses in the cause of woman’s rights, and in the political and social equality of all classes. Another eminent woman author is Růžena Svobodová.

When an organization was founded in Bohemia for the physical training of men in accordance with the ancient classical examples, it was soon extended to women. The “Sokols”, the famous athletic organization which originated in Bohemia, and later spread to all other Slav nations, was founded in 1861. In the United States, the first Sokol society was established at St. Louis in 1865. As early as 1869 was found ed the first gymnastic society of Czech women and girls, and the first president of it was Žofie Podlipská. This society became a part of the great Sokol organization.

The Sokols were, down to the outbreak of the war, the most powerful of the Czech organizations, and they were greatly feared by the Austrian Government. At their last meet in Prague, in 1912, there participated 13,000 men, 6,000 women, 5,800 children, and 3,000 competed for athletic prizes. From America alone, where there are 20,000 Sokols, over 1,000 men and women went to Prague to take part in the meet.

The significance of the Sokol movement is not limited merely to physical training. There is a wonderful spirit which it infuses into all the members. The original motto of Sokol is: “Jump over, break through, climb over, but never under.” This expresses our national spirit in this war. The Sokols have every year thousands of lectures, every local society has a large library, and many social gatherings are held under their auspices. In all the work of this national body, women take an equal part with the men.

The spirit pervading this unusual organization is expressed in the democratic form of address used by the members, and by the fact that every one is known as brother or sister. This usage persists in the Czechoslovak Army, where a private will address the offiicer as “brother colonel,” while the officer will address the private simply as “brother.” This is but one of the many manifestations of the democratic spirit which pervades the nation.

The full equality of women is carried out in workingmen’s organizations, and especially in the two Socialist parties, the National Socialists and the Socialist Democracy. The working women are organized in units like the men; they have as much to say as the men in educational and co-operative societies; and they have rep resentation on the political committee of the two parties.

The leading share in the work for full social and political rights of women has been taken by the Prague Women’s Club, which led the movement for woman suffrage, held many conventions, invited English workers in the cause to Prague, and spread its agitation throughout the Czech lands by means of lectures, educational courses, etc. The aim is to enable women to take their part legally and practically, in social and legislative reforms. Since the war this club has started first aid courses and others to prepare women for their tasks. The members have also publicly taken part in the work for the liberation of the Czechoslovak nation. The first big manifesto issued by writers and societies in the spring of 1917, before amnesty and deputies to make declarations, contained the names of student and women organizations.

It was also a woman, Dr. Alice G. Masaryk, who organized, in 1910, a “Sociological Section” in connection with the Czech University of Prague, for which she obtained the sanction of the Minister of Education in Vienna. She gained her experience in her work in the Chicago University Settlement and others in the United States. The Sociological Section conducted practical social work, as well as theoretical sociological instructions. Dr. Masaryk’s aim is to develop this section into a scientific and practical sociological institute.

All this work brought important results, so that today Bohemia, from the point of view of women’s rights, is the most ad vanced country in Central Europe. Instead of the German moto “Kirche, kueche, kinder,” the men of Bohemia allow their women free activity in all branches of political, social and educational life, and the Czech University of Prague preceded the German University in admitting women to academic degrees.

Equal rights for women in the Czechoslovak lands are denied today only by the Austrian authorities, by the anachronisms of the AustrianConstitution, and by the dislike of the bureaucracy.

Woman has been active in the textile, but ton-making, and weaving industries. In the country, the women work in the fields with the men; at home, they work on laces and splendid embroideries. In the Slovak lands they even decorate the walls of their homes and paint their crockery and house furniture. Their art and appreciation of colors are very largely superior to those of men. Since the war their tasks have in creased. Men up to 50 years of age were called into the army. The woman has to cultivate the fields, while her husband is gone, or perhaps in the Czechoslovak Army, and she has to learn his business. Thousands of them are exposed to persecutions of the government which confiscates the small property of a woman whose husband fell in the Austrian Army, and whose son is fightig in the Czechoslovak Army. It quarters upon these poor women refugees from districts occupied by enemy forces or wounded Magyar and German soldiers. In some places the government takes the children away from the mother, under the pre text that she cannot support them, and puts them in charge of unknown Magyar and German families so that they may be lost, both to their mother and to their nation. The Austrian government has also with drawn the textbooks from the Czech public schools, and replaced them by new ones containing historic and other lies, in order to Germanize the new generation. This is also the means of punishing our nation for upholding the cause and principles of the Allies.

During the Hussite wars, women fought alongside the men. In the revolution of 1848, girls fought like their men. In June there were great riots in Pilsen, organized by Czech women. Five children were killed and many women wounded. From the very first day of the war, women appealed to their husbands and sons not to shoot at the Serbians and Russians, but rather to surrender. They distributed revolutionary pamphlets, and many were sentenced to pay the extreme penalty and hundreds were jailed for years. The military prison at Terezin had in it 50 girls, from 14 to 16 years of age who were sent there for high treason. The number of interned women is beyond calculation, many of whom succumbed to the horrors of the prison.

It may be safely said that the Czechoslovak women are even more radical than the men. They take part in all political manifestations, and the last known public act was the approval of the political program of the Czech deputies, demanding full independence, which they adopted.

  1. Written originally for the Christian Science Monitor.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1978, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 45 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse