Emancipation of women

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Emancipation of women

Ewa Furgał Download PDF
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Both history and culture are characterised by their focus on the experiences of men treated as universal, which explains the interest of historical sources in power and conflicts that comprise political history. The social history, the history of everyday life where women are present, is still in the margin of research. Up until the formation of the women’s emancipation movement, history had been interested in women only as distinguished individuals, but never as a social group. In the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of emancipation activists and social transformations, the position of women started to change in the spheres of society, education, labour, political rights, and art. Female artists appeared on the stage as creatresses who associated their life with art. The issue of gender had emerged and had an impact on artistic creation, development opportunities, and position in the history of art.

The architecture of Krakow. photomontage: White surface of the Main Market square History of Photography Museum (Muzeum Historii Fotografii)

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Krakow was one of the first cities to celebrate International Women’s Day, established during a women’s conference in Copenhagen in August 1910. The first celebrations took place on 19 March 1911 when a several-thousand-strong demonstration for women’s political rights marched through the Main Market Square. The celebrations started with a rally in the former Horse Arena building on Rajska Street, and then the demonstration moved to the Market Square. The march ended outside of City Hall in Wszystkich Świętych Square. Headed by Ignacy Daszyński (influential politician, chairman of the Polish Social Democratic Party which co‑organised the demonstration and supported the fight for women’s political and economic rights), a delegation met with Juliusz Leo, the mayor of Krakow. They handed the postulate of equal political rights for women to the mayor. Today demonstrations for women’s rights, known as Manifa, take place on 8 March, and have been organised in Krakow since 2004.

Additional materials

E. Furgał, Kraków 100 lat później. Pierwsze obchody Dnia Kobiet w Krakowie, „Sabatnik” 2011, nr 4, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
Strona Krakowskiego Komitetu Manifowego, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
D. Kłuszyńska, Walka o polityczne prawa kobiet (19 marca), „Przedświt” 1911, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
Sufrażystki w Krakowie. Dzień Kobiet w roku 1911, fot. Wikimedia Commons, [dostęp: 21.12.2011]
Dance, Maria Jarema Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

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Maria Jarema belonged to two Krakow Groups: the pre-war group, and the second group operating since 1957. The Second Krakow Group was comprised mainly of men, and its operations reflected the patriarchal strategies towards female artists at the time of the People's Republic of Poland. Women could access the Group primarily through emotional relationships with men who were members of the Group. Jarema was an exception: not only did she function in the Group as the founding member and “liaison” with the pre-war Group, but she was also the only woman appreciated for her creative output. Other female members of the Krakow Group included Erna Rosenstein, Jadwiga Maziarska, Janina Kraupe-Świderska and Teresa Rudowicz, and they were later joined by Danuta Urbanowicz, Maria Stangret, Wanda Czełkowska and Maria Pinińska-Bereś.

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E. Toniak, Artystki w PRL-u, [w:] Artystki polskie, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
A. Markowska, Maria Jarema, [w:] Artystki polskie, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
A. Grajewska, Teresa Rudowicz (1928–1994). Collage na licencji Creative Common, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
“Peter’s head”, Alina Szapocznikow National Museum in Krakow (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie)

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Alina Szapocznikow, one of the most prominent Polish sculptresses, is considered to have been a forerunner of feminist art. First of all, she was interested in the body. She created many sculptures of various fragments of the female body, mainly the mouth, breasts, stomach, which allowed her to retrieve and empower a woman’s body. In her creative output she worked with her own experiences, e.g. surviving concentration camps and fighting cancer. A year before she died, she wrote the following in her artistic credo: “I believe that, among all the instances of perishability, the human body is the most sensitive and only source of all joy, pain and truth. This stems from its ontological destitution which is equally inevitable and, at the level of awareness, totally unacceptable.”

Additional materials

E. Toniak, Artystki w PRL-u, [w:] Artystki polskie, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
A. Jakubowska, Alina Szapocznikow, [w:] Artystki polskie, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
M. Kitowska-Łysiak, Alina Szapocznikow, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
Jewish wedding ring Nowy Sącz District Museum (Muzeum Okręgowe w Nowym Sączu)

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At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Krakow noted a wave of young Jewish women converting to Christianity. At that time Jewish women could not receive any formal education in Jewish schools. However, they were able to gain an education in Polish schools studying the Polish language and tradition at the same time, instead of the Jewish ones; this strengthened the assimilation process. Young Jewish women usually came to Krakow from the neighbouring villages to celebrate their wedding, which was planned by their parents and meant, among other things, a lack of access to any education. Then they were taken in by the Felician Sisters who prepared them for conversion. In response to this phenomenon, in 1917, Sarah Schenirer started the Beis Yaakov School where Jewish girls received their religious education. By 1937, 250 schools of this kind had been founded in a dozen or so countries; Beis Yaakov schools still exist in the USA and Israel.

Additional materials

K. Czerwonogóra, Żydówki polskie. Wybrane zagadnienia emancypacji i obecności w historii, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
R. Manekin, The Lost Generation, [w:] Polin. Studies on Polish Jewry. Volume Eighteen. Jewish Women in Eastern Europe, red. C. Freeze, P. Hyman, A. Polonsky, Oxford, Portland, Oregon 2005.
J. Fabijańczuk, Matka Izraela. Sara Schenirer, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
Counter for the accessories of the City Council’s scribe Historical Museum of the City of Krakow (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa)

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From the 13th to the 20th century only men could sit in the Krakow City Council. From the 1880s the Krakow emancipationists demanded voting rights for women by using various forms of pressure on the Krakow City authorities. They wrote petitions, organised rallies and demonstrations, submitted interpellations, and formed election committees. They succeeded in winning active voting rights for the Krakow City Council in 1912, six years before the introduction of voting rights for all Polish women in the Second Republic of Poland. However, these rights were limited by the qualifications of age, residence, property and education. The voting rights were granted to women who were at least 24 years old, lived in Krakow for at least 3 years, graduated from a secondary school or a teacher training seminar, and paid the due tax.

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B. Czajecka, Z domu w szeroki świat. Droga kobiet do niezależności w zaborze austriackim w latach 1890–1914, Kraków 1990.
E. Furgał, Emancypacyjny Kraków, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
Actress Jadwiga Mrozowska’s costume for the part of Lady Macbeth Historical Museum of the City of Krakow (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa)

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At the beginning of the 20th century, the situation for actresses in Galicia was very difficult. The salaries of women working in this profession were dramatically low, while the work load was enormous, as the actresses gave 20-30 performances a month. The actresses were commonly believed to lead an immoral lifestyle. Jadwiga Mrozowska-Toeplitz was one of the most outstanding actresses in Galicia, performing in the theatres of Lviv and Krakow. At the height of her career she left Krakow and moved to Italy; she abandoned theatre for travel, and became an eminent discoverer visiting India, Ceylon, Burma, Iran, Kashmir and Ladakh. She was the first woman to cross Tibet and discovered many passes and cols; one of them was named after her by the Italian Geographic Society.

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B. Czajecka, Z domu w szeroki świat. Droga kobiet do niezależności w zaborze austriackim w latach 1890–1914, Kraków 1990.
Ł. Iwanczewska, Jadwiga Mrozowska-Toeplitz (1880–1966). Pozostać sobą..., [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
J. Mrozowska-Toeplitz, Słoneczne życie, Kraków 1963.
Corset Dr Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane (Muzeum Tatrzańskie im. dra Tytusa Chałubińskiego w Zakopanem)

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The outfit of the epoch reflects the standards concerning the sexes. The corset was the main element of middle- and upper-class women's dress from the 16th century, but in the 19th century it became more common and, at the same time, extremely uncomfortable. It was supposed to slenderise the figure, accentuate the bosom and emphasise the waist line. In the 18th and 19th centuries corsets were becoming tighter and less flexible; the women were more and more crushed and tied up. Corsets enforced an unnatural bend of women’s bodies, causing deformation of internal organs, respiratory failures, internal bleeding, as well as premature deaths. The only women’s emancipation movement revealed the harmfulness of such outfits, and promoted physical activity, sports and health awareness among women contributing to the liberation of women having to wear corsets.

Additional materials

D. Dzido, Kulturowe kody płci, [w:] J.M. Kurczewski i in., Praktyki cielesne, Warszawa 2006.
M. Ciechomska, Od matriarchatu do feminizmu, Poznań 1996.
Garden dress National Museum in Krakow (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie)

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In the middle of the 19th century a crinoline was introduced to women’s outfits in order to help spread the dress on metal hoops. Various kinds of frame structures to widen the hips were used in earlier times (like farthingale in the 16th and 17th centuries or pannier in the 18th century), consisting of osier or whalebone elements. However, this applied only to women coming from the aristocracy, while the crinoline entered common usage. A crinoline cage effectively restricted the women’s freedom of movement, and thus limited their activity and brought them down to the role of an ornament. At that time, the outfits worn by men and women became more and more distinct, but the men’s clothing was characterised by practicality conducive to being active in the public sphere. The women’s emancipation had an enormous impact on changing the women’s outfits to more functional ones.

Additional materials

D. Dzido, Kulturowe kody płci, [w:] J.M. Kurczewski i in., Praktyki cielesne, Warszawa 2006.
K. Kłosińska, Ciało, pożądanie, ubranie, Kraków 1999.
A. Kusiak-Brownstein, Stare szaty Amerykanki. O modzie, narodzie, emancypacji i pop-kulturze w Metropolitan Museum of Art w Nowym Jorku, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
Charter of the cobblers’ guild Ignacy Łukasiewicz Regional Museum of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society in Gorlice (Muzeum Regionalne PTTK im. Ignacego Łukasiewicza w Gorlicach)

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In the late Middle Ages townswomen engaged in craft and trade, but some of them also practised liberal professions, like Katarzyna of Krakow, an 18th-century doctor. Some professions, such as pharmacy, weaving, midwifery, beer brewing, were traditionally assigned to women. The situation changed when the production was moved from homes to plants, and the craft guilds stopped admitting women. The guilds fought bitterly, particularly with women in the 16th century when they were allowed to work only in family workshops. Women could not run business activities, and they frequently performed the hardest and lowest-paying jobs, such as lugging beer barrels or sawing wood. For this reason, they started to work in their homes, which, over time, contributed to the fall of guilds due to lower labour costs.

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M. Bogucka, Gorsza płeć. Kobieta w dziejach Europy od antyku po wiek XXI, Warszawa 2005.
M. Ciechomska, Od matriarchatu do feminizmu, Poznań 1996.
Krakow, Szczepański square, northern frontage History of Photography Museum (Muzeum Historii Fotografii)

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At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Galicia noted the progressing emancipation of women in the professional sphere, but it concerned only middle-class women. The Austrian state services, such as telegraphic and post offices, and railway services, started to employ women in the 1870s. In 1900 in Krakow, women were allowed to enter the pharmacist profession, and from 1903 they were also able to practise medicine. Earning a living was a necessity for the lower classes. Women usually worked as servants, or were engaged in trade; Szczepański Square was one of the largest centres for Krakow female stallholders. The vast majority of workers, 900 out of 1000 employees, were women working at C.K. Fabryka Tytoniu (Royal-Imperial Tobacco Plant), also known as Cygarfabryka, the largest production plant in Krakow at that time.

Additional materials

A. Dauksza, O koleżankach Czarnej Mańki. Próba rekonesansu sytuacji robotnic miast Galicji przełomu XIX i XX wieku, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, t. III, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2011.
Dzieje Krakowa. Kraków w latach 1796–1918, t. III, red. J. Bieniarzówna, J.M. Małecki, Kraków 1994.
E. Furgał, Emancypacyjny Kraków, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2009.
Sister Konstancja Studzińska’s master’s diploma Museum of Pharmacy at the Jagiellonian University (Muzeum Farmacji UJ)

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Konstancja and Filipina Studzińska, sisters of the Order of Mercy, received master’s diplomas in pharmacy from the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University in 1824. This event was unprecedented in Europe, as it was not until 1850 that women started to study at university. However, one needs to remember that the sisters completed extramural studies because, being women, they could not be admitted inside university walls. The final examination also did not take place at the Jagiellonian University, but in St. Lazarus Hospital. Only in 1894, thanks to the commitment and persistence of Krakow emancipationists, most notably Kazimiera Bujwidowa, did female students enter the Jagiellonian University; also as pharmacists: Jadwiga Sikorska, Stanisława Dowgiałło and Janina Kosmowska. They were also not regular students, but they learnt as guest students. The Jagiellonian University first admitted women for studies only in 1897.

Additional materials

L.J. Ekiert, Historia farmacji. Pierwsze studentki farmacji na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim, „Bez Recepty. Magazyn Partnerów Polskiej Grupy Farmaceutycznej”, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
J. Sikorska-Klemensiewiczowa, Przebojem ku wiedzy, Wrocław 1960.
M. Petryna, Jadwiga Sikorska-Klemensiewiczowa. Droga do świątyni wiedzy, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, t. II, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2010.
Girl with chrysanthemums Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

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Olga Boznańska, one of the most eminent Polish artists, could not study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow because Polish art universities started admitting women only after their equality, before the law was passed in the Second Republic of Poland. Boznańska benefited from private lessons and schools as the only forms of art education available to women at the end of the 19th century. She completed, among others, Adrian Baraniecki’s Higher Education Courses for Women, and attended lessons with Kazimierz Pochwalski and Józef Siedlecki. In the years 1886-1889, she took private lessons in Munich. Her expressive, strong and independent personality triggered the foundation of the Association of Polish Women Artists in Krakow in 1899 to support women who wanted to create and study in the field of art.

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M. Poprzęcka, Olga Boznańska, [w:] Artystki polskie, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
J. Sosnowska, Poza kanonem. Sztuka polskich artystek 1880–1939, Warszawa 2003.
J. Kras, Wyższe Kursy dla Kobiet im. A. Baranieckiego w Krakowie 1868–1924, Kraków 1972.
Circus National Museum in Krakow (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie)

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Alina Ślesińska, a renowned sculptress who achieved international and media success in the 1960s, although today quite forgotten, provokes questions about the woman’s presence and place in the history of art. Ślesińska was one of the few Polish sculptresses working in the era of the People’s Republic of Poland who combined sculpture with architecture in her own unique way. She created futuristic designs for skyscrapers, stadiums, bridges and city transportation routes, and thus designed the city space and went beyond the roles traditionally assigned to women with regard to city space. For some time, she was extremely well-known and popular or, one might even say, cherished by the media that were, nevertheless, much more interested in Ślesińska’s beauty than her artistic output.

Additional materials

E. Toniak, Artystki w PRL-u, [w:] Artystki polskie, red. nauk. A. Jakubowska, Bielsko-Biała 2011.
P. Freus, Alina Ślesińska, [dostęp: 21.12.2011]
Napoleon on a horse National Museum in Krakow (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie)

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Napoleon Bonaparte considered the Napoleonic Code passed in 1804 as the most durable of his works. The first French Civil Code introduced after the Great French Revolution is considered a modern document sanctioning the fall of feudalism and consolidating property law. But it also resulted in the considerable lowering of women’s social status, limiting their economic and political rights, and excluding them from the public sphere. Women lost the right to manage property and the opportunities to participate in public life, while their living space became limited to their homes; the legal action capacity was granted to their husbands. After the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, the Napoleonic Code was also in force on the Polish territory.

Additional materials

M. Bobako, Powrót kobiet do historii – niedokończony projekt?, [dostęp: 21.12.2011].
S. Wielichowska, Rewindykując przeszłość. Kilka słów o women’s history, [w:] Per aspera ad astra. Materiały z XVI Ogólnopolskiego Zjazdu Historyków Studentów, t. XII: Metodologia historii, historiografia i historia gender, Kraków 2008, s. 195–202.
M. Bogucka, Gorsza płeć. Kobieta w dziejach Europy od antyku po wiek XXI, Warszawa 2005.
Portrait of two boys History of Photography Museum (Muzeum Historii Fotografii)

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The collection of films and photographic prints of Ignacy Krieger was preserved thanks to the efforts of his daughter, Amalia Krieger, who was also a photographer, one of the first women in Galicia to enter this profession. Amalia worked in a photography shop with her father and brother Natan, and ran the atelier for more than 20 years after their deaths. At that time, it was very rare for women to run a photography shop, as they rather worked as copyists or retouchers. It is impossible to distinguish between the photographs developed by Amalia and those developed by Ignacy or Natan because they were all signed with “I. Krieger,” even after Ignacy’s death. Thanks to Amalia, a collection of about 9,000 photographs documenting Krakow and life in the city at that time is included in the collections of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow.

Additional materials

O. Kruk, Amalia Krieger. Pionierka krakowskiej fotografii, [w:] Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, t. III, red. E. Furgał, Kraków 2011.
Dokumentalistki. Polskie fotografki XX wieku, red. K. Lewandowska, Warszawa 2008.

Ewa Furgał – member of the Board of the Women’s Space Foundation, co-author of the Krakowski Szlak Kobiet (Krakow Women’s Trail) programme recovering the forgotten works of distinguished women associated with Krakow, coach at her own workshops on the history of women. Editor of four volumes of Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek (Krakow Women's Trail. The Female Guide to the Emancipationists of Krakow) (published by: Fundacja Przestrzeń Kobiet [Women’s Space Foundation], Krakow, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).


Projekt graficzny i wykonanie:
Dagmara Berska, Parastudio, Łukasz Wiśniewski
CC-BY 3.0 PL

Author: Ewa Furgał, ⓒ all rights reserved
MIK (2013)