Vol 1, No 14
27 September 1999
F E M I N I S M:
Moderate and Sensible:
Higher education and the Czech women's rights movement
Dagmar Kotlandova Koenig
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in International Studies, University of Washington, 2 June 1997.
This study concentrates on the position of Czech women in higher education as it evolved from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present. The focus of the study is the continuously progressive advancement of Czech women in society. The Czech women's rights movement had been characterized by a progressive liberal tradition ever since its beginnings in the last century. It is my proposition that the whole history of Czech women in higher education is rooted in the continuity of this liberal tradition, and that this tradition was frequently supported by the ruling elites of the day.
It is crucial to realize that this liberal continuity of development of the women's rights movement had never been completely interrupted in the Czech Lands. The Czech women's rights movement started to form in the second half of the last century under favorable conditions. The First Republic provided a positive environment and stimulated further growth of women's activities. World War One caused stagnation of women's position in higher education. World War Two brought a setback to Czech women in higher education, but the setback was a result of the closure of all Czech institutions of higher learning for both men and women. The period of 1938 - 1948 was a turbulent one, and is mentioned in this study only briefly, mostly due to lack of sources analyzing this period. The communist period had mostly positive effects on the position of women in higher education, although not without significant negative effects that certainly will be mentioned. The current post-1989 period has barely been long enough to provide material for serious research, but it is clear that Czech women maintain their position in all areas where they had already increased their participation, such as the workplace and higher education.
I decided to use higher education as a showcase example in this study for several reasons. For one, higher education was the sphere in which Czech women, more than a hundred years ago, first demanded equality. Thus, this field holds a significant position in the history of Czech women's rights movement. The second reason was the scarcity of research on this topic. The women's rights movement in the Czech lands in general began to receive the attention of researchers only a few years ago. Non-Czech historians and writers paid most attention to the field at first, and it seems that Czech academic interest in this field developed only after some significant works of foreign researchers had been published. The third reason was my personal interest in the field of education.
The historical development of the position of Czech women in higher education presents an interesting illustration of women's journey to equality. The necessity to search out for scattered sources made this topic even more interesting. I researched sources in the Czech, Slovak, and English languages. I also found one valuable source in French. The majority of my sources were collected in the library of the University of Washington in Seattle and in the Czech Republic. In Prague, I collected sources in the National Library and the Gender Studies Centre Library.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that this study is about Czech women. Slovak women and German women might be mentioned wherever they were concerned, but Czech women are the primary focus of this study.
"It is strange that while worrying about schools we forget about half of the human society, about women. Woman should be educated better, because she herself is the educator ... and thus secondary schools and universities should be open for women. And that is what I ask for."
"While in the year 1948/49 only 23.2% out of the total 55,788 university students were women, in the year 1989/90 women constituted already 45.0% out of the total 137,905 university students."
The celebrated tempestuous time of the fin de siecle caught Czech women in the middle of a formidable effort to redefine their identity. The first cause of Czech women in Austria was to gain the right to enter institutions of higher learning. Led by writers and intellectuals, Czech women were the first in Austria, in 1890, to found a gymnasium for girls. The gymnasium was, and still is, the necessary stepping stone and a prerequisite for any university study in many European countries. The founding of the Minerva gymnasium thus enabled Czech women to be the first female candidates for university study in Austria. Several years later, both Czech women in Prague and German women in Vienna were allowed to enter universities as full-time matriculated students, and to graduate with university degrees.
At the time of such accomplishments, Czech women already had a solid record in literature, culture, and social activism. Organizations such as Zensky vyrobni spolek cesky (The Czech Women's Production Association) developed a number of socially beneficial and educational activities for women and ran trade and vocational schools for women. The Czech journal Zenske listy had been published in Prague since 1873, bringing women news about social, cultural, and educational activities in the Czech lands and about women's activities all over Europe and in North America. Many Bohemian and Moravian district towns had regional women's associations which announced their miscellaneous educational and trade activities in Zenske listy. Bozena Nemcova published her famous novel Babicka already in 1855, and other women writers, including Karolina Svetla and Eliska Krasnohorska, soon followed with their publications. True, Czech women lagged behind women's achievements in many Western European countries and the United States. In Switzerland, Britain, and the United States, women had been allowed to study at universities since the 1870s, and by the 1890s there developed campaigns for equal voting rights for women in these lands. But Czech women were ahead of most women of the other nations of the Habsburg Empire.
Why were Czech women so advanced within the borders of the empire? Predictably, the answer is rather complex. Successful social movements usually occur in economically developed societies. Bohemia and Moravia belonged among the most economically developed lands of the late Austrian Empire. Bohemia was doing so well that some historians claim Austria could not ever have become what it had been without Bohemia.(4) The Czech lands differed from most other Slavic lands of the empire in that they were not predominantly agricultural. The development of industry went hand in hand with urbanization and the demographic revolution which, in turn, triggered progressive political movements. The resulting progressive environment was very favorable for the unfolding of the women's rights movement.
The first women students at the gymnasium Minerva and at the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague were almost invariably of middle class origin. They were most often daughters of administrators, teachers, tradesmen, and well-to-do craftsmen, only about one-eighth of Minerva students came from provincial and village familes. (5) They came from families which could afford to pay for their tuition. The Minerva gymnasium, for example, was a private school and the students had to pay tuition. At the same time, these young women came from families which were liberal enough to understand and support their daughters' desire to achieve higher education. Such families were able to dismiss, or at least disregard, the two most common objections of the day to higher education for women. It was generally believed at that time that if women joined the work process, it would disrupt the balance of the economy as it would take jobs away from men. Men would thus be forced into unemployment or into jobs of lower qualifications. The other perceived problem was the potential isolation of women from their place in the family and household. It was taken for granted by many that university study for women would concern only a narrow group of women who had the desire and the talent to become educated professionals and who did not plan to have a family of their own. Young women from upper middle classes thus rarely belonged among the first educated Czech women, since they found their life fulfillment in marriages which were often arranged by their families. Working class women could not afford higher education for obvious lack of financial support.
High economic development was not the only Czech advantage. The Czechs were also known for their inspired national revival which motivated other Slavic nations under Austrian rule. It is worth noting that the greatest names of the Czech cultural and intellectual revival found nowadays in books are those of men. Most of these men, however, were loyally supported by dedicated and outstanding women. Czech history still owes a great debt to many remarkable and memorable Czech women. Numerous female family members of male politicians and activists contributed in no small share to the Czech cultural rebirth through supporting the men in their families. Thus Vojta Naprstek had a unique support in his wife Josefa, and T G Masaryk's opinions on the position and rights of women were shaped directly by his wife Charlotte's influence.(5)
Czech women, however, did not remain within the supportive roles of wives, sisters, and mothers. They developed their own record in the national revival through their own independent work. Certain women, for example the social activist and author of a famous cookbook, Magdalena Dobromila Rettigova, the writers Bozena Nemcova, Tereza Novakova, and Karolina Svetla, and the poet and translator Eliska Krasnohorska appear in some accounts of the national revival. These women were more than just cultural and literary figures. Svetla was the founder of Zensky vyrobni spolek cesky and Krasnohorska was the founder of the gymnasium Minerva and the editor-in-chief of Zenske listy. All these women came from average middle class families. Their efforts were often guided by the financial and emotional support of their parents, siblings, and friends, but also by a strong feeling of Czech national pride, by that time well developed among the Czech middle class. All these women wrote in Czech, and the schools and journals they founded and ran were all in the Czech language, even though they knew and used the German language as well.
The strong National Revival provided a cause and an opportunity for women to begin working on their own alongside men. The National Revival united women and men in a common cause. Modern historians and sociologists claim that there was a certain coordination of interests between the national revival movement and the women's rights movement.(6) Such coordination was present in all Slavic lands where national revivals took place. The struggle for the national cause created a common interest for men and women and contributed to the acceptance of the women's rights movement within the Czech population. This struggle for national independence and national identity belongs among the most important factors which helped shape gender relations in modern Czech society. Current Czech women generally do not see men as the primary cause of women's inferior status. Most current Czech women cringe at the mention of "feminism" and see the notion of "women's rights" as something unnecessary and exaggerated.(7) To them, the concept of "women's rights" logically constitutes an integral part of "human rights". Perceiving "women's rights" in this way is not limited to Czech or East European women, but viewing "women's rights" as superfluous within the context of "human rights" may be seen as one of Czech specifics. This approach may be seen as an outgrowth of the past struggle for the common cause of national sovereignty. In the nineteenth century, it was imperative that every Czech be a "good Czech", before being a good man or a good woman. When this environment produced its first "feminists", they were moderate and sensible. Their work and their tactics exhibited signs of viewing feminism as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
The convergence of interests and cooperation between Czech feminism and the Czech National Revival was further encouraged by a high level of tolerance for women's demands for equality. Czech sociologists argue that modern Czech society has not had as strong a patriarchate as other societies in the area.(8) Some Czech sociologists also argue that Czech society has had "an uninterrupted continuity of liberal tradition"(9) in its approach to gender questions, and that the public sphere had been opened to women's endeavors since before World War Two. Thus, when socialism gave Czech women the right to equal education and employment after World War Two, they did not see it as a novelty. Gender equality had been guaranteed by the interwar constitution of the First Czechoslovak Republic. That in itself did not mean that Czech women enjoyed complete gender equality in the interwar republic, but the guarantee in the constitution was not an empty promise. At the same time, women in the interwar Czechoslovak Republic understood that they could achieve equality in professional life only if they actively worked toward its fulfillment.
The national revival functioned as a unifying national factor and as a strong cultural stimulus. Both Czech working women and Czech middle class women began to understand the necessity of independent employment for women a long time before they were granted the legal right to have it. To many of them employment translated into the ability to sustain themselves and their family members, but for many it also brought the possibility of personal growth. As early as the 1820s, young Czech women congregated in Sunday handicraft and discussion clubs, organized by Rettigova, who advised them to get educated. In retrospect, it seems quite logical that the leading female intellectuals of the late nineteenth century steered the first attempts at women's independence into higher education. It was a course of action stemming not only from the economic realities of the day, but also from the social and cultural situation.
Several economic reasons stimulated Czech women's desire to enter institutions of higher learning in the last century. The 1866 war, in which Prussia defeated Austria, left many women widowed and fatherless. A small group of intellectual women led by Karol na Sv tl reacted to the situation by founding Zensky vyrobni spolek cesky (The Czech Women's Production Association) in 1871. The association created and ran practical training schools for women. Similar efforts quickly developed into demands to let women enter secondary schools and colleges. Karen Johnson Freeze argues that the Czech women's effort to enter secondary and university education was pragmatic and well-timed -- deliberately. She argues that Czech women understood they would have angered the male politicians of the day if they had been more radical in their demands.(10)
Indeed, medical education was the first type of higher education which women desired to enter and it was an excellent choice. The need to have female doctors for women, especially in gynecology, was a strong motivating factor.
Pavla Horska argues that bourgeois Czech women were ready to assert themselves in higher education also due to the improved position of the Czech bourgeoisie.(11) The Czech bourgeois women of the 1860s were so well off that they could afford to do extensive charity work, and they soon expanded their activities into creating courses and vocational schools. Indeed, the first two Czech female activists for women's right to gain academic education, Karolina Svetla and Eliska Krasnohorska, were daughters of a moderately wealthy Prague tradesman and a well-to-do Prague craftsman respectively.
There were also important social factors which contributed to the formation of environment conducive to a women's rights movement. The revived Czech society of the nineteenth century had hardly any native Czech nobility. Many Czech noble families left the Czech lands after the 1620 Battle of the White Mountain in which Protestant forces were defeated. Such families were soon replaced by non-Czech nobility. Even though this social upheaval produced an inevitable religious change, Catholicism never gained a uniquely strong position in the Czech society. Unlike the Slovaks, Czechs never developed a dominant Catholic-based political movement or party. To date, the Czechs remain the least religious nation in the East Central European region. The lack of a strong Catholic tradition affected the strength, or rather weakness, of the Czech patriarchy and with it the whole structure of Czech gender relations.
The combination of all the aforementioned historical factors helped Czech women to formulate their quest for equality in academic education in the last century. If the Czech people did not develop a strong and well-defined national revival movement, women would not have a cause for public activity and beneficial work. The national and cultural revival movement also helped bring Czech men and women together through the common cause of national preservation. If the Czech lands had not been lucky enough to have experienced an early and successful industrialization and urbanization, the rich petty bourgeois class would not have found the nourishment for its growth. This class then brought into being the handful of intellectual women who, through their private education, were able to start the move of women towards an independent professional life. When the Czechs, together with the Slovaks, finally had a republic of their own in 1918, the Czech public was already well accustomed to the idea of a factory working woman, and was well on its way to getting accustomed to the concept of an academically educated professional woman. The First Republic then provided further positive conditions for the growth of women's education and professional employment.
Four decades of communism completed the process of putting women on their own feet in education and employment. This "forced emancipation" had both predictable and unpredictable consequences. At the end of the 1980s, women constituted more than half of all students in Czech secondary schools and almost half of all students in Czech universities. True, if one takes a closer look at the distribution of students according to gender, one discovers that certain fields, for example education, health care, and economics, are heavily feminized. Technical schools and technical work, on the other hand, remain dominated by men. Also, most Czech women under communism had no desire for professional advancement because it was usually connected with the corresponding obligatory political involvement. Unlike men, women could resist the political pressure often connected with professional advancement by hiding behind family responsibilities. Despite the loudly proclaimed gender equality, politics had been, and continues to be, regarded as a traditionally male sphere. The power of tradition also required men to act, at least to a certain degree, as the principal family breadwinners, and men were thus often forced into political participation. Women, on the other hand, looked for their personal fulfillment in marriage and family and combined it with the mandatory employment.
Soon after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that brought down the Communist regime, Czech sociologists acknowledged that it might be desirable for Czech women to return to the household after all the years of mandatory employment.(12) This prognosis, however, has not come true. Statistics show that Czech women and men are a little older at the time of their first marriage than they used to be just a few years ago. Interviews with university students show that young women now see possibilities for their personal development other than just care for family and children. Gradually more female names appear in politics. In fact, the Czechs recently nominated a woman minister to their cabinet: Vlasta Parkanova became the first female Minister of Justice. All this indicates that higher education and professional jobs are open for Czech women, and that women do not hesitate to take the opportunities if they so desire. Krasnohorska, Svetla, Plaminkova and many others would have been happy to see this progress. They might have, perhaps, just wondered why it took Czech women so long.
"So many times I heard that there was no need for a woman to know how to write; as long as she knows how to read a bit, that's just enough! I must give my personal opinion on this matter. It is true that in the larger picture there are more women who do not need to pick up a pen the whole year round, but, on the other hand, there are many who either lead some sort of business or have to assist their husbands. They do need to know how to write properly. I know that it is still impossible to ask that a girl should know, besides writing, reading, and counting, also something else, because to date we do not have any institutions for such purpose."
When Eliska Krasnohorska, the founder of the gymnasium Minerva and the writer remembered today most for her poetry and translation work, was in her early teenage years, her educational possibilities were very limited.
"School education for girls ... ended at about twelve years of age and was achieved in private schools or, for the richer classes, in boarding schools, which concentrated mostly on the teaching of foreign languages and various women's crafts."(14)
Krasnohorska then, just like many of her female peers, went through a difficult period of a desperate search for some meaningful activity. She was fortunate enough to have had a mother who supported her desire to read and learn, and to have lived in a home which contained an extensive library, a heritage of her prematurely deceased father. The experience of having to search far and wide for ways to devote oneself to learning undoubtedly helped shape Krasnohorska's opinion on women's education and emancipation. It subsequently inspired her endeavors in the area of women's right to enter gymnasia and universities and to study for a degree.
The work of women such as Krasnohorska bore fruit in their own lifetime. One hundred years will pass this spring since Czech women were first permitted to enter university as full-time students and to obtain a university degree. After years of hard work and repeated petitions to the government, the women of Prague scored a victory not just for themselves, but for all women in the whole monarchy. The Austrian government ruled on March 23, 1897, by the ministerial decree number 7.155, that women in the Austrian Empire be allowed to enter and graduate from the faculty of philosophy.(15) This decision was preceded by a ministerial decree on March 9, 1896, which allowed women to study at and graduate from gymnasium, and to have medical school diplomas from foreign countries recognized as valid in Austria-Hungary.(16) The 1897 ministerial decree was accompanied by an explanatory note, stating, among other things, that
"Such provisions concern only a small study field which is not to be expanded artificially by the educational administration through establishing new public gymnasia. Let such actions be left to private endeavors, whose experience and results the administration will watch carefully." (17)
The Ministry's attitude can hardly be seen as progressive, and it certainly was not surprising, either. In 1890, most politicians in the Austrian government were conservative bureaucrats accustomed to certain ways of life. While an independently educated woman might have crossed their path on occasion, they were far from ready to accept such a phenomenon on a regular basis. What might be surprising is that the Austrian politicians seemed to have been a lot more conservative in their reaction to women's endeavors in education in the 1890s than the Czech parliamentary representatives. This difference becomes more understandable if one realizes that Tom Masaryk with his small Realist Party won a seat in the Austrian parliament already in 1891. Masaryk's ascent was a part of the March, 1891 parliamentary victory of the progressive Young Czech Party which defeated the conservative Old Czech Party of Frantisek Ladislav Rieger. (18)
Tomas Masaryk was assigned, in 1891, together with deputies Blazek and Adamek,to work in the area of secondary and university education.(19) The deputies Masaryk and Blaz ek spoke about higher education in the June, 1891, parliament session, and they were very clear about their ideas concerning women and their desire to enter higher education. Masaryk stood firmly behind women's demands when he said that
"I cannot but urgently recommend to the educational administration that it positively answer the petitions sent to the respectful Assembly in these matters, namely the petition from the Czech lands and the petition from Women's Congress in Vienna from May 14, 1891, demanding that women be allowed to enter secondary schools and universities, and that the administration take care to ensure not only the support by the state in this matter, but also the management and guidance by the state."(20)
When Krasnohorska founded Minerva, the first gymnasium for girls in Austria, in 1890, women in some European countries, for example Switzerland, and in the United States, had already enjoyed free access to university education for about two decades. At the same time, Czech women in Austria were slightly ahead of women in Germany, who had to wait until 1893 before the first door to gymnasium classes opened for them.(21) In this context, the opening of Minerva was a great achievement for Czech women in Austria. That does not mean that the gymnasium had a wide social support. On the contrary, most of the population felt that a school for girls which prepared them for things other than household work and child care was a useless invention good for just a few affluent or eccentric women.
It seems overly progressive that Ottuv slovnik naucny, the most extensive and popular Czech encyclopedia of the time, should mention under the entry zenska emancipace (women's emancipation) that the Czech public continued to underestimate the importance of equal education for women.(22) The claim is not so surprising after one discovers that it was written by two distinguished Czech feminists of the time, Frantiska Plaminkova and Albina Honzakova. In several other accounts of the day, writers openly acknowledged that Czech society had been somewhat narrow-minded and too open to "various assumptions, largely unsubstantiated, that girls perceive scientific information differently from boys". (23) It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to dismiss such evidence of social stubbornness. In the context of the time, however, social thinking was influenced by a variety of different theories.
The ideas of Otto Weininger serve as an example of a more extremist view of women's social and cultural role. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Viennese public and scientific community experienced a burst of interest in the theories of this popular scientist and mystic. Weininger attracted a great attention by his radical theories on the characteristics of the sexes. Weininger believed that every human being consisted of a certain amount of maleness and a certain amount of femaleness. He claimed that women functioned only as the objects of men's desires, only as the "plaything of husband and child".(24) Woman is "devoted wholly ... to the spheres of sexual intercourse, begetting, reproduction", and "her relations with husband and children complete her life ... " . (25) Weininger concluded that woman's emancipation only occurs as the expression of the maleness in women and should be regarded as a deviation from the proper pattern. To demonstrate the validity of his theory, Weininger cited the practice of women writers to use male pseudonyms, and the tendency of some of them, George Sand, for example, to wear men's clothes. (26) Fortunately, the handful of Czech women who had the courage to persist with their ideas about women's progress were not discouraged by theories such as Weininger's.
The Czech women's rights movement began to develop into a political movement only around the turn of the century, at about the time when the first female graduates stepped out of the university with a fresh diploma in their hand. Before Czech women received their first university diplomas and distinguished themselves in lobbying and fighting for equal social and political rights, they made a significant contribution to Czech history as cultural organizers and writers. The nineteenth century was a prime time of national development for Czechs, as it was for other Slavic nations who, like the Czechs, lived under the rule of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. The Czech National Revival movement started in the second half of the eighteenth century as a reaction to the germanizing policies of the ruling Austrians. Czech women were therefore members of a subordinated national group as well as members of an underprivileged social group. Eliminating the national oppression carried more importance to nineteenth century Czech women than their oppression as a social group. This context of a common national cause helped strengthen the perception of women's rights as an integral part of human rights, and not separate from the rights of men.
The tight link between the Czech National Revival and the Czech women's rights movement has been discussed by many social scientists over recent years. Many researchers agree that Czech women subordinated their demands as a social group to the demands of the nation.(27) There is no question that Czech women, both at the beginning of the women's rights movement in the nineteenth century and in its best days during the interwar period, saw themselves first and foremost as citizens, and only then as members of a social group labeled "women". The problem of women's position in the society was always seen as an integral part of the national problem, a view supported by many leading personalities, including T G Masaryk. Czech women's rights activists loved to use some of Masaryk's famous quotes as their guiding mottos: "There is no woman's question, only the human question", and "Democracy is, first of all, the equality of woman and man, of mother and father, of sister and brother." (28)
The Czech women's rights movement, however, cannot be regarded as purely or overly nationalistic. Many Western researchers agree that Czech women subordinated their demands to the national needs, which, in turn, impeded their rights movement. Katherine David, in her article on Czech Feminists and Nationalism, argues that integral Czech nationalism was "hardly an extremist ideology among the Czechs or other minorities in the Habsburg Monarchy at the turn of the twentieth century."(29) She concludes, however, that Czech feminists might have been distracted from their pursuit of sexual equality by devoting too much time to the national cause. In discussing Czech women's entry into medical education, author Freeze claims that Czech women's entry into higher education was intentionally timed precisely because women were preoccupied with fighting for the national cause.(30) Bruce Garver claims that women subordinated their interests to national goals because political and economic autonomy was more important to them than their autonomy as women.(31) Sharon Wolchik is even more explicit and claims that women "couched their demands in terms of their contribution to the good of the nation as a whole" (32).
The same pattern of Czech women's behavior is seen by Czech researchers as an enlightened relationship between the Czech National Revival and the women's rights movement. They explain, however, that there were other factors which produced the mildness of the women's rights movement and steered its coordination with the National Revival. Havelkova, for example, stresses that the sex-indifferent solidarity arising from the rule of Habsburgs was coupled with economic, religious, and social class factors.(33) Horska and Peskova see the Czech National Revival and the women's rights movement as an integral whole of one large united emancipation movement(34).
The moderation and direction of the Czech women's rights movement undoubtedly has its roots in the combination of all the stated theories. The Czech women's rights movement should always be considered a complex phenomenon caused by a broad array of factors and tied inseparably into the National Revival. Czech women's rights activists saw themselves almost exclusively as a part of the national rights movement and always thought of their demands as defined by the interests of their nation. Thus the selection of education as the first field in which to demand equality seemed highly logical to those who defined the choice. Educated individuals were needed in order to contribute tothe national cause, and only an educated woman could be an equal partner to an educated man.
The first Czech women writers and activists started to emerge in the second period of the National Revival movement in the nineteenth century. Magdalena Dobromila Rettigova is remembered today mostly as an author of a legendary Czech cookbook, but during her lifetime she organized social gatherings in which she advised young women to get themselves educated. Bozena Nemcova, the Czech writer often described as the first Czech feminist, concentrated on topics relating to social inequalities in the lives of common Czech and Slovak people. Her best-known book, Babicka, was published in 1855, and it tells about the life of a simple Czech country woman. Already in 1846, however, Nemcova was convinced that:
"... it is still impossible to ask that a girl should know other things besides writing, reading, and counting, since we have not even had any institutions for it. ... But in my opinion, each [woman] should know, besides reading, writing, and counting, also a little bit of geography, natural sciences, and especially the history of her own country." (35)
Many other women writers were active in the last century, among them Karolina Svetla, Tereza Novakova, and Eliska Krasnohorska. These writers, and especially Krasnohorska, stood at the birth of the movement for the entry of Czech women into higher education. The intellectual activity of writing together with social and cultural activism gave birth to women's desire for further education. Krasnohorska herself remained unmarried and devoted her whole life to her literary career and to the campaign for women's equality, especially in education. The activist of the next generation, Frantiska Plaminkov , also remained unmarried and devoted her life to the women's cause and to her career of teacher, activist, and politician.
The foundation of Minerva was born of several decades of hard work, activism, and personal achievements. One of the first reasons for girls' education that Czech women articulated was the belief that an educated woman would become a better mother and housewife. Magdalena Dobromila Rettigova was the first woman who publicly acknowledged the value of education for a woman. It was in the 1820s that she organized so-called besidky (popular educational gathering for adults)for young women, a type of social gathering at which they learned various household work, but also read and held discussions. Soon, the cause of education for the sake of good motherhood and housewifery was surpassed, and Czech women began to understand the importance of education for their professional development and for practical life. The first Czech institution for Czech women teachers was I Vychovavaci ustav pro divky (The First Educational Institute for Girls), a secondary school for teacher education, founded by Bohuslava Rajska in 1843.(36) The need for practical professional skills which would translate into the ability to provide for oneself increased especially after wartime periods. The 1866 war with Prussia, for example, left many women widowed and many girls fatherless.
The 1848 revolution, even though unsuccessful, stirred the national consciousness and stimulated social activity. Many social, charitable, and interest associations were founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, and many of them were founded by women for women. Most documentation that we have today about such activities concerns middle class women who were also the first to get access to higher education. By the 1860s, important developments were on the way. Ottuv slovnik naucny informs us that Mestska vyssi divci skola (Higher Municipal School for Girls), the first secondary school for girls of its kind in Austria, was founded in Prague in 1863.(37) Unfortunately, the entry does not mention anything more detailed about the classes or the students at this school. It seems clear, however, that this was a type of terminal secondary school for girls, with no possibility for its graduates to continue on to college level.
At about the same time, Prague witnessed a blossoming of activities concerning various women's interest associations. The Czech industrialist and collector Vojta Naprstek returned to his Prague home from a ten-year stay in the United States in 1862. He was inspired by the level of equality of American women and founded, together with the writer Karolina Svetla, the American Club of Ladies in 1865. Naprstek owned a moderately wealthy house in Prague, and in the house he had a library and the beginning of what is today the ethnological Naprstkovo museum (Naprstek museum). His American Club of Ladies, named so because of Naprstek's inspiration by American women, organized lectures and discussion groups which were attended by well-known personalities, including Charlotte Masarykova and her husband Tomas Masaryk. Needless to say, this club was mainly for middle class women, and thus played an important role in stimulating the cultural interests of such women.
The consequences of the 1866 Austro-Prussian war inspired a group of active middle class women led by Karolina Svetla to found Zensky vyrobni spolek cesky (Czech Women's Production Association) in 1871.(38) The Association soon opened a school for women with two divisions, business and industrial. The industrial school taught crafts such as sewing, embroidery, and knitting, as well as music, drawing and painting, and foreign languages. The business school mainly taught accounting skills. The foundation of the Association is credited first and foremost to the Czech writer Karolina Svetla, assisted by a group of other middle class women. These women developed a great effort to enable most students to attend free of charge. The Association membership cost the minimal fee of one golden coin a year.(39)
The few recent accounts of this period of attribute the foundation of the Czech Women's Production Association not only to the consequences of the 1866 war.(40) Some inspiration probably came from the activities of an association of German women in Prague, called "Der Deutsche Prager Frauen-Erwerb-Verein", founded in 1869.(41) The Czech Women's Production Association might have also been preconditioned by the fact that the Czech bourgeoisie acquired certain material wealth around the 1860s, and thus increased its ability to invest in new activities. Several associations of an educational nature blossomed in Prague under the care of the Czech bourgeoisie, especially since the 1880s. The Czech historian Horska claims that the context of women's educational associations in Prague after 1880 was so rich that it is difficult to find one's way around it. According to her, the city archive and the archives of the Prague police headquarters contain abundant but highly fragmented material concerning such associations. The activities seemed to have been highly diversified, from teaching practical skills such as sewing to running libraries and discussion lectures on women's movements. It is safe to assume that such associations would stimulate the desire of women to seek more for themselves in higher education.
The end of a decade of neo-absolutist rule in the Austrian Empire in 1860 inspired a search for new solutions also in the area of education. The new educational law of January 18, 1866, established the equality of the German and Czech languages and stipulated that the language of instruction would be either Czech or German, with the other taught as a foreign language.(42) All Czech boys and girls were now guaranteed the possibility of receiving elementary education in Czech. This law further improved the already high levels of literacy among the Czech population. The law also made changes in the education of teachers. Teachers were to be educated in special secondary schools for teachers, the so-called pedagogical institutes, which were gender-separated. These institutes allowed women to become professional teachers at elementary and secondary schools. In order to graduate, the students had to pass the so-called maturity examination (zkouska dospelosti), after which they could become assistant teachers. Only after a minimum of two years of practice could an assistant teacher apply for a so-called teacher skills examination (zkouska ucitelska zpusobilosti), which enabled him or her to become a full-time teacher. (43)
Teachers and other female state employees were, at the same time, bound by a rule concerning marriage and occupation, popularly called celibacy law. Women employees were not allowed to marry and work as state employees at the same time. This rule applied to two state service professions which women performed at the time, teaching and postal services, where women started to work in 1872. (44)
In these occupations, it was either marriage and family life, or professional life. This law was reversed for teachers in 1919, and for other state employees in 1926. (45) The teacher, feminist, and politician Plaminkova was the main organizer of the campaign for overturning the celibacy law.
It did not take long for women teachers to form the first professional organizations. The first organization of women teachers, Spolek prazskych ucitelek (The Association of Prague Women Teachers), was founded in 1874. Their journal, Casopis ucitelek (Women Teachers Journal ), began publishing in 1885.(46) Such organizations and activities provided the environment in which important personalities of the later period of women's rights movement grew. It is no accident that Frantiska Plaminkova and other important women's rights activists were teachers. Teaching was the first field in which women could gain recognition as professionals and which provided inspiration for women to continue pushing for access into other learned professions.
The 1880s saw a lot of activity among women, both middle class and working class women. The activity of middle class and intellectual women was crucial for women's advancement in higher education, since intellectual women such as writers and poets were precisely the kind of women who inspired and ran the movement for a woman's right to higher education. The poet and translator Eliska Krasnohorska led the campaign for allowing women to enter gymnasium, and she also founded the association Minerva with its first gymnasium for girls in Austria in 1890. At the time of its foundation and the first years of its existence, the Minerva gymnasium was treated as a rarity by the Czech public. But once the gymnasium was up and running, with 53 students in its first year(47) , it was only the beginning of a quickly growing interest. Minerva's primary task was to clear the way for its graduates to university studies. In order to do that, women first had to take and pass the final gymnasium examination, the so-called maturita. This examination was a prerequisite for any university study.
But taking and passing the final examination was not the only students' worry. The students had to pay tuition for attending gymnasium. When the Minerva gymnasium opened in September 1890, it was a private institution, not supported financially by the government. It was supported solely by tuition payments, its own gainful activities, private donations, and the care of community administration. Other gymnasia for girls that opened in the following years were supported in similar ways. A private gymnasium for girls in Pardubice, founded in 1910, was funded generously by the local municipal administration and by the local savings bank. (48) Needless to say, such schools could be attended only by young women from financially secure families. Minerva tried to be generous whenever possible and helped less affluent students by waiving half or whole tuition fees. Soon, scholarship foundations appeared and helped to fund talented and interested young women's way through secondary education. One of the large foundations, Bradkova nadace (Bradek's Foundation), was founded in 1898 for young women studying at Minerva, and other smaller foundations soon followed.(49)
The decision to let women enter the faculty of philosophy of all universities in Austria in 1897 might have been motivated by the desire of the administrators to have qualified female teachers for secondary school female students. Its was believed strongly at that time that the best education for a girl was the so-called "vyssi divci", ie, higher school for girls, a terminal educational institution designed to guide young women towards "true femininity"(50)
. It was generally believed that this task could best be accomplished by properly trained women teachers. The decision of the administration had a positive effect on several strata of the female public. The women who desired to become secondary schools teachers benefitted. The women who desired to become educated professionals other than secondary school teachers could now try. Finally, secondary school female students benefitted as well, because they eventually received better teachers.
Once the philosophical and medical faculties opened their doors for women students, other associations in Bohemia and Moravia began to express an interest in founding their own gymnasia for girls. Minerva, in the meantime, was busy attempting to receive recognition as a state school, which would enable it to administer its own maturita examinations. But when Zensky krouzek Slavie (Women's Circle Slavie) and Ustredni spolek ceskych zen (Central Association of Czech Women) asked Minerva in 1903 to help them with founding a new state gymnasium for girls, they were turned down. (51) And when, in 1905, an attempt materialized in the Prague quarter of Kralovske Vinohrady to found another gymnasium for girls, Minerva was embittered and proclaimed that one gymnasium was "more than enough for those professions which women can in reality expect to perform".(52) Nevertheless, the efforts continued and by the beginning of World War One there were five gymnasia for girls. Besides Minerva, there were gymnasia in the Prague quarter of Vinohrady, in Pardubice, in Brno, and in Valasske Mezirici.
Several strong social currents influenced women's progress in higher education before World War One. On the one hand, there was a strong conservative belief that women should remain within the sphere of family and home and thus should not really ever have any need for a formal higher education. The adherents of this thesis were busy founding and running educational institutions for girls with no possibility to continue onto a college level. On the other hand, a new, progressive school of thinking was born, and it was responsible for founding gymnasia and various industrial and business schools.
An attempt was made in 1900 to consolidate these two differing ways of thinking and to converge them in a new educational institution for girls, the lyceum. The Ministry of Culture and Education established lycea for girls by a ruling December 11, 1900.(53) Even though the lyceum prepared its graduates for a limited range of occupations, its central goal was to prepare women for a cultured family life. Lyceum graduates were allowed to enter universities, but only with the status of auditors (mimoradne studentky), which in reality meant that they were only allowed to audit classes, not study for a degree. This privilege was canceled in 1910.(54) The lyceum was seen, especially by progressive men and women, as a means to stem the flow of young women into gymnasia and university studies. It can be regarded as a tool of conservative politicians. Lycea for girls were eventually abolished in 1922 as they ceased to serve their purpose after coeducation was introduced into all Czech secondary schools in 1919.(55)
Both the lycea and the gymnasia recruited most of their students from the urban population, since more affluent families resided mostly in urban areas. Only a limited number of country girls could think of higher education. The students were mostly daughters of state officials, ie, teachers, professor, state employees. Less common were daughters of craftsmen and tradesmen.(56) The reason for the low attendance of girls from the lower classes was not lack of interest, but very likely the high tuition. Women from higher than middle class society, on the other hand, probably found higher education unnecessary and unimportant for their lives.
A picture of sorts thus emerges from the information we have about the early secondary school female students. They came from urban areas, and most of them had solid middle class families. Such background produced not only progressive young women, but also individuals active in the Czech national rights movement. It is interesting to note that these young women often became teachers, and even though most of them seemed to be excellent students, only a limited number of them continued on to university studies. It seems that most of them entered secondary schools in search of a way to become at least partially self-sufficient, to be able to provide for herself.
It is also true that it required a certain degree of bravery and determination to sign up for university classes in the prewar Czech Lands. Those young women who mustered the courage and pursued a university degree had to face ignorance, rejection, ridicule, and extremely rigorous examination procedures, often attended by a full class of male students. The memoirs of some of these early students suggest that their male colleagues often ignored them and sometimes even proclaimed publicly their disagreement with the study of women. One women described how she and a group of other women students once had to wait for a professor at the German part of Charles University in Prague in 1897, the first year they were allowed to attend the university. While waiting, a group of German students started a conversation with them in Czech, only to accuse them later of intentional provocations by speaking Czech at the German University(57). The Czech women's journal Zenske listy published an extensive article in 1899 describing the protest of medical students in Halle against women studying medicine. The students claimed that presence of women in clinical lessons brought "cynicism" into the classrooms and that women's emancipation "clashes with morality" and "is incompatible with both the interests of proper medical study and the principles of ethics and morality".(58) The Halle university professors were, however, wise enough to deny this complaint and kept women students in their classes.
Despite all difficulties, by the school year 1916-17 there were between 620 and 644 female university students at the Czech universities, including both full-time students and auditors.(59) Women studied at philosophical faculties, at medical faculties, and at the faculties of pharmaceutics, mainly at Charles University in Prague. Within the philosophical faculty, women pursued degrees in classical philology, modern philology, natural sciences, mathematics and physics, history, and philosophy. The total highest number of female students registered in the first semester for the period 1897-98 to 1916-17 was in the field of mathematics and physics.(60) The faculty of law remained closed to full-time female students until 1918, and young women who registered there as auditors before 1918 were generally discouraged by the long fruitless wait for enrollment as full-time students.
The first faculty that women were allowed to enter was the philosophical faculty in 1897. Three years later, in 1900, the Ministry of Culture and Education made another step in its slow progress towards women's equality in higher education. Women students were allowed to enter the study of medicine as full-time students as of September 15, 1900. (61) The first Czech female doctor of philosophy was Marie Baborova in 1901, and the first Czech female doctor of medicine was Anna Honzakova in 1902. Such events were appropriately celebrated, although they were just the very first steps on the steep ladder of social and cultural ascent that awaited women. Except for pharmaceutics, no other university was opened to women until after the establishment of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Coeducation in secondary schools was also introduced only at that time.
At the beginning of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, Czech women had already done a substantial amount of work in the area of higher education. They were a highly literate social group with a solid record in elementary schooling. They were lucky to live in a society which was not strictly religious and did not limit their social and cultural position as much as various other societies around them. Despite all the advantages and the strong record in their rights movement, Czech women were still only at the beginning of a long march to attain academic and professional equality with men. They had, however, already been extremely lucky in two regards. First, their recent national history was quite generous with them, and second, they just gained a strong and educated ally in the first President of Czechoslovakia, T G Masaryk.
"It is apparent that women cannot rest happy with the semblance of political freedom and that they have to persistently demand the application of all components of freedom in real life. To date, we are far from reaching the ideal. I do not want to judge whether it is caused by the omnipresent reactionism or by lack of thinking. ... Let no one be mistaken and believe that this matter is not very serious because it concerns women. It is the principle that is at stake, and the citizens. And in real democracy, every citizen must receive an equal amount of everything."
The founding of the First Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 brought a change for all citizens of the new multiethnic country. The Czechs and some Slovaks regarded this change as very positive. Many other Slovaks and the Germans saw it as a mixed blessing. Women of the different ethnic groups found themselves in various situations. The Czechs and the Germans had a well-developed middle class, and Czech and German women enjoyed an increasingly favorable status from the prewar period. The Slovaks and the Ruthenians had hardly any middle class at all, and Slovak and Ruthenian women had not even started a women's rights movement. For them the new republic with its new and progressive laws meant a radical change. However, as indicated by the words of the prominent Czech women's rights activist Plaminkova, even Czech women were far from the luxury of basking in the sunshine of their success. Rather, the road to the envisioned equality was still somewhat long, even though it was wider than ever before and mostly clear of large obstacles.
World War One brought both suffering and benefits to the Czech people. The Czech nation, as one of the many nations under the Austrian Empire, was subject to Austrian imperialistic propaganda during the war. The educational system suffered some consequences of Austrian propaganda, including strengthening of the position of German in schools at the expense of Czech, confiscation of textbooks and introduction of new textbooks, especially in subjects such as history, and regular singing of the Austrian national anthem in classes. (63) While all schools were preserved in the war years, they suffered the consequences of the war. From a total of two thousand Czech secondary school professors about one-fifth were drafted into the war and more than seventy professors perished. (64) Male students of age were also drafted into the war, leaving more openings for women in higher education in schools into which women had access at the time.
The number of women at secondary schools and universities increased during the war years, which might be considered a positive effect of the war. The most significant negative effect was that the campaign for acceptance of women into the areas of higher education which were still closed to them in 1914 slowed down significantly. Thus, for the next four years, women had to be satisfied with private secondary schools and with the few universities which were made accessible to them before World War One. Unfortunately, no overall data about women students in secondary schools during World War One was available for this study, only limited information about individual secondary schools. This limited data seems to indicate that secondary schools experienced an increase in the number of female students. The lyceum in Jicin, a city in Northeastern Bohemia, for example, saw an increase in the number of its female students between 1914-15 and 1915-16 from 93 to 200. (65)
An important aspect of the development of the secondary school system was its almost uninterrupted continuity from the Austrian Empire through World War One and into the First Republic. This was true especially about the Czech lands, where the secondary school system was already well developed before the war. Slovakia had only a limited number of secondary schools, and most of them were heavily marked by magyarization. Czech effort to help the Slovaks and the bittersweet effects of this assistance have been researched and written about at length. Suffice it to say that schools needed the assistance of the Czechs. The Slovak educational system suffered lack of professionals educated in the Slovak language right after the end of World War One. Most of the available Slovak professionals were educated in Hungarian. Czech secondary school professors were therefore sent to Slovakia to take over teaching in Slovak schools until a new generation of native Slovak professors could be educated. Many of these Czechs turned Slovakia into their home, but many of them returned as a result of the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Before the war there were three types of gymnasia in the Czech lands, together with lycea and the so-called realky, a type of secondary school preparing one for to practical work life. All these schools continued to exist throughout the war and into the First Republic. There were a total of 125 secondary schools in Bohemia and Moravia in the school year 1913-14, and all but one were still around in 1918-19. They were attended by approximately the same number of students throughout these years (66), even though the structure of the student body changed, especially with regard to gender. Structural changes, which significantly affected the position of women, were introduced into secondary schools only after 1918, in the new Czechoslovak Republic.
Czech universities also continued largely unchanged throughout the war. Changes affecting the whole student body, including female students, were to come only after the 1918 independence day. Statistical data regarding the numbers of women students at Czech universities during the war years indicate an unambiguous increase. The data come from a source which lists women students at both Czechoslovak and German universities in the Czech Lands. Between the school years 1913-14 and 1914-15, the number of female university students rose from 187, with 44 German students, to 305, with 61 German students. This represents the largest annual increase since women enjoyed free access to universities at the turn of the century. By the academic year 1917-18, there were over 600 women studying at Czechoslovak universities. Over 140 of the women were German. (67)
When the First Republic of Czechoslovakia was founded, Czech women were starting from a solid foundation. The Washington Declaration, a document prepared and published by the government in exile led by T G Masaryk, proclaimed the equality of sexes in all spheres. It is said that Masaryk himself made sure that the clause "women will be politically, socially, and culturally equal to men" (68) be included in the declaration. The new constitution of the Czechoslovak Republic was adopted at the beginning of 1920.
The constitution stipulated equal franchise for every citizen regardless of gender. Law 106 of the new constitution specifically proclaimed that there were to be no privileges for anyone based on gender. Czech women certainly had reason to rejoice, but it did not take them long to realize that words on paper are one thing and real life quite another. Despite the fact that paper guarantees were not yet entirely realized, Czech women had an excellent record in the context of their region already in 1918. Their social and economic status was comparable to that of West European and American women. Czech women regularly participated in international women's congresses and fairs, and the name Frantiska Plaminkov was internationally known.
After a short exhilaration, women's rights activists continued their efforts to educate women about their rights and responsibilities. In her lectures and writing, Plaminkov , the prominent women's rights leader, alerted women to the reality of their lives. Now that women had equal constitutional rights and enjoyed free access to education and all professions, what remained to be done was perhaps the most difficult thing. Turning the written guarantees into reality could only be accomplished through women's own actions. Plaminkova, among others, continued to stress the importance of equality for women in all spheres. Education remained among the most important spheres in the quest for equality. Plaminkova continued to proclaim that "democracy provides unconstrained educational development for boys as well as for girls." (69) Czech women and most Czech men agreed with her.
Education was managed by the newly established Ministerstvo skolstvi a narodni osvety (The Ministry of Education and National Culture, generally known as MSANO), which produced new laws without delay. All new educational laws continued the spirit of the prewar efforts of women like Krasnohorska. It is important to realize once again that even though the Ministry instituted changes, the school system as a whole was not regarded as one in need of complete overhaul. Major changes were made, but the structure as a whole had been preserved and changes affecting women were incorporated into the existing system.
The first steps towards introducing coeducation into all schools were made in 1918. On November 11, 1918, the Ministry issued a decree stipulating that girls were to be accepted for regular -- as opposed to private only -- study at all secondary schools. (70) Coeducation in all secondary schools was introduced in 1919, and was put into full practice by 1921. Separate schools for girls were still in existence in all parts of the country, and young women could study either separately or together with young men. Girls constituted about one-quarter to one-third of all secondary school students in the 1920s. For example, in the academic year 1927-28 there were 91,015 secondary school students and 23,028 out of this total were girls.(71) More women studied in coeducational schools rather than in separate girls schools.
It is interesting that there were more women studying at the pedagogical institutes than in any other type of secondary school. This fact is consistent with historical and post-World War Two patterns of women's social position. Teaching was one of the first professional occupations open to women in the nineteenth century, and it was to become one of the over-feminized professions after 1945. The pedagogical institutes were taken over from the prewar period and made a part of the secondary school system. Coeducation was introduced also into pedagogical education; however, many gender-separated pedagogical institutes were preserved.(72) The slow movement towards instituting mandatory college education for teachers, as opposed to secondary education only, started during the years of the First Republic. By the 1930s, there were several college-type institutions for teachers education. This continuing development was to have an enormous impact on women's status in higher education, since women were soon to constitute the majority of professional teachers.
The position of women teachers improved also with the adoption in 1922 of a new law on education, referred to colloquially as the Little School Law (Maly skolsky zakon). This law stipulated that every school had to have an equal number of male and female teachers. Consequently, women teachers had to be allowed to teach at boys schools. The law also established some important changes in elementary education. The most improtant of the changes was probably the institution of mandatory 8-year grade school attendance in all of Czechoslovakia.(73)
This law can be seen as the turning point for the status of women teachers. At this point, in 1922, women teachers needed a law in order to gain an equal position as professionals in schools. At no time would women's position in teaching be so precarious, and at no time would women teachers need an intercession by law on their behalf. On the contrary, since then the numbers of women teachers grew so fast that the modern Czech school system is currently suffering from over-feminization of the teaching profession.
The lycea for girls, established in 1900, were eliminated in 1922. The opening of all gymnasia to girls and the establishment of coeducation at all secondary school levels resulted in the elimination of lyces for girls. This, in turn, diminished the need for separate secondary schools for girls. Also, lycea were more or less a terminal station in education. They did not prepare young women for university studies and became less useful as more and more women considered education above the secondary level. The principal direction of study at the lycea for girls was oriented towards the future of women as educated mothers and housewives, but not much more. Lycea quickly lost their appeal since they did not have much practical use. Many lycea were transformed into gymnasia in 1922.
Secondary school students constituted only about 1% of the total population in the First Republic. Only about 40% of those who entered secondary schools actually graduated from them. Out of those 40%, only about one half continued their study at a university.(74) According to one source from 1932, there were 3688 women altogether studying at Czechoslovak universities in the school year 1929-30.(75) Most of these women studied at the philosophical faculties.
Universities in the new Czechoslovakia underwent a considerable development after 1918, beneficial for both male and female students. Seven new universities were founded in 1919 and 1920 in the cities of Prague, Brno, and Bratislava.(76) The Prague University was rechristened to bear its original name, Charles University, in 1920. A new relationship between the Czech and German parts of the university was established. The new arrangement favored the Czech part by giving it the exclusive ownership of the historical university building and its center, the Karol num. It also gave the Czechs the ownership of the archives and the official seals.(77)
Women in Czechoslovakia benefitted from this development in many ways. Importantly, they were allowed to study law immediately in 1918. The first female doctor of law graduated from Charles University in Prague in 1922, and many more followed. (78) According to one source, 80 women were enrolled at the law faculties in the first school year, 1918-19, the faculties were open to them. In the 1920-30 academic year, 517 women combined for the Czech and the German parts of all universities were enrolled at the faculties of law. Out of 517 total, 421 were enrolled at the Czech departments and 96 at the German.(79)
All technical colleges were open to women in 1919. According to the same source, technical colleges had 134 women enrolled in the school year 1919-20, and 282 in 1930-31. Here the numbers of Czech and German students were listed within individual departments, and Czechs as a majority ethnic group prevail in all of them.(80)
Czech women were ahead of Slovak women in both secondary school and university education. The joining of Slovakia to the Czech lands in 1918 meant that the Slovaks now enjoyed the same rights as the Czechs, and that was true also for women. The numbers of women in universities in the two parts were quite different. At the beginning of the 1921-22 academic year, 125 women students were enrolled at the Czech part of Charles University in Prague, 23 at the German part of the same university. At the same time, 18 women students were enrolled at Masaryk's University in Brno and 7 at Comenius University in Bratislava. At the same time, 1980 and 906 men were enrolled at Charles, 516 at Masaryk University, and 192 at Comenius. In the 1928-29 school year there were 3452 men and 235 women at Czech Charles, 1389 men and 78 women at German Charles, 986 men and 44 women at Masaryk University, and 843 men and 50 women at Comenius.(81) The numbers show a noticeable increase of both men and women university students, and the increase is proportional to the size and location of the individual universities. This indicates an evenly distributed interest by both women and men in university study in the First Republic.
Czech university women in Prague developed an early awareness as a cultural group and consistently kept proving their awareness through their actions. Already in 1908, Czech women founded Sdruzeni akademicky vzdelanych zen (The Association of Academically Educated Women), which grew out of a loose interest group Zensky krouzek (Women's Circle) and its subgroup Slavia.(82) Sdruzeni was founded with specific tasks in mind. The original goals of Sdru en included securing the entry of women into the law faculty; rearrangement of secondary schools for girls, especially the lycea; care for female students at all levels of higher schools; and assistance to the female graduates with finding appropriate employment.(83) These goals were pushed aside with the beginning of the war, and Sdruzeni instead devoted its time and effort to war-related activities. It arranged various lectures and courses on issues concerning war-related health problems and the effects of the war economy.
Sdruzeni continued its activity soon after World War One only very briefly, at first. The Sdruzeni members decided as early as 1919 that it was not necessary for them to continue in their activities because the new Czechoslovak Constitution guaranteed gender equality in all spheres of life. Sdruzeni was disbanded in 1919, because "women-academics assumed that there was no need for a separatist women's association in the new conditions."(84) The new conditions, however, did not prove to be as favorable to women's equality as had been, somewhat idealistically, expected. Gender equality was established on paper, but such a radical change could not take root overnight. It took the core group of women university graduates only a few years to recognize that it would take time to translate legal change into practice. At the beginning of 1922, Doctor Albina Honzakova, together with several other women doctors and professors, re-founded the Sdruzeni. The continuing tendency to regard feminism as a means, not as a goal in itself, might be best illustrated by the words of the Sdruzeni's main founding member, Honzakova herself:
"Our 'Sdruzeni' must be feminist in the most beautiful sense, it must do away with all that prevents woman from fully developing herself as a human being, [it must] do away with all that puts distance between and alienates woman and man."(85)
The members broke the Sdruzeni down into regional associations. Not surprisingly, one of the first issues to be solved was the question of nationality. At the first meeting, the members decided that women of all nationalities could join Sdruzeni, provided they were Czechoslovak citizens. As a result, the German section of Sdruzeni was established in 1926, as well as a Moravian section in Brno and a Slovak section in Bratislava.(86) Sections were not limited entirely to ethnicity. They were also organized along professional lines, such as the section of women in the legal profession or the section of women medical doctors. Sdruzeni went even so far as to change its rules in 1928 to accommodate a new section of Russian immigrant women with university education.(87) Within all of its sections, Sdruzeni developed a number of educational and cultural activities, aimed principally at expanding the numbers of college-educated women and raising the interest of the public in women's university study.
Women's success in entering all types of universities and achieving professional degrees were soon reflected in the workplace. The source Ceho jsme docilily... Deset let prace Sdruzeni vysokoskolsky vzdelanych zen v RCS, published by Sdruzeni in 1932, devotes pages 98 through 107 to a detailed account of women with university degrees employed in public and other services as of the end of 1931. The account lists women employees at all ministries, including university and secondary school professors, women lawyers, women medical doctors, and women pharmacists. It lists only women with a completed university education who were employed and paid as university graduates. This simply means that there probably were more women with university degrees at that time in Czechoslovakia than listed in this source. Women not listed just did not hold employment commensurate with their educational degrees.
According to this account, there were 69 women university professors, and 767 women secondary school professors working in Czechoslovakia at the end of 1931. There were over 100 women lawyers working both in private practice and in various government organizations, including the ministries. There were 282 Czech women medical doctors working in Prague, and 357 working outside of Prague. At the same time, there were 163 German women medical doctors working both in and outside of Prague. There were 261 women pharmacists working in Czechoslovakia at that time. These numbers represent a significant achievement for the first full generation of women university graduates in Czechoslovakia. The authors caution it was very difficult to find all women university graduates working as free-lancers, especially where such professionals did not have an obligation to register with a professional association of some sort. This concerned mainly women working in legal and technical professions. The numbers are very likely incomplete and at best represent only an approximation of the real situation.
Nevertheless, this sketch provides a very clear idea of the impact that women's free entry into higher education had on women and on the society as a whole. This first full generation of professional women influenced Czechoslovak society in more than one way. It had a key influence on the slow change in overall public opinion, helping both men and women slowly get accustomed to the idea of a professional woman. The first generation exerted considerable influence on the younger generation of women, inspiring more and more of them to become independent professionals. It changed the social composition of student bodies and inspired a new atmosphere at the universities. In a word, it was one of the many components which made interwar Czechoslovakia a progressive and well-developed Central European country.
By the 1930s, women in Czechoslovakia were well-established as students in higher education and as professionals in the work place. The period of the 1930s was, however, a setback for the whole nation, and the educational system was one of the many deeply affected areas. The 1930s disrupted the continuity of the women's rights movement and brought at least a slowdown, if not a setback, to the quest for women's equality. (88) There were multiple causes to the setback, rooted in economic, political, and specific national problems. In the economy, the Great Depression played an important role as it hit Czechoslovakia and caused wide-spread unemployment. As the economy worsened with the approach of World War Two, the woman's question was less and less important and pushed into the background by the more pressing issues of economy and national security. As a result, women were affected by the unemployment crisis more than men.
It is hard to measure women's position in higher education at the end of the 1930s, since statistical volumes similar to those published by Sdruzeni vysokoskolsky vzdelanych zen ceased. This disappearance of certain publications can be attributed to changes in the economy and later to the beginning of the new world war. When it would have been time to publish another commemorative and statistical volume, the war had already started.
The appreciable achievement of women in the cultural, social, and economic fields in the First Czechoslovak Republic was initiated and continuously inspired by several crucial personalities of the First Republic. The first President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was among men the greatest advocate of women's equality in interwar Czechoslovakia. Masaryk believed in complete gender equality in all areas of life, and Czech women's rights activists adored him for that.(89) He was the first to state openly that his opinion on women was formed and shaped, primarily, by his own wife, Charlotte Masaryk. It is well known that Charlotte was an American from a well-to-do Protestant Boston family, that she received a solid musical education in Germany where she and Masaryk first met, and that she possessed the opinions of a feminist. One of the first books Charlotte and Tom read together was John Stuart Mill's Subjection of Women, a book which Charlotte later translated into Czech. Masaryk loved his wife deeply, and they enjoyed a marriage full of lasting mutual love and respect, as well as continued professional cooperation.
Masaryk was remarkably progressive in his opinions on the rights and status of women. As a in deputy in the Austrian Reichstag, he advocated in the 1890s for the free entry of women into gymnasia and universities. He was also the politician who put the clause about absolute gender equality into the Washington Declaration. Well before he became the celebrated first President, Masaryk wrote and spoke about the necessity of a complete overhaul of the social view of women. He believed that women were equal to men, the only difference being in women's reproductive functions. His famous statement "... there is not a woman's question, and there is not a man's question; there is only the question of society" (90) best illustrates his stand on the so-called woman question. Masaryk was convinced that women's equality could be attained only through a moral rebirth of the whole society. He saw a cure in consistent monogamic relationship between men and women, which, in turn, would help establish healthy and stable marriages. Women must become equal partners to men, not their slaves, he believed.
Masaryk was convinced that women were not better or worse that men, rather that they "are generally on the same level of development with men"(91). He cautioned that women's skills in politics and professional fields should not be judged hastily:
"And as regards offices, art, sciences, and politics, women have barely started to penetrate such fields; and with this unreasonable haste we already judge whether they can do it or not. Men had thousands of years to learn such matters, and they still often do their work badly."(92)
Women's emancipation was a topic of passionate interest for the first President and he was women's best advocate. On the other hand, he understood that after women had received full legal guarantees of equality, they must achieve the real change through their own actions. He never hesitated to let women know that all depended on their own work.
There were many important women activists in the First Republic who deserve credit for the continued progress of women in higher education. Every woman who graduated from a secondary school or a university and became a professional in her field deserves a credit for enhancing the position of women in Czechoslovakia. Among all the many professional women, one of the most deserving was Plaminkova, a teacher, activist, and later a politician. (93) She was a woman of many deeds, she was an excellent orator, but not necessarily a writer. Born in 1875, she came of age in time to be involved in the emancipation movement. She participated in the establishment of many Czech women's associations, including the most important one, Zensky klub cesky (Czech Women's Club) in 1904. She was active in many campaigns for women's rights in various areas. She was one of the foremost activists in the struggle for putting an end to the celibacy law, for equal franchise, and for the legal establishment of the equal status of male and female teachers according to the 1922 educational law. Plaminkova later became a member of the National Socialist Party and a Senator.
The First Republic produced other women politicians and women's rights activists, although the number of women parliamentary deputies remained generally low, only around 10-15.(94) Frana Zeminova was a deputy chair of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, and Betty Karpiskova was a deputy chair of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.
The First Czechoslovak Republic was a very positive period for the women's rights movement. Despite the fact that Czechoslovak society was not an ideal society and not every citizen was a champion of women's equality, women fared very well throughout the duration of the republic. Measured by the achievements of women in higher education and their subsequent entry into the professions, it was a time of great success. Women began to be accepted as colleagues and as professionals of equal stature with men. All types of schools without exception were open to women. Coeducation was introduced into all types of schools, although gender-separated schools were maintained in large numbers. The proportional equality of men and women professors at both schools was required by law. During the interwar period, women became citizens with full rights.
When women started to suffer setbacks in their progress from the beginning of the 1930s, the causes were largely external. The determining causes of the slowdown and stagnation in the women's rights movement were coming from external influences such as the world-wide Great Depression and the onset and the subsequent development of German Naziism. The continuity of women's rights was disturbed from without, not from within. On the whole, the First Republic represented a period of a great boom of women's rights, a flourishing resulting directly from the work and demands of women's rights activist in the Austrian Czech Lands. The Czech political leaders, guided by the principles of the first President, T G Masaryk, did not put aside what Czech women's rights activists wanted prior to the national independence, and were able to help them make their wishes come true.
If World War One brought stagnation to the women's rights movement and a temporary slowdown of women's journey to equality in higher education, then World War Two meant a complete breach in the continuity of the Czech women's rights movement. Czech elementary and secondary schools system suffered enormous losses throughout the war, losses which affected both male and female Czech students without difference. With the Munich Diktat in 1938, all Czech schools in the Sudeten Lands were closed and some were turned into German schools. Many Czech families moved out of the newly German borderlands into the inner parts of the country and their children started attending schools there. This movement caused an undesired increase in the number of students in Czech schools.
Some numbers from a historical source written some years later might help to illustrate the effects of Nazi-directed germanization on the Czech schools. The number of elementary German schools rose from 130 to 333 between 1939 and 1945, and the number of German secondary schools rose from 36 to 78 during the same time. Czech schools suffered a proportionate drop. Czech elementary schools dropped by 1102 and Czech secondary schools by 147 during the same time. Only 8 out of the 17 Czech classical gymnasia and a mere 13 out of the total 29 Czech pedagogical institutes survived the war. (95)
Czech universities suffered by far the most serious blow of all Czech educational institutions. All Czech universities were closed down as a response to a student demonstration in fall 1939. The students and other Czech citizens demonstrated in protest over the death of a young Czech worker, Vaclav Sedlacek, and Czech medical student Jan Opletal, both mortally wounded by the German police during a gathering to celebrate the national independence day on October 28, 1939. In response, the Nazis arrested and shot, without a trial, nine student leaders on November 17, 1939, and sent about 1200 Czech students to concentration camps.(96) The Germans then ordered all Czech universities to be closed down for three years. After three years went by, this order was extended for an indefinite period.(97) Both Czech men and Czech women students were barred from access to Czech university studies. The German part of Charles University in Prague, however, was open and running during the war years.
Throughout the war, German schools in the Protectorate were maintained and developed. New German schools were founded, while Czech schools were gradually eliminated. This policy affected both elementary and secondary schools. Czech children were encouraged to attend German schools, and they were accepted to German schools even if their knowledge of German was imperfect. The curriculum in the still existing Czech schools had changed as well. The subjects "Czech history" and "Czech literature" were gradually whittled down until they were eliminated from schools altogether in 1941 and substituted by German history and literature, all taught in German.(98) The higher classes of Czech secondary schools were eventually eliminated in 1944 since all the older students were sent to Germany to work in the war industry.(99)
This policy on the part of the German state had a clear goal, and that goal was a total and complete elimination of the Czech intelligentsia. It was consistent with the German goal of using the Slavic people for manual work and of their eventual elimination. This policy continued until the end of the war, and the resulting loss to the Czech intelligentsia was enormous. Many Czech literary figures, artists, and professors perished in the camps or were executed during the war. Among them were also some of the best-known representatives of women's rights movement, such as Frantiska Plaminkova, Betty Karpiskova, and Anna Ziegloserova, to name just a few.
When the war was finally over, the surviving Czech women leaders met to renew the prewar women's organization, Zenska narodni rada (Women's National Council). They founded an organization called Rada Ceskoslovenskych zen (Council of Czechoslovak Women). The existence of the Council as an independent organization was short-lived. It was replaced, after 1948, with the official communist women's organization, Cesky svaz zen (The Czech Union of Women).
Some significant Czech women leaders became victims of the communist show trials in the 1940s and 1950s. It was a tragic coincidence that many women and men who survived the German concentration camps came to a violent end in the hands of their own government. Milada Horakova, an attorney, a women's rights leader, a member of the National Socialist Party, and one of Plaminkova's coworkers from the prewar period, was the ultimate victim of communism. Accused of conspiracy under the criminal code of the new socialist republic, this brave, highly educated, but also deeply religious woman was executed in Prague in June, 1950, together with three male politicians charged with the same crime. During the same trial in which Horakova was sentenced to death, another female member of the National Socialist Part and its prewar Deputy Chair, Frana Zeminova, was accused of criminal activity and sentenced to jail.
The interim years 1945-1948 in Czechoslovakia went by fast and were filled with political power struggles. The Communist Party finally scored its fateful victory on 25 February, 1948, and Czechoslovakia officially started its journey towards communism. The following forty years were to evolve under the firm hand of communist rules and laws which concerned every single citizen of the country, including women. The foundation of communism was the complete equality of all citizens regardless of gender or any other differences. Thus the Czechoslovak Constitution of 9 June, 1948, which built upon the prewar Czechoslovak constitution, established "freedom of the person ... to all its citizens, men and women alike", and stated that franchise is "universal, equal, direct, and secret". (100) The constitution also stipulated, as a part of Rights and Duties of Citizens, that "Men and women shall hold equal position in the family and in the community and shall have equal access to education, and to all professions, offices and honours."(101) In the section on Social Rights, women were guaranteed the equal right to work and equal remuneration as men for equal work. Women were also expressly guaranteed "special regulations of conditions of work, in view of the circumstances of pregnancy, maternity and child care", and "special care in the events of pregnancy and maternity".(102) These rights and guarantees were repeated in subsequent new editions of the Czechoslovak constitution.
The communist constitutional provisions for women's status in society were unquestionably progressive. In many ways, they represented a positive continuation of the women's rights movement, and a lasting fulfillment of the goals of its prewar leaders. The problem was, of course, that the whole society was under totalitarian rule of communist hegemony. No citizen and no social group enjoyed any "freedom of the person". There was a serious discrepancy between citizen rights on paper and in reality. A similar discrepancy naturally affected women's equality. The rule of equal employment opportunity and of equal remuneration for men and women was never fully implemented at the workplace. The communist economy preferred heavy industry to light industry and to intellectual jobs, and consequently paid the workers in heavy industry the best wages. Most men held better jobs and received better salaries than women because of their ability to perform harder physical work.
One area in which Czech women had to wait for an improvement beyond the June 1948 constitution was, interestingly, family law. Throughout the First Republic and until 1949, Austrian family law dating from 1811 was still valid. Under the old code, man was the "head of the family who directed the household, specified the location of the family dwelling, decided about the fate of the children, and his wife was obliged to listen to him and to assist him".(103) The new law adopted by the Communists in January, 1950, provided that "man and woman are equal in rights and responsibilities in the family, that they have the obligation to live together, to be faithful to each other and to help each other". (104) Paradoxically, this new communist law was drafted by the attorney Milada Horakova, who, at the time of its adoption, was a prisoner of the communist authorities, waiting for her death as the enemy of the people.
Rules on maternity and maternal leave closely affected the function of family under communism. State protection of maternal functions remains a contentious issue for most feminists till this day. Much has been written about the paternalistic function the state takes on by granting such laws. It is my belief that, regardless of all possible negative consequences, protecting maternity was an excellent provision under communism. Its effects, however, would have been better if men's function as fathers were also supported by the state. In reality, men continued being defined primarily as the family breadwinners, and women as the only beings who could deal with child care and household work adequately.
The constitutional wording "equal position in the family" certainly applied only to the legal status, not to the daily functioning of the family. Family remained gender-divided, and this division translated itself into other spheres of life, such as the workplace. Women were expected to perform all household work and child care duties on top of holding mostly full-time jobs. The socialist woman's "double burden" or even "triple burden" of full-time employment combined with running the household in the poorly supplied communist economy and taking care of all child care duties is notoriously known and has been analyzed by many researchers.(105)
Czech society, like many other, has retained its strong cultural belief that women are weaker than men in all respects, except for maternal functions, to this day. It is questionable whether the concept of instituting a change from above could have gone a few steps further, and whether it could have helped people change at least some areas of gendered thinking. If men and women were to be equal in the family, the traditional gender-based division of roles within the family would have had to be restructured. This could have been accomplished through certain measures, for example through instituting paternity leave for fathers of newborns. Women were encouraged, and even forced by the laws and the family economic situation, to join the economy in full-time jobs and perform both the function of the parent and of the worker full-time. Men would have had to be encouraged from above to take over some of the women's household and child care work burden to balance out the inequality. Nothing of that sort happened, however. At the same time, it is not clear that Czech women would have welcomed such changes. After all, home and family became a sort of a woman's sanctuary under communism, a sphere which the majority of Czech women preferred to the work place.
It is impossible to overlook the fact that the communist policies were created and instituted almost exclusively by male politicians. That, in itself, is not unusual or limited to communist economies, but asking for laws which would produce some overlapping of the traditionally male and female family functions is certainly somewhat unrealistic in such conditions. In communist societies, women were put in the workplace and the professions almost overnight, but no equivalent move was made for men. In capitalist societies with developed feminist movements, women eventually made it into the workplace and the professions, even if later and in initially in smaller numbers than women in communist economies. The difference is that men in capitalist economies also made it into the delivery rooms to assist their wives in the birthing effort.
Women's equality in political offices was another highly questionable matter under communism. The Communist government instituted a quota system under which a certain number of women had to hold offices in every political body to ensure the fulfillment of provisions asking for equal political representation of all citizens. Thus women were often selected for offices just so that the party could register the proper fulfillment of its quota.(106) At the same time, however, women were rarely promoted to a higher political position than one in which they started. The highest proportion of women Communist Central Committee members occurred in the 1930s. The first female Czechoslovak Minister, Ludmila Jankovcova, was appointed in 1947. The second female Czechoslovak Minister, Bozena Machacova-Docekalova, was appointed in 1954. Close to one third of the deputies in the National Assembly were women during the communist period.(107)
Women made an easy transition from prewar to postwar secondary schools and universities. Several sources list the numerical and the percentile share of women in institutions of higher learning before and after World War Two. In the academic year 1936-37, women constituted 44, 553, or about 34%, out of the total 128, 226 of secondary school students in 1933-34, and 35.4% of all secondary school students in Czechoslovakia. In the academic years 1933-34 and 1934-35, women constituted 4561, or about 14%, of the total 32, 295 of all university students.(108) There had been an increase in the total numbers of university students between the school years 1936-37 and 1945-46, but the share of women as university students increased only a little during that time. In 1936-37, women constituted 4063 university students out of the total 23, 435, or about 17%. In 1945-46, the numbers were 10, 148 out of the total 54, 902, or about 18,5%. Within the Czech lands, the numbers were 3724 women out of the total 21, 356 in 1936-37, and 8530 women out of the total 46, 230 in 1945-46. In Slovakia, the corresponding increase was even more dramatic, 339 women out of the total 2, 079 in 1936-37 went up to 1618 women out of the total 8672 in 1945-46.(109) This increase in the number of all students is partially attributable to the reopening of Czech universities after the war, and to the postwar effort to rebuild the Czech intelligentsia.
The number of women at all educational levels grew steadily throughout the communist period according to official Czechoslovak statistical sources. By 1973-1974 academic year, women constituted 62.8% of all non-vocational secondary school students, and 55.6% of all vocational secondary school students. In the same year, 39.8% of all university students were women.(110) Fifteen years later, in 1989-90, women constituted a little over 60% of all Czechoslovak gymnasia students. (111) Women accounted for 39, 575 out of the total 88, 751 university students in the Czech Republic, or about 44.6%; and 22, 486 out of the total 49, 154 in the Slovak Republic, or about 45.7%, by the academic year 1989-90.(112)
The number of women in the workforce also showed an increase between the First Republic and the communist Czechoslovakia. According to the yearly statistical figures, women accounted for a little over 28% of the total workforce in the year 1930.(113) After the war, the number of women in the workforce kept rising until it reached a relatively stable level in the 1950s. Women constituted 37,8% of the total workforce in 1948, and the percentage rose to 42.2% by 1957.(114) The distribution of women in the workforce, however, underwent some dramatic changes between 1948 and the 1990s. There were only several branche s of industry in which women workers constituted the majority of workers in 1948, health care combined with social work, and agriculture. Women accounted for 60% of the former and for a little over 50% of the latter.
The situation is different today. Women constituted 75% of the total workforce in health care in 1995. Only a little over 35% of workers in agriculture were women. Women accounted for 70% of all workers in financing and insurance, and more than 70% in education by 1995. Women also constituted more than 50% of employees in services and sales of consumer goods, and in catering and hotel services.(115) All these professions showed a steady increase in the participation of women throughout the whole communist period. The 1990s, so far, do not show much of a difference in this trend.
It can be concluded from these numbers that the continuity of women's access to equality in higher education was not disturbed during the communist period. Measured by the numbers, communist policies clearly helped to develop what women's rights leaders started in the last century. The positive effect of communism on women's status in any field, however, is a matter that hardly anyone in the post-1989 Czech society would readily admit. Anything associated with communism receives an obligatory negative label. The egalitarian communist policies, however, insured a certain continuity in the Czech women's rights movement. Since Czech women reached a relatively high level of liberation before World War Two, the communist policies in effect merely continued what the war temporarily stopped as regards the evolution of women's status. Regarding the impact of Communism on women's position in society, one Czech sociologist commented:
"... the communist emancipation 'from above' was not perceived as outlandish and cruel an implant as it was perceived in other countries, where communism invaded a conservative and strongly religious environment. That is why we can consider it, in a way, a continuation of this 'traditional' continuity."(116)
Under communism, all universities and secondary schools were open to Czech women. After just two decades of communism, however, patterns developed which indicated women's preferences for certain professions. Some of the most heavily feminized professions included teaching, health care, law, sales, and the service sector. Statistical sources indicate a corresponding distribution of women at Czech and Slovak universities according to field of study. Pedagogical colleges, together with philosophical and pharmaceutical faculties, had a steady seventy-plus percent enrollment of female students from the academic year 1959-60 to 1979-80. Close behind, with fifty-plus percent enrollment of women students over the same time period, were medical and law faculties, and the natural sciences. Finally, the colleges of economics saw an increase from about 35-40% in 1959-60 to 60% in 1979-80.(117) Women tended to pay the least attention to technical colleges, especially to electrical and mechanical engineering faculties, and to colleges of agriculture.
Feminization of certain professions brought with it serious negative effects. Heavily feminized professions tend to have low average salaries and low social status. A typical over-feminized profession in the modern Czech Lands is teaching. This profession was one of the first open to women in the nineteenth century, but only the 1922 school law instituted measures to insure an equal share of female teachers in all schools. It is necessary to realize, however, that the majority of women teachers drops proportionately with the rising educational levels. Thus in 1970 Czechoslovakia, all preschool teachers were women, in primary schools women constituted over 70% of all teachers, at secondary schools women teachers accounted for about 40% of all teachers, and at universities women teachers barely reached 20% of the total.(118) This picture reflects the influence of several factors. More women than men prefer to work with young children which facilitates the channeling of women into kindergarten and elementary school jobs. Teachers at schools of higher learning receive higher salaries, and secondary school and university jobs have a higher level of prestige attached to them.
Feminization of teaching has been commonly attributed to several factors, which include the need for men to work in other areas of the industry, and"the surviving traditional views in public opinion that teaching and educational professions are especially suitable for women".(119) It is hard to tell where this alleged tradition was supposed to have survived from, since women only began achieving equal representation as teachers after 1922. According to the yearly Czechoslovak statistical data, women accounted for 49.8% of the total workforce in education, culture, and physical training in 1948.(120) Regarding women as prime material for the teaching profession might have originated prior to communism, but it certainly took full effect only under communism. Many individuals who spent their life in education could probably confirm it, as one older teacher did when she wrote:
"'When I started to teach in the year 1956, every second teacher used to be a man.' ... ' When the older male teachers were leaving, there was no substitute for them. By the end of the 1960s, men became an exception in the schools."(121)
A better argument is connected with the well-known division of life under communism into private and public spheres. Public spheres included politics and the workplace. The private sphere was represented primarily by the family. Women preferred the private family sphere, and men were generally expected to keep a prominent presence in the public sphere. Teaching is one of the professions in which the difference between the private and the public is not as pronounced as in other professions.
A communist researcher expressed this reality quite well when she wrote that"the inner conflict between the role of woman in the family and her social mission is perceived relatively less (122) in teaching than in other professions.
But if this is so, what, then, accounts for the large majority of women in professions such as health care, sales, finances, insurance, and catering and hospitality services? Only some of them, especially health care, display certain characteristics of tasks associated with traditionally female skills. The majority of the above-named professions share the unifying characteristic of their low salary. None of these professions belonged among well-paid work under communism. The communist researchers found an easy way out and attributed women's preponderance in such professions to:
"the conservative opinions of woman's occupation which evaluate the socially productive activity of woman first of all as a means to gaining a supplementary income for the family. Such opinions have the nature of the residual bourgeois and petite bourgeois thinking."(123)
This argument was common under communism, but it does not mention that women did not, with the exception of health care, form a majority in any of these professions at the end of the "bourgeois" period. It also does not explain a variety of other factors affecting over-feminization of certain professions. Women's majority in such professions should be more properly viewed as evidence of intentional channeling of women into professions which the society needed, but which did not bring an income substantial enough for the male family breadwinner. These professions were ones which many women in any society prefer, for example professions involving work with young children, and health care professions.
This gendered segmentation of the workforce was closely connected with the situation of women in higher education. By the 1960s, women formed the majority of students at all secondary schools, including gymnasia, vocational schools, and technical schools. Most women secondary school graduates, however, went directly into the workplace. This was true even about women graduates from gymnasia, which were designed primarily to prepare students for further university study. About 65% of female gymnasia graduates went directly into the workplace, while about 80% of men gymnasia graduates went into universities.(124)
Another important fact determining the position of women in higher education under communism was the early marriage age for both men and women. There were not many areas in which an individual could look for professional and personal satisfaction under the strict communist rules. For most women, the private sphere of family represented the primary area for personal fulfillment and they desired to start a family early in life. Getting a university degree seemed an unnecessary obstacle in starting a family and most young women readily sacrificed their potential professional independence to having a family. An unmarried young woman studying for an advanced degree into her mid or late twenties was commonly perceived as an oddity. This pattern prevailed well into the 1980s, and still might be commonplace in small and rural communities. In such communities, however, this pattern is by no means unique to the Czech Republic or Eastern Europe.
Czech women played an interesting role in the Czechoslovak dissident movement. It is well-known, for example, that the pivotal Czechoslovak dissident organization, Charter 77, always kept a woman among its rotating four-member speakers' committee. The peak of the Czechoslovak reform movement, the 1960s, produced a wealth of talent in all spheres, and a fair share of it was represented by women who later formed a part of the small dissident movement. A few women's names can even be discovered in books on the Prague Spring and the dissident activity of the 1970s and 1980s. Higher education seems to have been a factor in women's participation in the dissident movement. Most dissident women held university degrees, even if they ended up not working in their chosen profession due to political persecution. Jirina Siklova, for example, once a dissident and now a Charles University Professor, is a trained sociologist. Another active dissident and the late post-1989 Czechoslovak diplomat, Rita Klimova , had a degree in economics.
Unfortunately, very little material exists on Czech women's participation in the dissident movement. The sociologist Jirina Siklova is one of the few who attempted to clarify the status of Czech women in that movement. In a short lecture from 1991, she stated that women formed 18% of the Charter 77 signatories, and that there were 34% of women among its speakers. Another well-known dissident organization, Vybor na ochranu nespravedlive stihanych, or VONS, allegedly had at least a 50% female membership. There were three women among the ten defendants in the 1979 trial against the VONS members, and women formed one quarter of all defendants in the following large political trial in 1981.(125)
A unique book was compiled by one Czech female dissident, the writer Eva Kanturkova. Entitled Sesly jsme se v teto knize (We Met In This Book), it is a collection of interviews with twelve women who in some way participated in the dissident movement, mostly through the involvement of their husbands, fathers, or sons. Most got involved after the crushing of the Prague Spring. Kanturkova sat down with each of them and let them answer her questions concerning their respective ways of dealing with the consequences of the communist persecution. Why did she decide to create a uniquely female account? "Not for feminine reasons," she said. "After all," she continued, "Feminism was eradicated from our society by its insensitive transformation into a new way of enslaving woman through her forced employment. Thus if women in Czechoslovakia strive for something for themsel ves, then it is their undeformed feminine humanness rather than their employment." (126)
The original intention for compiling this account was to give a chance for women, who were left at home alone after their dissident husbands were sent to jail, to express the ideas of their temporarily silenced men. Gradually, however, the author began to realize that the women were telling her their own stories. She came to believe that the women's stories were unique because women, in general, are less able than men to generalize abstract notions. Instead, they tell the stories of their lives and through it, the story of the world as they lived it.
The interviewed women's feelings about communism were by no means positive. They felt the oppressive hand of the state directly on themselves or on their close ones. One of them, Jirina Hrabkova, the wife of the dissident and the post-1989 politician Jiri Ruml, created a very faithful portrait of what was expected of women under communism:
"... socialism gave woman actually only one right, the right to work a lot. ... Even today woman is asked mainly to work and work. To have functions and be beneficial to the public. To stand in lines for hours and to cook well, to do the laundry and to keep the house clean, to do homework with children because school does not manage it too well, but also to educate her children and to find the time to go outdoors with them, but also, for God's sake, to educate herself and if she does not have any profession, to go to school or some classes and also to some political courses and, on top of it, to look nice and well-groomed and to look ahead with certainty to the socialist future." (127)
A modern Western woman reading these lines will likely question the difference between Hrabkova's word and their own experience. But differences there were. One obvious difference was the level of political indoctrination attached to everything under communism, and the subsequent almost complete loss of the private sphere of life. Other differences felt primarily by women were in the scarcity of common goods, in the low quality and unavailability of common services and household appliances, and in low quality of health care and the school system.
What did the label of "the ideal socialist woman" get Czech women by 1989? It got them an interesting hybrid of progress. They gained equality at all levels of education and the workplace, and they had enjoyed, theoretically, equal chance to hold political office. They had proved their equality at almost all levels of education and in many jobs. They had not shown a serious interest in reaching substantial numbers in political offices, but that can be attributed in a large part to the stigma of communist ideology. Judging from the numbers of women as secondary school and university students, though, Czech women had done very well for themselves under communism.
The prewar Czechoslovak Republic undoubtedly had a positive effect on Czech women under communism. In the First Czechoslovak Republic, women enjoyed equal access to higher education through their own hard work, and they were well on their way to becoming equal in the professions. Communism confirmed and extended women's equality at all levels of education and in the professions. The prewar maturity of women as a social group with a clear awareness of their status put Czech women into an advantageous position in the postwar period. The concept of a working woman was common well before World War Two, and the concept of an educated woman quickly became acceptable to the public at large during the same era.
It is probably safe to assume that had communism not come to Czechoslovakia, Czech women would have continued their prewar ascent to equality in higher education and the learned professions. They would have done well mainly because of their prewar record as a highly literate social group. In the context of Western Europe and the United States, women in Czec hoslovakia enjoyed a very similar share in higher education after Worl War Two. (128) Communism, however, speeded up women's rise to equality in higher education.
"Single, college-educated women older than 26? These girls just don't have any chances to find a matching partner. In a dating agency run by a marriage counseling office such women had about a 10% chance -- and they could not be too demanding." (129)
"I would like to mention another very important factor, and that is the handicap of college-educated women. At the time these women graduate, their female peers already push strollers around or take their kid to day care or to kindergarten. Universities provide solely a chance for the possibility of a start of a certain specialized profession, but to be successful at such a profession, one must continue the process of studying and self-education. Women-academics are delayed at this start first of all because they want (at least the majority of them) to be mothers at an age which is optimal for motherhood - or, more precisely, for the first child, ie, around the age of 25. If I exaggerate it a little bit, I will call the situation which occurs for such women a state of schizophrenia." (130)
"You will never get married with this education!", proclaims the title of one of the articles cited above. It is obviously directed at college-educated women, who, for reasons not completely understandable to the majority of their peers, give up their best childbearing years in order to gain an entry into the world of professional jobs. One tends to gain an impression from this and similar articles that attending a university and attempting a professional career is still considered something close to a social suicide among Czech women. The language of statistics, however, speaks differently. The average age at which young people in the Czech Republic get married rose from 24 years to 26.2 for men and from 21.4 to 23.9 for women between the years 1990 and 1994.(131) Interestingly, the average marriage age returned from the communism-induced low age of about 20 - 22 for women to where it used to be during the First Republic, to around 25. The number of women students both at secondary schools and at universities has not decreased since 1989, and women have maintain a steady presence in the workforce. What is happening?
After the Velvet Revolution swept the country and the clouds of ecstatic happiness lifted to make place for more sober thought, Czech women found themselves at a crossroads. They could keep going down the road of the notoriously well-known communist model of the tired mother/wife/worker. They could leave their jobs and become full-time mothers and wives. The wives of the newly rich entrepreneurs could think of staying at home or working only part-time and devoting some time to their own well-being and good looks. Alternatively, women could forget about the family and become professional career women, or they could become full-time political career women in the democratically elected parliament or in the local governmental bodies. The result of their choice, however, depended on women's personal wishes only to a small degree. Mostly, it depended on the economic potential of their husbands and the overall economic conditions of their family. Only one thing was for certain, the days of the hated ideal of the communist woman worker/mother/wife/political functionary were over.
When the 1989 Velvet Revolution hit, Czech women suffered from long-term fatigue produced by the double work burden. They were tired of any type of political involvement. The fact that most of them kept their jobs was often caused by economic necessity, in many cases coupled with the women's desire for social and professional satisfaction which many of them derived from their jobs. On the other hand, the majority of women did not feel like creating mass organizations defined solely by the concept of "womanhood", whatever the concept might entail to them, and they did not feel like getting politically involved.(132) Czech women prefer to gather around issues of specific interest, such as concern for the health of their children, or their professional interests, rather than on the sole basis of belonging to the female part of population.
The formation of the universally accepted concept of an employed and educated woman started in the Czech society early, in some ways already before World War One. The process was fully launched in the interwar democratic Czechoslovakia, and forty years of communism completed it in many ways. Czech sociologists of the 1990s agree that "'to be employed' is generationally fixed into the values and value systems of both men and women"(133). Women in the Czech society are "fully integrated into socially demographic or socially professional groups"(134). Czech women are perceived as different from Czech men primarily in the context of the firmly embedded cultural paradigms of gender-divided housework and child care. This gender segregation is demonstrated strongly in high feminization of certain professions, such as preschool and elementary school teaching and certain areas of health care. In interest groups, social groups, higher educational institutions, and workplaces other than the feminized fields, Czech women do not form a monolithic group of their own, and they also do not see themselves as separate or different from the men in the group. And yet, their potential as an educated and culturally mature social group remains in many ways underestimated and under utilized in the 1990s Czech society.
The current Constitution of the Czech Republic supports the concept of women as a fully integrated group. The constitution includes "women" in a group called "social minority", together with "youth" and "bodily handicapped persons"(135), for only one purpose. The purpose is "the right to an increased protection of health at work and for special work conditions".(136) One will not find the word "women" or "woman" ("zena", "zeny") associated with the right to equal education or to equal franchise. Instead, the constitution speaks of "everyone", "every citizen", "citizens" ("kazdy", "vsichni", "kazdy obcan","obcane") and other gender-nonspecific terms.(137)
This feature of modern Czechoslovak constitutional law should be considered positive and beneficial for both genders. It is a reflection of thinking about gender which developed over the decades of the twentieth century, and which entails both the complimentary and the conflicting factors affecting this development. Czech women are considered equal in all spheres of the society, but the duality of their roles as mothers/household caretakers and as workers is firmly embedded in the current thinking of both men and women. Czech women have equal access to higher education, but the majority of them keep signing up for traditionally "female" studies, such as humanities, pedagogy, medicine, pharmaceutics, and economics. Czech women have equal opportunities in the job market, but the fact that female work force is less desirable than male is publicly known. One only needs to inspect a few job advertisements that state open preference for male candidates to realize that.
Czech women thus form a social group of interesting characteristics. Some of these characteristics are the specific results of four decades of communism, but some appear universally in modern human societies. Czech women are used to a high level of their own independence, including financial independence, even though their labor is often rewarded less than comparable labor performed by men. They are used to studying at universities, but they also try to get married and start a family during or immediately after their college studies, which in turn puts them at a disadvantage in comparison with their male peer group. They know they are underpaid, but their attitude is often passive, even ignorant of this reality. Their characteristically uninformed attitude is reflected also in the way they think of the new women's movement activities. According to the December, 1991 research of Czech sociologists, only 5% of the women in the interviewed sample expressed a definite desire to participate actively in "the newly formed women's movements". 21% indicated they might participate, 68% sympathized with such initiatives, but would not participate, 5% would not like such activities at all, and 2% would be in an outright opposition to such activities. (138)
The same research brought interesting data regarding the degree of women's confidence in various institutions and official state organizations. Educational institutions fared, by far, the best of all. Only 15% of Czech women, and 12% of Slovak women, expressed lack of confidence in educational institutions. By comparison, 25% of Czech women, and 52% of Slovak women, expressed complete lack of confidence in the federal government. 38% of Czech women, and 27% of Slovak women, expressed complete lack of confidence in the Church. 36% of Czech women and 34% of Slovak women expressed complete lack of confidence in the legal system.
Women's relatively high satisfaction with the educational system in the early post-1989 society is also expressed in another measurement taken by researchers in the same study. Women were asked whether particular institutions and/or areas of public life held: 1. more advantages for men, 2. the same advantages for both men and women, or 3. more advantages for women. Education fared best here, too. Only 16% of Czechoslovak women chose option 1. 83% chose option 2, and only 1% chose option 3 about education. (139)
Women's positive perception of educational institutions in post-1989 Czech society should not be considered a remarkable matter, even in the context of the communist past. The educational system was supposedly one of the most heavily indoctrinated under communism. In reality, however, many teachers in Czech communist schools disregarded or circumvented official doctrine wherever and whenever they could. Unfortunately, no research was done to support this proposition, and one can rely only on the words and impressions of individuals who spent their lives under the system.(140) Objectivity in judging this issue is to large degree compromised. The impressions differ depending on what type of community and school the teachers experienced. Women's high level of confidence in the school system can, nevertheless, serve as yet another piece of evidence in favor of women's positive standing in higher education under communism.
It might also reflect the effects of the strong position which women gained in the private sphere of the Czech society. The private sphere was represented, first of all, by the family, which was the domain of women. Czech women maintained a strong presence in the family throughout forty years of communism and this presence has continued into the post-1989 democratic Czech society. At the same time, the school system became one of the primary spheres of employment for women. Education thus represented the sphere with the highest potential for the expression of women's influence. Especially elementary schools could share certain characteristics of the private sphere. The educational system was run from above by male managers, but daily class content was put together and presented primarily by female teachers.
Statistics confirm women's well-being in the workforce and in higher education in the post-1989 society. Women maintained a steady presence in the workforce in the 1990s, ranging from 44.3% in 1990 to 44.5% in 1995.(141) Women constituted 54,670 university students out of the total 91,409 in the Czech Republic during the academic year 1995-96, or almost 60%.(142) Data collected at the Gender Centre Library in Prague offers another perspective. Women with a completed university degree formed 3.2% of the total population of the Czech Republic in 1991, while men formed 7%. By comparison, in Slovakia the numbers were higher, 6.3% for women and 9.5% for men.(143)
The results of the sociological research mentioned above offer yet another perspective.(144) Out of the sample of 897 Czech women, 7.4% held a university degree, and 34% had completed some sort of secondary education. 50.4% were employed full-time, and 11.2% were on maternity leave.
The current generation of twenty-something Czech women will be the third or fourth generation of employed and educated women. It is highly unlikely that women will decide to leave the workplace to return to the home in large numbers. Women still form the absolute majority, or 80%, of workers in health care, 75% of workers in education, and more than 66% of workers in the finance industry and insurance.(145) But the internal segmentation of the female workforce is also beginning to show new variations, caused by the new possibilities afforded by private enterprise. Women as well as men are becoming private entrepreneurs, even though women accounted for only about 5% of all employees in the private sector in 1991.(146) Many of these women probably follow the pattern of helping in their family enterprise, frequently run by their husbands or fathers, rather than running an enterprise of their own.
The picture of women's organizations and agencies in the current Czech Republic is quite colorful, despite the previous suggestion that Czech women are generally unwilling to take active initiatives in political activities. The controversial communist women's organization, Ceskoslovensky svaz zen (The Czechoslovak Union of Women), was disbanded in 1990. In its place, an organization called Cesky svaz zen (Czech Union of Women) was founded, with about half a million members in 1990.(147) This new organization created a poor reputation for itself right from the start by retaining for itself the majority of the funds and the real property left over from the compromised communist Czechoslovak Union of Women. Newly founded associations and organizations felt that funds and places such as meeting and lecture rooms should have been shared.
Despite the fact that the newly founded women's organizations were starting from scratch, there are many of them and they seem to be thriving. Kapesni atlas zenskych iniciativ, published by the Gender Studies Centre in 1994, lists altogether 34 women's organizations. The groups range from professional associations such as Asociace podnikatelek a manazerek - APM (Association of Women Entrepreneurs and Managers), and Gender Studies Centre, through political and religious organizations such as Komise zen pri ekumenicke rade cirkvi v CR (Women's Committee by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, also called ERC), and SSD - Socialne demokraticke zeny - (Czech Social Democratic Party - Women of Social Democracy, also called SD ), to purely interest organizations grouped around very specific interests, such as Prazske matky (Prague Mothers), Bily kruh bezpeci (White Circle of Safety), or Rozkos bez rizika (Bliss Without Risk). (148)
These groups are living proof of Czech women's appreciation of their recent freedom. Overall, however, the social situation of Czech women has not changed very much seven years after the Velvet Revolution. Czech women retained their once forced employment, while they continue to carry the dual burden of working outside and inside their homes. It is necessary to note here that public services and the availability of merchandise have improved vastly since the pre-1989 period, albeit with increased prices. Czech women have also retained their reproductive freedom. Interestingly enough, the number of abortions declined since 1989, reflecting perhaps an increase in the use of preventive contraception methods. At the same time, the birth rate declined sharply in the Czech Republic in the last few years, showing possible new conflicts between women's employment and their family functions.(149) Even though political representation by women as a percentage of the whole declined since 1989 (150), the recent elections produced some successful women candidates, and there is now a female Minister of Justice sitting in the Czech cabinet.
No wide-spread and broadly defined women's rights movement, however, has emerged in the post-1989 Czech Lands so far. The main reason for the lack of such a movement might be simply the lack of issues to lobby and fight for. The two important issues that have been central to Western women's movements, the right to equal employment and the right to reproductive freedom, were given to Czech women in the post war decades without a fight and Czech women learned to take them almost for granted. On the one hand, current Czech women give rather shy answers regarding their interest in women's organizations. This leads to the tentative conclusion that current Czech women are still learning to define their interests as a gender group, and to find ways to express their interests in the traditionally gender-divided society. On the other hand, a look into the history of Czech women's rights movement shows that Czech women can fight if they have a cause. Their perception of the post-1989 reality does not lead them to believe that there is a situation calling for intensive women-only activities just for the sake of womanhood. Rather, women prefer to group around issues inside their community or place of residence. Such local and interest groupings, however, will eventually contribute to the creation of a new woman as an educated citizen.
Hardly any young woman student currently enrolled at a Czech university realizes that it has been a mere one hundred years since her female predecessors gained the right to do what she nowadays takes for granted. One hundred years is a short time in human history, but it may be a long time in the history of the women's movement. The women's rights movement in the Czech lands resulted in an interesting hybrid society, shaped both by internal traditions and external influences. Current social scientists are only beginning to work at understanding this blend of the traditional and the modern, and a longer period of time will undoubtedly be necessary for a complete analysis. A lot of interest in women's issues comes from outside Czech society, but Czech researchers, especially sociologists, have produced a number of interesting studies on women as well.
Most current Czech women do not have much to say about issues of "feminism" or "the woman question". A usual reaction of a Czech woman in the 1990s would be that feminism, just like any other "ism", had been discredited by communism, and that "the woman question" is an artificial concept deprived of its natural counterpoint, "the man question". The same Czech woman would also tell you clearly that she values her family as well as her job and her professional degree, if she has one. The current Czech society perceives itself as having a high awareness of the equality of the sexes, and its members prefer to present themselves as such. Simultaneously, however, the Czechs have a highly developed sense of what is appropriate for women and what for men, especially in the cultural sense. Czech people in general do not favor extremes, and they tend to perceive "feminism" and "women's rights" as an extreme.
At the same time, there are feminist groups in the Czech Republic, and there are women's associations defined solely by the interests of their female members. What does one make of such a closely knit mixture of the old and the new? The specifics of the Czech pattern of gender relations are most commonlyattributed to the lack of sensitivity to women's issues and to women's identity. Another way of looking at it, however, is through the prism of its own history. The place of Czech women in their society has always been formed by an influence or an interest superseding the limited concept of "woman question" or "women's interests". The influence of such "higher national goals" eventually produced a specific way of viewing women's issues as an integral part of the whole society.
Since the beginning of the Czech women's rights movement in the last century, there has been a pattern of continuing progress accompanied by the tradition of moderate approach. The history of the position of Czech women in higher education has been characterized by an internal continuity between the individual periods, with occasional discontinuities caused externally. When Czech women in the mid-nineteenth century Austrian Empire started to found business and industrial schools, their goals were practical. They were guided by their national feelings, by the economic needs of the day, and by their developing sense of female citizenship. The first wave of women's attention to the development of their own rights was initiated by women writers and poets, and by women public benefactors. Needless to say, these women were middle class women, and their interests were thus defined by their outlook and by the opinions they acquired in their middle class families. Such families lived in the hotbed of Czech national activity, in Prague, and many crucial personalities of the women's rights movement were born in and nurtured by Prague as well. The national, economic, and social situation of the Czech nation thus played a key role in the development of the Czech women's rights movement.
It is especially important to understand the connection between the history of the women's rights movement and the national history. Without such an understanding, Czech women's opinions are easily misinterpreted and their actions misjudged. In the Austrian Empire, women participated in the National Revival. Women defined their endeavors by national goals, arguing that an educated woman is a better partner for an educated man. Czech women were a part of the fight for national autonomy, later for national independence. Austria's wars created conditions which increased women's need for and interest in education and employment. World War One sent more women into the schools and into the workplace. It also stimulated many educational and health care endeavors on the part of middle class women.
The First Czechoslovak Republic completed the quest for women's independence in many ways. It gave women equal franchise and opened up the last areas of higher education which were still closed to women before the war. The first generation of professional women grew up in the Czech lands by the 1930s. Women made great advances in higher education in the interwar republic, both in the field of secondary schools and in university education. Coeducation was introduced into all schools. Despite the setbacks suffered by women in the 1930s, interwar Czechoslovakia was a period of great progress for women in higher education and in the learned professions. The positive environment of the First Republic was further improved by the presence and activity of some crucial personalities, primarily President T G Masaryk.
World War Two was a period of stagnation for the whole Czech nation. The Czech education system suffered great losses associated with the loss of the Sudeten territories, the loss of its intelligentsia, and the closing down of all Czech universities for the duration of the war. Czech women as well as Czech men suffered from the consequences of the war. The Czech women's progress in higher education and in the professional workplace was temporarily stalled. This discontinuity of development, however, was caused by external circumstances and was a part of a national setback.
The period of communism brought equality for women on all fronts. Women were not only permitted to enter higher education and the workplace as equals to men, they were obliged to do so. This obligation was not seen in the Czech society as invasive or overly ambitious since the concept of a working woman and an educated woman had already been introduced in the interwar Czechoslovakia. Czech women were thus quickly put back on the road of progress in higher education and the professions. Most importantly, however, communism brought totalitarian rule, repressing the whole society. Once again there was a "higher national goal" involving the interests and desires of both men and women on an equal basis. Czech women stood by their men in the dissident activities, and "the woman question" continued to be perceived as an integral part of the "human question". The authorities' support of official feminist activities only strengthened the conviction of the common Czech women and men that "feminism" is just another of those undesirable "isms".
The post-1989 Czech society has not gone through any significant changes in the ways it perceives its women. Women have their firm place in education and in the economy, and they continue to be regarded as the cornerstone of the Czech family. Consequently, the Czech family has retained its gender-based role division. The numbers of women university students and of women in the economy have not decreased. More and more female names are beginning to appear on the political scene. The average marriage age of newlywed couples has increased by a few years for both women and men since 1989, indicating a possible change in young women's priorities. Czech women began to socialize around issues that interested them and they formed a variety of women's interest and business organizations. No broad national women's rights movement has emerged, however, and there is no indication that it will emerge in the near future. Czech women have free access to education and to jobs, and their reproductive rights remain unrestricted. Thus there is no tangible worthwhile cause for Czech women to lobby for as a social group. They continue to look for the best ways to live in the new Czech democratic society, and they keep doing it in their usual ways, efficiently and quietly.
It is easy to believe that the young generation of women now in secondary schools and universities and the subsequent generations of women might start looking at their roles as women differently. These young women, just like their mothers and grandmothers, have an equal access to education and employment, and they have complete reproductive freedom. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, however, they do not live in a restrictive totalitarian regime. Rather, like their great grandmothers from the First Republic, they live in a democratic society and in the economic conditions of budding capitalism. Additionally, they enjoy unlimited access to other cultures and to foreign education. It is likely that in a few decades the now rather passive and seemingly submissive profile of Czech women will change.
See the accompanying article:A Quiet Ascent
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