Czechast Special: The Masaryk Family and Their Relationship With America and Americans

Charlotte and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

Tomáš Masaryk, the first president of independent Czechoslovakia, married the American Charlotte Garrigue. She had been born to a wealthy and patrician family in Brooklyn, New York. On her father’s side she had ancestors among the French Protestants who had found refuge in America. On her mother’s side, she had ancestors who traveled to America on the Mayflower. So there was a very strong link that President Masaryk felt with the American people and its history and roots.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk | Photo: Library of Congress,  public domain

After leaving Austria at the beginning of WWI, Czech university professor and politician Tomáš Masaryk travelled widely, seeking key support for founding an independent Czechoslovakia. He got it both from the Czech and Slovak community and the then president Woodrow Wilson. Skillfully leveraging his connections and the principles of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which advocated for national self-determination, Masaryk then successfully persuaded other Western powers that the Czechs and Slovaks deserved their own state. Subsequently, he was elected the first president of the new Czechoslovakia.

Alice and Jan Masaryk with their mother Charlotte | Photo: APF Czech Radio

Masaryk and his wife Charlotte had five children. Besides Alice, arguably the biggest achiever was their son Jan Masaryk, a truly fascinating figure. He was what you might call a dropout, as he did not finish high school, left for America, and spent five years in the US as a young man between 1907 and 1913, supported by his father’s friends and menial jobs. But it seems that the stay greatly influenced him.

After his return he served in the Austrian Army during WWI. Even though he did not have formal college education, he joined the diplomatic service of the newly independent Czechoslovakia, probably thanks to his father’s influence, and served as ambassador in London. He tried in vain to stop the British government from accepting the Nazi Germany demands in Munich in 1938 and when Hitler’s troops finally occupied the Sudetenland, he resigned.

In this episode of Czechast, you can hear both the older and younger Masaryk speaking English to and about Americans.

Author: Vít Pohanka
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  • Czechast

    Czechast is a regular RPI podcast about Czech and Moravian culture, history, and economy.