The feminist legacy of Charlotte and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
In the first of this series we heard the voice of Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. His wife Charlotte was American, and thanks to her influence Tomáš became a champion of feminism. Charlotte went on to inspire many women both within Czechoslovakia and beyond and in this programme we hear some of them, speaking in their own words from the Czech Radio archive.
The programme also features extracts from a radio play, written in London as part of the propaganda effort against Nazi Germany during World War II, by the well-known Czech playwright František Langer. In one scene it tells the story of how Tomáš and Charlotte first met and fell in love in Leipzig.
We also hear from Tomáš and Charlotte’s daughter Alice, who founded and chaired the Czechoslovak branch of the International Red Cross after World War I. She established an annual Easter truce, during which she tried to persuade newspapers and politicians to suspend their political differences for a few days:
“After the Great War, when conditions here were very difficult, the idea came to me that it would help to bring people together if the press of the country put aside party politics and invective for three days and concentrated on a constructive idea. We gained the confidence and cooperation of practically all journalists, so that our ideal of newspapers giving only truthful information, news that was alive but not sensational, was achieved during the three days of the truce. And we do not deny that we hope that what can be achieved in three days will one day become a rule the whole year round. We beg you, who are listening, to work with us for our ideals embodied in our truce. A clean and truthful press that brings us nearer to each other, individuals and nations, in a wholehearted reverence for each eternal soul, without difference of nations, religion or race. Let me say the words which will be pronounced by the speaker of our parliament in a few minutes. The peace of the Red Cross has been proclaimed. Let the peace of the Red Cross be maintained.”
The programme features one more member of the family, the Masaryks’ great granddaughter Charlotta Kotík talking about her great-grandparents’ feminism from the perspective of the family today.
One of the most prominent feminists in pre-war Czechoslovakia was the politician and campaigner, Františka Plamínková. In a rare recording were hear her addressing women in America in 1937 about progress in women’s emancipation in Czechoslovakia.
“In Bohemia there was a woman in parliament even before the war [WWI], and after the war the Czechoslovak nation immediately gave women equal rights with men. These rights have been put into practice as well. There are now nine women in the Chamber of Deputies, five in the Senate. There are women judges, women teachers and public officials, all sharing executive power, advancement and remuneration on a basis equal with men.”
Plamínková was a pioneer, and she had been fighting for women’s rights ever since the end of the 19th century. After the foundation of Czechoslovakia she was elected to the upper house of parliament, the Senate, from where she continued to campaign. During the Nazi occupation she was persecuted for her views on democracy and women’s rights. She was arrested twice, and on 30th June 1942 she was shot in Prague. Františka Plamínková is one of the unsung heroes of Czechoslovak 20th century history.
In spite of petitions signed by Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt, Milada Horáková was hanged on June 27th 1950 at the age of 48.