May 1923: First Lady Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk dies

Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk

The US-born writer and intellectual Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk, wife of the “father of Czechoslovakia” Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, died on 13 May 1923 at the Lány presidential residence near Prague

Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk | Photo: Czech Television

Charlotte Garrigue was born in Brooklyn in 1850 and met her future husband in Leipzig, where she went to study music.

The pair married in 1878, with Tomáš’s respect for Charlotte and gender equality in general reflected in the fact he added her surname to his own.

They lived the first years of their marriage in Vienna. After moving to Prague, Charlotte learned Czech and became involved in public events.

Charlotte and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

She became involved in the women's movement, becoming the first foreigner to become a member of the American Ladies' Club. She was later active in the women's section of Sokol and financially supported the education of poor women. She was a member of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.

The family of Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk | Photo: MÚA AV ČR/ČT

During WWI she remained alone in Prague, while her husband and daughter Olga lived in exile, and daughter Alice was even imprisoned in Vienna for a time. Only one of her two sons returned from the war front.

When T.G. Masaryk was named Czechoslovakia’s first president she became the new state’s first First Lady, pushing for the 1920 Czechoslovak Constitution to include complete gender equality, including suffrage for women.

When her health declined daughter Alice replaced her at official events. Following her death in 1923 Masaryk did not remarry.

Tomáš Garrrigue Masaryk and Charlotte | Photo: Czech Television