Freedom, Equality… for Everyone? Women Fighting for Social Advancement 1700-1918

Historical Institute / Institute of English Studies / Institute of Romance Studies, University of Wrocław
20.11.2018 - 21.11.2018
Dorota Wisniewska, University of Wroclaw (Poland), University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Paris-Saclay (France)

The organisers of this international conference chose to cite the slogan of the French Revolution in the title since they thought these postulates still remain valid today. They wanted to concentrate the discussion on the attempts made by different actors to improve women’s position in society, as well as women’s agency in the public sphere. These aspects of women’s history seemed to be especially important given the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which contributed significantly to the enshrinement of the women’s suffrage, and the establishment of gender equality in the majority of European countries.

Hoping for internationalisation, the organisers decided to use three languages: English, French and Polish. During two days of the conference, 47 PhD experienced scholars, early career researchers and students from 13 countries presented their ongoing research projects. Despite the fact that the proposals concerned different cultures and societies, they treated some common themes, for example women’s agency in public life (sessions: “Kobiety aktywne w życiu publicznym” [Women Participating in Public Life], ”Women’s agency”, “Femmes actives dans la vie publique”); history of mentalities (“Dyskursy i pamięć” [Discourses and representations], “Intelektualistki i emancypantki” [Women Intellectuals and Emancipists]), and women’s social status (“Women’s position in societies”, “Wobec przemian społecznych” [Towards social change]). While in papers presented during aforementioned panels the speakers focalised on women overcoming the barriers imposed by social norms, this approach was particularly well seen during the sessions “Przełamywanie stereotypowych ról społecznych” [Acting against Stereotypes] and “Kobiety w nauce” [Women and Science].

During the discussions on women’s agency, RAJENDRA SINGH THAKUR (Jammu) talked about the law and customs regarding women in India from the eighteenth century onwards, as well as women’s involvement in the public sphere. He mentioned examples like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who contributed to putting an end to the practice of sati in 1829 or Rani of Jhansi who got engaged in the fight for independence against the British Empire. AGNIESZKA HENSHOLD (Opole) drew her attention to Jane Adams’ social activity, her commitment to the pacifist movement, as well as her militancy for women’s empowerment in the US. MARIA ZAPOLSKY (Kaliningrad) examined the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leaders of the American suffragettes in the nineteenth century.

The speakers presenting their findings in the framework of the session in Polish discussed women’s increasing presence in the army from 1795 when Poland lost its independence until 1918 (BARBARA DRAPIKOWSKA, Warsaw), and the women’s movement in the first decade of the twentieth century (ANNA JAKIMOWICZ, Lublin; JOANNA DUFRAT, Wrocław). Jakimowicz concentrated on women in local politics on the example of the inhabitants of Lublin while Dufrat depicted women’s dilemmas in the Kingdom of Poland and Galicia as to the choice of tools to be used in their political strategy.

Furthermore, the panel in French involved the analysis of the pamphlet entitled Du sort actuel des femmes (1791), written during the French Revolution by a person under the pseudonym Mme de Cambis (TOMASZ WYSŁOBOCKI, Wrocław) and the paper on women’s assistance in providing help for refugees during World War I with particular regard to Louise Weiss who led one of the welfare organisations in Britain (RONAN RICHARD, Rennes).

Women’s question in the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century reflected in contemporary and later narratives was the subject raised during the sessions devoted to the history of mentalities. TURKAY GASIMOVA (Florence) elucidated Muslim women’s social postulates in literature and their involvement in charitable activity in the South Caucasus region in the second half of the nineteenth century. ÉVA ANTAL (Eger) presented her research on the concept of New Woman in the feminist-utopian discourses of the 1880s and 1890s. She took into consideration in particular such issues as the distribution of female and male tasks, childrearing, education, and gender norms. Finally, ELŻBIETA KLIMEK-DOMINIAK (Wrocław) analysed the representation of the figure of the first-wave feminist Ernestine Rose in comic books.

The arguments defending women as good rulers included in Anna Jameson’s Memoirs of Celebrated Females Sovereigns (1831) were examined by ARMELLE DUBOIS-NAYT (Paris). MARCIN SKIBICKI (Toruń) characterised women’s images featured on French posters in the second half of the nineteenth century, trying to answer the following questions: What was the nature of these representations? To what extent were they consistent with reality? How can the posters be interpreted from a feminist perspective? Finally, MILENA LENDEROVÁ (Padrubice) looked at the memory of women involved in the French Revolution in the Czech intellectual discourse (encyclopaedias, literature, press) of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The content of Russian dictionaries published in the nineteenth century was analysed by MAGDALENA DĄBROWSKA (Warsaw) who summarised the state of knowledge of Russian authors about women living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The use of the memory of the first-wave feminists by Hilary Clinton in her presidential campaign was observed by DAMIAN SYJCZAK (Szczecin) and MAGDALENA PALUSZKIEWICZ-MISIACZEK (Cracow) reconstructed the criteria on the basis on which a list of potential images of women that could be displayed on the American and Canadian banknotes was constructed. This allowed her to delve into the general discussion on the role of women in the processes of state and nation building in both countries. MIKOŁAJ BANASZKIEWICZ (Cracow) focused on the representation of modern women in the Russian liberal press between 1865 and 1905. Finally, AGNIESZKA SZUDAREK (Szczecin) characterised the attitudes of the East Prussian conservative nobility towards the roles played by women in society at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The session “Women Intellectuals and Emancipists” began with the paper by JOLANTA SZYMKOWSKA-BARTYZEL (Cracow), who presented Margaret Fuller as a true self-made woman. KATARZYNA RUHLAND (Wrocław) described the Silesian women’s movement in the light of a female journal published in Breslau/Wrocław before the outbreak of World War I. ANNA WOTLIŃSKA (Warsaw) studied the theory of female and male intelligence, announced by Maria Grossek-Korycka in the journal Świat kobiecy [Female World].

The topics concerning women’s position in society concentrated on their status in the Ukrainian Hetmanate in the eighteenth century (IRYNA PETRENKO, Poltava), female teachers’ position in the long nineteenth century (RENÉE WAGENER, Luxembourg), and women’s property rights in the light of the Austrian Civil Code around 1900 (ELLINOR FORSTER, Linz). Furthermore, PIOTR POMIANOWSKI (Warsaw) addressed the question of legislation concerning women in Polish territories at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and EMILIA WOJTASIK-DZIEKAN together with KAROLINA SZCZOTKIEWICZ-JAKUBIEC (both Poznań) tried to juxtapose the evolution of women’s status in Poland and Korea.

The participants of the panel “Acting against stereotypes” centred their attention on the uncommon behaviour of women and their presence in the public sphere in the early modern period. DARIUSZ CHYŁA (Toruń) analysed the satire written in the form of instructions for deputies to the Sejm of 1679 from the perspective of women’s rights. ALEKSANDRA SKRZYPIETZ (Katowice) concentrated on the biography of Maria Klementyna Sobieska – the grand-daughter of King John III Sobieski –, highlighting her efforts to gain a certain respect in the eyes of her husband and, consequently, the power to make decisions about herself. On the other hand, MAŁGORZATA EWA KOWALCZYK (Wrocław) depicted a Polish noblewoman coming from non-aristocratic circles, Agnieszka Treter, née Izbicka, who had a strong position in her marriage. The third interesting example of a woman, being able to play a role traditionally assigned to the opposite sex, was Maria Margaretha Kirch, who exercised the profession of an astronomer with the support of her husband Gottfried (JUSTYNA ROGIŃSKA, Zielona Góra). Finally, NORBERT WÓJTOWICZ (Wrocław) gave a talk on Polish women and freemasonry from the eighteenth century to 1918.

The session concerning Polish women’s education comprised papers on the impact of the Towarzystwo Pedagogiczne [Pedagogical Society] on women’s instruction in Galicia from 1868 to 1921 (DOROTA GRABOWSKA-PIEŃKOSZ, Toruń), tactics used by female teachers in building their authority at work at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century (MONIKA PIOTROWSKA-MARCHEWA, Wrocław) and higher educational opportunities of Polish women before and after gaining the independence in 1918 (JOLANTA KOLBUSZEWSKA, Łódź).

Overall, the conference was the third meeting organised at the Historical Institute of the University of Wrocław that aimed to provide a platform for discussions on gender roles in the public sphere since the early modern times.[1] The first seminar took place in 2016 for the centennial anniversary of the attribution of the right to vote for women in the first European country, Finland. The second, which was held last year, focused on uncommon social roles played by both women and men. The outcome of these meetings can be found in the published or forthcoming books.[2]

Conference Overview:

Przełamywanie stereotypowych ról społecznych

Dariusz Chyła (Archiwum Państwowe w Toruniu): Instrukcja od młodych Pan i Panien Tako Koronnych Jako y WX Litewskiego Dana Ich MCom Panom Posłom naszym na Seym Walny Litewski w Grodnie Roku teraźniejszego 1679 od nas zgodnie obranych Siostrzyczek

Aleksandra Skrzypietz (Uniwersytet Śląski): Maria Klementyna Sobieska i jej zabiegi o szacunek męża i własną niezależność

Małgorzata Ewa Kowalczyk (Uniwersytet Wrocławski): Od dwórki do szambelanowej. Małżeństwo Agnieszki Izbickiej ze Stanisławem Treterem

Justyna Rogińska (Uniwersytet Zielonogórski): Maria Margaretha Kirch i jej praca u boku pierwszego astronoma Królewskiego Pruskiego Towarzystwa Nauk (1700-1710)

Norbert Wójtowicz (Oddziałowe Biuro Badań Historycznych IPN we Wrocławiu): Długa droga kobiet do wolnomularskiego braterstwa/siostrzeństwa

Women’s Agency

Rajendra Singh Thakur (Jammu University, India): Battle for Empowerment by the Women in the Indian Sub-Continent: 1700-1918

Agnieszka Hensoldt (University of Opole, Poland): Jane Addams: Pluralism, Democracy, Peace

Maria Zapolsky (Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Russia): The Work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton from the Middle till the End of the XIX Century

Kobiety aktywne w zyciu publicznym

Barbara Drapikowska (Akademia Sztuki Wojennej): Kobiety w przestrzeni wojskowej od utraty niepodległości do jej odzyskania

Anna Jakimowicz (Uniwersytet Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej): Aktywność kobiet w przestrzeni publicznej Lublina w latach 1905-1907. Przyczynek do rozwoju lokalnego ruchu kobiecego

Joanna Dufrat (Uniwersytet Wrocławski): Między partyjnym zaangażowaniem a ideą organizacyjnej samodzielności. Problem wyboru taktyki w walce polskiego ruchu kobiecego o zdobycie praw politycznych i miejsc dla kobiet na listach wyborczych (1905-1918)

Women’s Position in Societies

Iryna Petrenko (Poltava University of Economics and Trade, Ukraine): Status of an Orthodox Woman in the Hetmanate in the XVIII Century

Renée Wagener (Chamber of Deputies, Luxembourg): The Principle of Equality and the Position of Woman Teachers in the Long XIX Century

Ellinor Forster (Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria): Women’s Rights through Property Rights. The Discussion and Attempts to Change Marital Property Law Provisions in the Austrian Civil Code around 1900

Femmes Actives dans la Sphère Publique

Tomasz Wyslobocki (Université de Wrocław, Pologne): Madame de Cambis : une femme qui a osé dire « Non ! » à la misogynie des révolutionnaires

Richard Ronan (EA Tempora, Université de Rennes 2, France): Au reflet de Louise Weiss? Les femmes dans les mouvements d’assistance aux réfugiés en France durant la Première Guerre mondiale

Discourses and Representations

Turkay Gasimova (European University Institute, Italy): Seeing the Invisible: Representation of Muslim Women both in Fiction and Reality. The Case of South Caucasus Region in the Second Half of the XIX Century

Éva Antal (Eszterhazy Karoly University, Eger, Hungary): The New Woman in the “New Harmonies”: Socialist-Feminist Utopias of 1880s-90s

Elżbieta Klimek-Dominiak (University of Wrocław, Poland): The Figure of Ernestine Rose in Comic Books

Discours et Répresentations

Armelle Dubois-Nayt (Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Paris-Saclay, France): Les représentations de Marie Stuart dans les biographies collectives de femmes au 18ème et 19ème siècles

Marcin Skibicki (Université Nikolas-Copernic, Toruń, Pologne): Victimes de stéréotypes ou chantres de la modernité ? De l’image féminine confuse à l’exemple de l’affiche française de la Belle Époque

Milena Lenderová (Université de Pardubice, République tchèque): Femmes illustres de la Grande révolution et les pays tchèques

Dyskursy p pamięć

Magdalena Dąbrowska (Uniwersytet Warszawski): Dziewiętnastowieczne słowniki pisarek rosyjskich (generalia bibliograficzno-historycznoliterackie)

Damian Syjczak (Uniwersytet Szczeciński): Językowy obraz walki o prawa wyborcze kobiet na przełomie XIX i XX wieku w wybranych tekstach Hillary Clinton

Magdalena Paluszkiewicz-Misiaczek (Uniwersytet Jagielloński): Kobiety na banknoty - czyli kto i kogo powinien zastąpić na amerykańskich i kanadyjskich dolarach?

Kobiety w nauce

Dorota Grabowska-Pieńkosz (Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika w Toruniu): Towarzystwo Pedagogiczne (1868-1921) wobec edukacji kobiet w zaborze austriackim

Monika Piotrowska-Marchewa (Uniwersytet Wrocławski): Nie tylko służba... Metody i narzędzia budowania autorytetu nauczycielek w ich środowisku pracy (przełom XIX/XX wieku do 1939 r.)

Jolanta Kolbuszewska (Uniwersytet Łódzki): Niepodległość a równouprawnienie kobiet w nauce

Intelektualistki i emancypantki

Jolanta Szymkowska-Bartyzel (Uniwersytet Jagielloński): Self-Made Woman w XIX-wiecznej Ameryce – przypadek Margaret Fuller

Katarzyna Ruhland (Uniwersytet Wrocławski): Czy tylko żona i matka? Ruch kobiecy, edukacja i dążenia zawodowe kobiet przed wybuchem I wojny światowej w świetle wrocławskiego czasopisma dla pań domu

Anna Wotlińska (Uniwersytet Warszawski): Intuicjonistka czy logik? Teoria inteligencji kobiecej i męskiej Marii Grossek-Koryckiej wyłożona w cyklu felietonistycznym pt. „Świat kobiecy”

Wobec przemian społecznych

Piotr Pomianowski (Uniwersytet Warszawski): Pozycja prawna kobiety w ustawodawstwach obowiązujących na centralnych ziemiach polskich na początku XIX wieku

Emilia Wojtasik-Dziekan¸ Karolina Szczotkiewicz-Jakubiec (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu): Wiatr zmian społecznych a jego wpływ na pozycję kobiety w przedwojennej Polsce i przedokupacyjnej Korei

Mikołaj Banaszkiewicz (Uniwersytet Jagielloński): Awans społeczny kobiet jako imperatyw nowoczesności w przedrewolucyjnej Rosji. Liberalna publicystyka prasowa wobec idei emancypacyjnych

Agnieszka Szudarek (Uniwersytet Szczeciński): Wschodniopruska szlachta wobec emancypacji kobiet przed wybuchem I wojny światowej

[1] Previous conferences organised at the Historical Institute of the University of Wrocław, (04.12.2018).
[2] A. Leszczawski-Schwerk / D. Wiśniewska / L. Ziątkowski (eds.), Udane przedsięwzięcia i chybione projekty. Kobiety aktywne w życiu publicznym (1750-1989)/ Erfolgreiche und gescheiterte Projekte. Handelnde Frauen in der Öffentlichkeit (1750-1989), Kraków 2017 [articles in English, German, Polish; comprehensive summaries in English available]; M. Gibiec / D. Wiśniewska / L. Ziątkowski (eds.), Na przekór konwencjom. Nieszablonowe role społeczne kobiet i mężczyzn od czasów nowożytnych do 1945 roku/Against Conventions. Uncommon Social Roles of Women and Men from Early Modern Times to 1945, Kraków 2018 (in print) [chapters in English and Polish, abstracts in English available].

Tagungsbericht: Freedom, Equality… for Everyone? Women Fighting for Social Advancement 1700-1918, 20.11.2018 – 21.11.2018 Wrocław, in: H-Soz-Kult, 12.02.2019, <>.