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Women in Poland during the 1848 revolution

Women in Poland during the 1848 revolution. The contribution of women to the 1848-1849 events in the Polish lands has not attracted much attention of historians, due probably to the paucity of women's studies in Poland.

Women actively participated in the 1848-1849 revolution in the Polish lands, but they were usually choosing to play traditionally feminine roles; they cared for the wounded and worked in welfare organizations. Although their efforts did contribute to the independence movement, they brought about no serious qualitative changes. It was only the activity of women in the Russian partition at the time of revolution that presented a unique phenomenon and demonstrated how significant and influential a women's conspiracy for independence can be.

The contribution of Polish women to the 1848-1849 revolution should be viewed in the context of traditionally very active female participation in all forms of the independence-oriented and insurrectionary activity in Poland (in the words of W. Sliwowska, emancipation of women in the Polish lands occurred first through the joint fight with men for independence of the country).

The attitudes of women in the 1848-1849 revolution, particularly in the Congress Kingdom, resulted predominantly from achievements of the women's emancipation movement established in late 1830s-early 1840s, Warsaw and Poznan being the major centers of the movement.

In Warsaw, groups centered around two journals, at first Pierwiosnek (Primrose) and later Przeglad Naukowy (Scientific Revue), were most active in the emancipation movement. Women activists, usually associated with democratic societies, were since 1842 carrying out semi-legal educational and information-oriented projects. Later on, in the 1870s, those women were dubbed the "Enthusiasts." Among the most prominent Enthusiasts were Anna Skimborowicz, Kazimiera Ziemiecka, Wincentyna Zablocka, and - to a lesser extent - Narcyza Michowska, although the latter, a writer, journalist, and social worker became the best known Enthusiast. Before 1847, the women formed no political society, which concurs with the opinion that until mid-1840, Polish women had generally avoided direct involvement in conspiratorial activities.

Early in 1847, and independence-oriented, secret society with democratic undertones emerged in Warsaw, headed by Henryk Krajewski. The society assumed no name, for which reason it is conventionally termed the "1848 organization in the Congress Kingdom." The organization grouped predominantly the young intelligentsia. In all probability, the women Enthusiasts formed, from the very beginning of the organization, a separate unit within it, which was consistent with a political tradition of the time whereby conspiratorial female organizations were annexes to male conspiracies.

In the beginning of 1848, the women's unit was integrated with the rest of the organization. There is a consistent evidence that the women played a significant role in the "1848 organization" and contributed to setting up its branches in the countryside. Apart from already mentioned Skimborowicz, Ziemiecka, Zablocka, and Zmichowska, particularly active were Augusta Grotthus, sisters Urszula and Krystyna Siewieliska, Wiktoria Rembiewska, Leonida Popiel, Faustyna Morzycka, and Paulina Zbyszewska, the latter even planning assassination of the Russian tsar. The women were active in their social circles, most often among nursemaids and governesses, and took advantage of family connections. In early April 1848, Michowska had a meeting with Libelt whom she tried to convince that the Congress Kingdom was ready to fight and waiting only for the Polish troops to advance from the Grand Duchy of Poznan. Zmichowska asked for leaflets and arms, but her interlocutor remained quite skeptical towards her assurances and suggestions. In June or July 1848, Michowska tried to win J. Wysocki. She went to meet with him in Cracow, for collaboration with the organization.

In the fall of 1848 arrests began and lasted until 1852; it is assumed, however, that the "1848 organization" came to its end in 1850. The investigation lists show 84 persons, including 14 women, arrested. Women were, however, much more numerous in the organization. Eventually, almost 50 women were repressed. The investigative commission demanded that the women involved suffer a punishment equal in severity to that applied to the men. However, due to intercession of Prince Paskevitch, the tsar's governor of the Congress Kingdom, they usually received a relatively mild treatment.

S. Kieniewicz emphasized that women played an important role in the Polish political life in the Grand Duchy of Pozna after the unfortunate 1846 insurrection. In the spring of 1848, noble and even aristocratic women were particularly active, although numerous female aristocrats left the duchy out of fear of riots. Setting up the care for the wounded proved a field of activity particularly favored by the women. Towarzystwo Opieki nad Rannymi i Dobroczynnosci (Society for the Care for the Wounded and Charity) was soon established. On March 24, an "Appeal to Women" by Bibianna Moraczewska and Emilia Sczaniecka was published. The committee's activity involved about two hundred women from among the landed nobility. The speed with which the society emerged evidenced previous strong connections between its members. Their proclamation of March 24 envisioned a national movement to organize medical and nursing aid in view of a possible conflict with Russia. The proclamation was supplemented with an appropriate instruction. In addition to Moraczewska and Sczaniecka, the most active women included Konstancja Jarochowska, Maria Bolewska, Kordula Stablewska, Albertyna Kolska, Albertyna Polwelska, and Tekla Kwilecka. The energy of the women allowed Polish troops during the armed conflict with the Prussian army to receive well-organized medical and sanitary assistance of the highest level. In the short time, E. Sczaniecka managed to set up a 90-bed military hospital at Wrzesnia. There were attempts to draw peasant women to the organization. The activity ended in the summer of 1848. The Polish women in Galicia, a province becoming increasingly the most backward of the Polish lands, were unable to form their own organizations during the revolution of 1848-1849. The sources mention women's participation in street riots in Cracow and Lviv. Many women proved their adherence to the ideals of independence of Poland by helping to distribute illegal literature of by hosting emigre emissaries in their homes. The best known case involved Anna Rózycka, a general's daughter arrested in 1852 by Austrian authorities in Cracow. In Galicia, a very active group of women included Julia Lukaszewska, Anna Libera, Janina Grodzicka, Sabina Grzegorzewska, and Schlugt sisters.
Leszek Kuk


Kieniewicz, S. Spolecze stwo polskie w pwstaniu poznanskim 1848 r. Warsaw, 1960.

Minkowska, A. Organizacja spiskowa 1848 r., w Krolestwie Polskim, Warsaw 1923.

Minkowska, A. "Krolestwo Polskie w latach 1844-1848, in W stulecie Wiosny Ludow 1848-1948" I in Wiosna Ludow na ziemiach polskich, Warsaw 1948, I, 347-389.

Stepie , M. Narcyza michowska, Warsaw 1960.

Sliwowska, W. "Polskie drogi do emancypacji (o udziale kobiet w ruchu niepodleglosciowym w okresie miedzypowstaniowym 1833-1856)" in Losy Polakow w XIX-XX w., Warsaw 1987, 210-247.

Wawrzykowska-Wierciochowa, D. Emilia Sczaniecka. Opowiesc biograficzna, Warsaw 1970.

Wawrzykowska-Wierciochowa, D. Od przadki do astronautki. Z dziejow kobiety polskiej, jej pracy i osiangniec Warsaw, 1963.

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