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  • The First Serbian Female Teachers and Writers:Their Role in the Emancipation of Serbian Society*
  • Svetlana Tomić

To the teacher who has influenced me the most, Dr. Ljubica D. Popovich, Professor Emerita

In this paper I present the history of the intellectual identity of Serbia's first professional female teachers. Not only did they struggle to educate girls, but they also fought against Serbia's culture of prejudice and for women's place and role in society. For that reason, they entered many literary spheres that had previously belonged exclusively to men. I shed light on the dynamics between ideology and cultural memory by reflecting on support that these female teachers and writers received from certain male intellectuals in the nineteenth century and which they have not received since. I hope that we will become more aware of the complex relationship between gender and knowledge and that other researchers will be more responsive to the connection between past and present crises within educational and epistemological systems.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were more than one hundred Serbian women writers.1 This phenomenon is connected to women's right to receive higher education, to work, and, consequently, enter the professional world. Some of the first female teachers were novelists or short-story writers whose works were published in well-known Serbian periodicals and in the first "women's" issue of Zora in 1899. Historians of Serbian literature have [End Page 59] neglected this founding generation of female teachers and writers who tried to make Serbia's repressive patriarchy more liberal and modern.

Although there has been research on the origins of girls' education in Serbia, it has ignored the female intellectuals of the Middle Ages and the significance of their contributions.2 During that time, many widowed Serbian queens, princesses, and noble women entered convents and women's monasteries, where they taught girls and, in some cases, independently managed the communal economy, producing and trading goods.3 The first institution of this kind was founded in the thirteenth century by the Serbian queen of French origin, Jelena Anžujska (circa 1237-1314), and throughout the Middle Ages Serbian nuns followed this tradition. The latest institution of that kind was the Serbian school for girls, founded in Peć in 1855 by the nun Katarina. This era saw the first link between women of distant social classes and the positive impact of women of privilege on the lives of the less privileged. Female monastic communities seem not to have been cut off from the world and particularly not from poor, young women. Thus, Serbian female teachers who appeared in public schools in the mid-nineteenth century were not the novelty that some historians have suggested. On the contrary, they were part of a long struggle for female education.

The main difference between the aristocratic noble nuns and public school teachers was the growing number of the latter and their greater impact on women in Serbia and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Serbia, the first female teachers at public schools for girls appeared in response to greater interest in and demand for female education. By 1846 the government had opened its first public elementary schools for girls in Paraćin and Belgrade.4 At the [End Page 60] time, the first Serbian female teachers came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire but had no formal pedagogical training.5 Even though boys' education had been established fifty years earlier, male teachers did not receive training that was any better than that of their female colleagues. Due to lack of professional teacher training, the Serbian school system was under constant pressure.6

As in other European societies of the time, it was not important to give boys and girls the same education. This remained unchanged until the end of World War II. In the most developed as well as the poorest European countries, [End Page 61] this was not a question of economics but of patriarchal prejudices.7 Another little-known fact is that after establishing the Principality of Serbia, the government began to view higher education of men as dangerous. In 1848, or just after the first generation of university-educated men...


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