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  • The Education of Women in 19th-Century Serbia*
  • Ružica Popovitch

Prior to the First Serbian Uprising in 1804, the schools that existed in Serbia were located in monasteries, thus the name "monastic schools." Vuk Stefanović Karadžić attended one such school and brilliantly described it in the preface to his Srpski rječnik, first published in 1818 in Vienna.1 That other schools were established during the period between the First Serbian Uprising (1804) and the Second Uprising (1815) is documented through the accounts of some of their first pupils who later became prominent men in Serbia. Unfortunately, neither these ex-pupils-turned-writers or -politicians, nor meager statistics tell us whether any girls attended these schools. Probably they did not. The only girls to receive education were those who by virtue of their noble birth or the social positions of their parents were educated at home by private tutors. Such young women brought their education to their marriages as part of their dowries. They used it to help their husbands in their social or political advancement, in the family business, or to teach their own children how to read and write.

In the 14th century, Queen Helen, the wife of King Uroš I (1243–76) opened a school for the education of young women in her monastery. This is what the archbishop Danilo II wrote about it in his biography of King Uroš I:

I nije samo ovim bila zadovoljna, no ovoma dodade još i jednu drugu vrlinu. Zapovedi u celoj svojoj oblasti sabirati kćeri sirotih roditelja i njih hraneći u svom domu, obučavaše svakom dobrom redu i ručnom radu, koji priliči za ženski pol. A kada su odrasle, udavaše ih za muževe da idu u svoje kuće, obdarujući ih svakim bogatstvom, a na mesto njih, uzimala je druge devojke kao i prve. [End Page 137]

…And she (Queen Helen) was not satisfied with all that, but added to it another virtue. She ordered throughout her domains that the daughters of poor parents be gathered, and fed them in her home. They were taught how to conduct themselves and to do all the handiwork which is appropriate for females. When they grew up, she married them off so they would have their own homes, giving them all kinds of riches, and she replaced them with other girls as she did with the first…

Nineteenth-century girls kept their education to themselves, never showing any signs of it outside of the home. Only later, from the middle of the 19th century on, educated women in Serbia used their education as a means of earning a living and in the causes of society and the country.

One of the most respected and the best-educated men in Serbia at the beginning of the 18th century, Dositej Obradović, spoke openly about the need to educate female children.2 However, he never exerted himself on behalf of equal public education for girls, nor did he prescribe any specifications to that effect in his carefully worded school manifesto. In 1821, when he served as secretary in the Chancellery of Prince Miloš, Dimitrije Davidović3 wrote that "there is a need to open a school for girls."4 He offered to open such a school in his own home, where his wife could teach girls home economics while his sisters-in-law could teach reading and writing without compensation, "just from the goodness of their hearts."5 It is important to note that Davidović and his family were Serbs from Vojvodina, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where girls, like boys, went to school as a matter of course. However, his suggestions were not accepted. Education of girls in Serbia was frowned upon, and even ridiculed during the 1820s. A German traveler, Otto Dubislav Pirkh, who journyed through Serbia in 1829 was shocked by the lack of educated women and asked why girls were not sent to school. He was given the following reply which he recorded: "They (the girls) will never be in business. They will never get any jobs in the civil service. Why then do they need an education...


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pp. 137-150
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