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89 CANTACUZINO, Princess Alexandrina (1876–1944) One of the most important leaders of the Romanian women’s movement; President of the Societatea Ortodoxă Naţională a Femeilor Române (SONFR, National Orthodox Society of Romanian Women) (1918– 1938); Vice-President (from 1921) of the Consiliul Naţional al Femeilor Române (CNFR, National Council of Romanian Women) and its only President from 1930; co-founder and first President (1923– 1924) of the Little Entente of Women (LEW) (1923–1929); member of the official delegation of Romania to the League of Nations (1929–1938); Vice-President of the ICW (1925–1936) and convener of the ICW Art Committee (from 1936); President of the Romanian feminist organizations Solidaritatea (Solidarity) (from 1925) and of the Gruparea Femeilor Române (GFR, Association of Romanian Women) (from 1929). Alexandrina (Didina) Cantacuzino (born Pallady) was born on 20 September 1876 in Ciocăneşti (Ilfov county, near Bucharest), a village on her family’s estate. Both her parents were from old boyar families. Alexandrina’s father, Theodor Pallady (1853– 1916), was a career officer—a member of a Moldavian boyar family first documented in the twelfth century. In 1874, he married Alexandrina Kreţulescu (1848–1881), an heiress from a well-known, wealthy Wallachian boyar family. Together they had four children but only Alexandrina survived infancy. After her mother’s death, Alexandrina was adopted by an aunt and raised by the Ghica family, another famous boyar family. As a young woman, Alexandrina was sent to France to study. In 1899 (?), Alexandrina Pallady married the conservative politician Grigore Gheorghe Cantacuzino (1872–1930), son of Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino (‘the Nabob’), the wealthiest Romanian landowner of the time and leading figure of the Conservative Party. Her husband’s family was of Greek origin and claimed to be descended from the Byzantine imperial family of Cantacuzino. For this reason, some of the Cantacuzinos used the aristocratic title of prince/ss, a title also adopted by Alexandrina after her marriage to Grigore Cantacuzino. The couple had three sons (born between 1900 and 1905) and the marriage lasted until 1930, when Grigore Cantacuzino died. Alexandrina Cantacuzino never remarried. Cantacuzino was an ambitious and enterprising woman. Proud of her boyar origins 90 and affiliation to a family that had once produced rulers of the Romanian provinces, she saw her purpose in life extending beyond the roles of wife and mother. Identifying with Romantic ideas on the historic mission of the Romanian upper classes in the creation and defence of the nation, Cantacuzino sought to translate them into practical endeavours that would strengthen the nation. This was an approach that resonated with the ideology of (upper-class) women’s organized assistance for the socially disadvantaged as a way of serving the country and the nation. Her social activities began in 1910, when she helped establish the Societatea Ortodoxă Naţională a Femeilor Române (SONFR, National Orthodox Society of Romanian Women), a Christian Orthodox women’s philanthropic society. Cantacuzino also enrolled in the Red Cross and during World War I, dedicated most of her time and energy to helping the wounded, providing support to Romanian prisoners and opening canteens. In that period, she organized and led the largest hospital in Bucharest. Her determination to remain in the capital, then under German occupation, and to offer help to Romanian soldiers in spite of warnings received from the occupation regime, almost cost her her liberty. In recognition of her war activities and enterprising character, Cantacuzino was elected President of the SONFR in 1918. Under her presidency, which lasted until 1938, the SONFR became one of the most important Romanian women’s organizations with branches all over the country. It was the organization Cantacuzino seemed fondest of, and into which she invested most of her material resources and energy. The SONFR founded numerous educational establishments, hospitals, workers’ and students ’ restaurants, and organized public lectures with a view to propagating a moral, patriotic and religious spirit. Cantacuzino and the SONFR were inspired by the wish to create an educational and cultural movement among the masses that would strengthen the nation and instill the moral and ethical values of Christian Orthodoxy into society. To achieve these goals, ‘Romanian women’ were called on to appropriate public space, drawing upon the symbolic and social value of their mothering roles. Cantacuzino’s passionate discourse of ‘women’s social mission’ attracted many upper- and middleclass women aspiring to an active role in public life to the ranks of the SONFR. Alexandrina Cantacuzino also...


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