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514 SKENDEROVA, Staka (1831–1891) Bosnian Serb teacher, writer and social worker; founder of the first girls’ school in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the country’s first published woman author. Staka Skenderova was born in 1831 into a lower middle-class family, of which little is known. The family moved from Prijepolje in Herzegovina to Sarajevo in Bosnia proper. Skenderova’s father Pero was a merchant who died early in Staka’s childhood. Almost nothing is known of her mother Mara, sister Savka and brother Ilija, except that they died in Sarajevo in 1889, 1888 and 1866 respectively. From the start, Staka was rare among the girls of her generation. She is said to have been raised like a boy; she socialized with men and often dressed like a man. She was also unusually ambitious . She learned to read and write in her native Serbo-Croatian language (possibly with the aid of tutors) at a time when there were no girls’ schools in the country and the literacy rate was just three percent. She regularly attended the old Orthodox Church in Sarajevo, sang in the choir and read aloud for parishioners who were surprised to observe this young literate girl. Because of her brother’s position as furrier for the Ottoman army, she also learned Turkish, the official language of the Ottoman Empire (Bosnia-Herzegovina had been under Ottoman rule since the fifteenth century ). Skenderova later learned Greek and possibly Russian. Skenderova established Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first girls’ school in Sarajevo in 1858. The school offered courses in mathematics, drawing, reading, old-church Slavonic and handiwork, producing some of the country’s first women intellectuals and cultural leaders. Although Skenderova’s pupils were mainly Bosnian Serbs, later Bosnian Jews and Bosnian Muslims attended as well. Skenderova accepted a broad spectrum of girls, ranging from the very poorest to the wealthiest families in the country. Topal Osman, the Pasha (Governor) of Bosnia-Herzegovina, sent his daughters to Skenderova’s school. At first, the school offered just three grades; later it introduced a fourth, as well as teacher training. Some women stayed on to teach at the school upon graduation. After years of financial struggle, Skenderova’s school closed in 1875. By this time, a second girls’ school had been established in Sarajevo (1869) under the tutelage of Miss Adeline Paulina Irby (1833–1911), an English Protestant philanthropist . In the nearly seventeen years that Skenderova managed and taught at her school, she made both friends and enemies. Because of her family’s contacts in the Ottoman administration, mainly through her brother Ilija, several men from the Bosnian Serb merchant class believed (erroneously) that Skenderova was a stooge of the Ottoman administration. Undeterred, she sought financial support elsewhere from generous locals and individuals of the Ottoman administration and Orthodox Church in Sarajevo . She also traveled to solicit support, maintaining ties with eminent personages, including Serbia’s Head of State: Prince Michael Obrenović (1823–1868). 515 In her spare time, Skenderova read literature and recorded the local social and political news, folk poetry and lore. In 1859, just one year after the opening of her school, she managed to publish her collection in an almanac called Ljetopis Bosne (The Bosnian chronicle, 1825–1856). In this way, she became Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first published woman author, thus paving the way for others. She did so with the aid of the Russian consul, folklorist and historian Alexander F. Gilferding (1831– 1872), who was posted to Sarajevo. He had been impressed with the young Skenderova and had her manuscript translated into Russian and published in St Petersburg . In 1870, Skenderova took a spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, together with an Orthodox nun. In accordance with Bosnian tradition [whereby pilgrims to the Holy Land, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim, added the prefix ‘Hadži’ (from the root word ‘hadj,’ meaning ‘pilgrimage’) to their name], Skenderova also became known as Hadži Staka Skenderova. Soon after her pilgrimage, Bosnia-Herzegovina underwent a major political transformation. In 1875–76, a massive rural uprising in Herzegovina led by Christian peasants against their Muslim landlords led to an international crisis, settled at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Here, the Great Powers of Germany, England, France, Russia and Austria-Hungary passed the administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire over to the AustroHungarian Empire. Under the Austro-Hungarian administration, Skenderova continued to work primarily with the young girls of Sarajevo. Although her school had closed three years earlier, her interest in the welfare...


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