Bohuszewiczowna, Maria (1865–1887)

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Bohuszewiczowna, Maria (1865–1887)

Polish revolutionary leader and a key member of the generation of "Socialist martyrs" whose organization was destroyed by the tsarist-occupation authorities. Born into a family of impoverished nobles on January 4, 1865, in Cepercach near Slutsk, Poland; died in Russia en route to her designated place of exile in Siberia in 1887; trained to be a teacher.

Despite the bloody suppression of two uprisings against Russian rule in 1830–31 and 1863–64, Polish nationalists in the closing decades of the 19th century continued to dream of a successful national upheaval that would restore the independence of their nation. By the 1880s, the rise of an industrial working class added an additional potential for revolution to the complex social and political situation. In October 1882, 17-year-old Maria Bohuszewiczowna was among the founding members of a small but determined group of Marxist revolutionaries who formed the first modern revolutionary party in Warsaw. An idealist from an impoverished szlachta (high nobility) family that included a long line of patriots and recklessly brave revolutionaries, Bohuszewiczowna was particularly proud of being the grandniece of the celebrated patriotic leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

Showing a natural talent for the dangerous and conspiratorial nature of their party's work, she became a member of the organization's welfare section, named "Red Cross." Her task was to render assistance to the families of imprisoned members. In this work, she used a number of names, including "Regina," "Wanda," and "Weneda." Because of her reputation for reliability and fearlessness, within a few months she became director of the entire "Red Cross" operation.

The idealism and courage of the party's "proletariat" members was no match for the tsarist police in Warsaw. By the summer of 1884, the leader of the party, Stanislaw Krusinski, had been arrested, and other members of the group were on the run. As one of the few senior party activists still at liberty, Bohuszewiczowna took over the leadership of the organization in August 1884. At this time, she also became a member of the central committee of the entire "proletariat" organism.

Eluding the police, Bohuszewiczowna kept the organization intact as best she could, attempting to strengthen the shattered party with a fresh type of organizational structure. She also wrote a new statute for the organization. These efforts proved largely futile in the face of the immense power of the tsarist police who were determined to crush another Polish insurrectionary movement in the bud. Bohuszewiczowna was arrested on September 30, 1885, and placed in detention in the infamous "Tenth Pavillion," the section of the Warsaw Citadel reserved for political prisoners. During more than a year of relentless interrogations by the Russian police officials, she showed great courage. Sentenced to banishment in Siberia, she left Warsaw in police custody on May 12, 1887. She died several weeks later of physical exhaustion en route to Siberia. Sacrificed as a martyr in the cause of her nation's freedom at age 22, Maria Bohuszewiczowna was a leading member of the first generation of Poland's "Socialist martyrs." Almost immediately after their deaths, the lives of these idealistic young men and women took on a mythical aura and served as powerful inspiration for Poland's next generation of dreamers, conspirators, and revolutionaries.


"Bohuszewiczowna, Maria," in Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN. Vol. 2. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1963, p. 40.

Dziewanowski, Marian Kamil. The Communist Party of Poland: An Outline of History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.

Haustein, Ulrich. "Sozialismus und nationale Frage in Polen: Die Entwicklung der sozialistischen Bewegung in Kongresspolen von 1875 bis 1900 unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Polnischen Sozialistischen Partei (PPS)" Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Mainz, 1965.

Strobel, Georg W. Quellen zur Geschichte der Kommunismus in Polen 1878–1918: Programme und Statuten. Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1968.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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