Masaryk, Alice Garrigue (1879–1966)

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Masaryk, Alice Garrigue (1879–1966)

Eminent Czech sociologist and social activist who was the daughter of Czech nationalist Thomas Masaryk . Name variations: Alice Garrigue Masaryková. Born in Vienna, Austria, on May 3, 1879; died in Chicago, Illinois, on November 29, 1966; eldest child of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937) and Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1923); had brothers Herbert and Jan Masaryk (1886–1948, a diplomat and Czech foreign minister), and sister Olga Garrigue Masaryk; Charles University (Prague), doctoral degree in philosophy, 1903; never married.

The major events and accomplishments of Alice Garrigue Masaryk's long life would be profoundly linked to Czechoslovakia and the United States, the homelands of her parents, Thomas Masaryk (1850–1937) and Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1923). Her father was the son of impoverished Slovak serfs; through native intelligence and tenacity, he earned a doctorate in philosophy, became a professor of philosophy as well as a noted sociologist, and after decades of political struggle would emerge as the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic. Thomas met Charlotte Garrigue during 1876 in Leipzig, Germany, where she, a child of a large and financially comfortable American family, had gone to study music. Despite the immense differences in their backgrounds, Thomas and Charlotte married in the United States in March 1878. They were living in Vienna when Alice, the first of their five children, was born in 1879. Alice was named for the heroine of The Martyr of Tilbury, a novel so obscure that when she wanted to read the book as an adult it proved impossible to track down. In 1882, the family moved to Prague, where Thomas had received a professorship at the newly founded Charles University (where the language of instruction was Czech rather than German). Growing up in a multilingual and multicultural home, Alice and her siblings achieved fluency in Czech, German, and English.

Alice began her formal education in 1886, dividing her time between classes at the St. Egidus School and private lessons at home in music, French, and Russian. She then enrolled in the Prague municipal middle school and in 1891 began her studies at "Minerva," the city's recently founded women's Gymnasium. Initially a pre-medical student, Alice decided after one year of this curriculum that she did not wish to become a physician and signed up instead for philosophy courses at her father's institution, Charles University. Now determined to earn a doctoral degree in philosophy, she completed her course work in Prague, attending lectures as well at the University of Berlin during the academic year 1901–1902. Soon she had a dissertation subject, the English Magna Carta of 1215, and made several research trips to London to gather data for her project. Masaryk was awarded her doctorate in philosophy by Charles University in June 1903.

In February 1904, she made her first trip to the United States. Most of the next year was spent in Chicago, where she worked in residence at the University of Chicago Social Settlement (UCSS). Masaryk became acquainted with a number of leading social reformers of the day, including Jane Addams and UCSS director Mary McDowell . In Chicago, she witnessed firsthand the harsh working and living conditions of a largely laissez-faire system that exploited the cheap labor of European immigrants in the city's stockyards and sweatshops. Soon after her arrival in the city, the tensions there exploded when the stockyard workers went out on strike and veritable social chaos ensued. Masaryk gained important insights into the emerging social-reform movement when she became acquainted with a fellow UCSS resident, the novelist Upton Sinclair, who at the time was gathering material for his novel The Jungle.

Returning to Prague in 1905, Masaryk accepted a teaching position at the Girls' Lycee in Ceské Budejovice. She remained there until moving on to a similar position at a newly founded lycee in Prague during 1910. The next year, she played a leading role along with the Czech Student Union in creating a Sociological Section at Prague's Charles University. The most important aspect of this innovation was a lecture series through which leading Czech intellectuals and social reformers informed both students and interested members of the public on the social pathologies of the contemporary urban-industrial world. Topics covered in the series included many of the unsolved dilemmas of the day, such as the substandard housing of the working class, broken families and neglected children, nutritional deficiencies, crime, alcoholism, and venereal diseases. While recognizing the presence of these social ills, Masaryk rejected Marxist revolution as a solution, looking instead to the use of reason, good will, and the tools of sociological analysis to achieve major improvements while remaining within the parameters of the existing social order.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Alice's father Thomas Masaryk—by now one of the leading voices of the Czech nationalist movement—escaped with his younger daughter Olga Garrigue Masaryk , first to Italy and then to Switzerland. After his "declaration of war" on behalf of a Czech nation that thus far existed only in theory, his entire family began to feel the growing anger of Vienna's Habsburg regime. Thomas was sentenced to death in absentia for his treasonous actions, and his wife Charlotte, whose health was fragile at best, was harassed by the authorities. Accused of having engaged in illegal Czech nationalist activities, Alice, along with Hana Benesova , the wife of her father's close associate Eduard Benes, was interrogated for two weeks in Prague, and then moved to a prison in Vienna.

Alice was incarcerated there for eight months, and a massive pressure campaign from abroad was undertaken to secure her release. Her father wrote to many influential Americans about his daughter's plight, including a letter to UCSS director Mary McDowell in April 1916. Despite her declining health, Charlotte provided her daughter with moral support by writing to her several times a week. A petition signed by 40,000 Americans from all walks of life went to the Austrian authorities. In addition to Mary McDowell, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley and Lillian Wald were among the prominent individuals involved in the petition drive. A significant factor in Masaryk's release from prison would be the involvement of Julia Lathrop , chief of the Children's Bureau in the Department of Labor, who was at the time the highest-ranking woman serving in the U.S. federal government. Lathrop petitioned the U.S. State Department to intervene with high officials in Vienna on Masaryk's behalf. The pressure was effective, and Masaryk gained her freedom on July 3, 1916.

Although they no longer kept her behind bars, the Viennese authorities, with good reason, continued to regard Masaryk as a sympathizer of her father's nationalist movement and banned her from teaching for the duration of the war. Masaryk instead gave private tutorials at her home, emphasizing the importance of applied sociology as a tool for Czech national survival and renewal.

In the fall of 1918, the Habsburg state and armed forces disintegrated, and on October 28 the Czechoslovak Republic was proclaimed. Two months after the Republic was founded in Prague, Thomas Masaryk took office as president. By this time, the physical and psychological stresses of the war had taken their toll on the health of Alice's mother Charlotte, and from the very start, Alice substituted for her mother as first lady. Acting as her father's official host on state occasions, she drew on her considerable poise and culture to ease the ceremonial aspects of his presidential role, making less burdensome both the official and private aspects of his busy life. She retained this role after her mother's death in May 1923 and until her father's retirement in 1935.

Alice Masaryk was appointed president of the Czechoslovak Red Cross in February 1919, a post in which she would remain for fully two decades, until the German invasion of the crippled post-Munich Czechoslovak Republic in March 1939. During her first years as head of the Red Cross, she was responsible for the care of wounded and ill war veterans, as well as of civilian victims of the war. Having declared itself independent of the Austro-Hungarian state, the new republic faced the challenge of creating a working public-health and welfare system. Masaryk's experience as a social worker and reformer was of great value during this period. She was also astute enough to realize that Czechs and Slovaks alone would not be able to solve the many problems of their new nation. Consequently, soon after taking charge of the national Red Cross organization, she requested Mary McDowell of UCSS to send an American task force to assist local social welfare professionals in carrying out a survey of the existing educational, health, recreational, and welfare systems. This survey was completed within a year's time, and its published results would be regarded for many decades by professionals in the field as a model undertaking.

During the decade of the 1920s, Alice Masaryk was one of the best-known women in the world in the fields of sociology and social welfare. She was honored in 1928 by being chosen to preside over the First International Conference of Social Work, held in Paris. On this occasion, she reminded the assembled delegates that the responsibilities of national social welfare organizations were at least as important in an era of peace and stability as they had been in a time of war and chaos. She also pointed out the need for integrating both the organization and delivery systems of the world's varied public-health systems. In 1930, Masaryk received an additional honor when she became a member of the Executive Committee of the International Red Cross.

With her father's retirement in 1935 and his death in September 1937, Masaryk's roles changed considerably. No longer first lady of Czechoslovakia, she left her residence in the Presidential Palace in Prague and concentrated her energies on her Red Cross work. When this ended with the German invasion of March 1939, she fled to the United States.

Invited to stay at the UCSS in Chicago, Masaryk was asked to speak before various groups about the deteriorating situation in Europe. She also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Determined to do her utmost for the cause of Czechoslovak freedom, she began a lecture tour of the United States in September 1939. It soon became clear, however, that the stresses of recent years had undermined her emotional stability, and she was forced to cancel the tour in January 1940. With Masaryk mentally traumatized and suffering from depression, it was decided that she should be institutionalized, and she was moved to the Mitchell Sanatorium in July 1940. In November 1941, she was moved to a facility in White Plains, New York, where one of her frequent visitors was her brother Jan Masaryk, now an official of the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile.

After the liberation of Czechoslovakia in May 1945, Masaryk was released from the hospital and returned to Prague. Although the city was physically intact, much had changed in the six years she had been absent. Aged and psychologically vulnerable, she found it difficult to create a stable life for herself. By the end of 1947, domestic and foreign Communist pressure was bringing the postwar Czechoslovak experiment in democracy to an end. In February 1948, the Communists seized power in a coup d'état, and several weeks later, on March 10, Jan Masaryk died under mysterious circumstances, having apparently committed suicide by hurling himself from the bathroom window of his apartment to the pavement below. Shattered by her brother's death, and with Czechoslovakia now in the grip of a Communist dictatorship, Alice Masaryk once again became an emigré, finding asylum for a last time in the United States.

Despite her poor health, Masaryk refused to retire after settling in the United States. She made frequent broadcasts to the people of Czechoslovakia via Radio Free Europe, reminding them from 1950 to 1954 that one day their democratic system would be restored. She began writing her memoirs in 1954 and in 1960 established the Masaryk Publications Trust, its purpose being the eventual publication in English of the most important writings of her father and other members of the Masaryk family. Her health failing, she spent several years in Florida and died in Chicago on November 29, 1966. A true daughter of both the New World and the Old World, Alice Garrigue Masaryk had been a humanitarian in the 19th-century mold. Her concept of sociology was that of the social organizer who believed that pragmatic solutions, rather than abstract ideologies, offered the best hope for human progress.


Deegan, Mary Jo. "Transcending a Patriarchal Past: Teaching the History of Women in Sociology," in Teaching Sociology. Vol. 16, no. 2. April 1988, pp. 141–150.

——. "Women in Sociology: 1890–1930," in Journal of the History of Sociology. Vol. 1, 1978, pp. 11–34.

Keith, Bruce. "Alice Masaryk (1879–1966)" in Mary Jo Deegan, ed., Women in Sociology: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. NY: Greenwood Press, 1991, pp. 298–305.

Kovtun, George J. Masaryk & America: Testimony of a Relationship. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1988.

——, ed. The Spirit of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937): An Anthology. NY: St. Martin's Press-Masaryk Publications Trust, 1990.

Masaryk, Alice. "The Bond Between Us," in Official Proceedings of the 66th Annual Meeting, National Conference of Social Work. NY: Columbia University Press, 1939, pp. 69–74.

——. "From an Austrian Prison," The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 126, no. 5. November 1920, pp. 577–587.

——. "A Message from Alice Masaryk," in The Survey. Vol. 46. June 1921, p. 333.

——. "The Prison House," in The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 126, no. 6. December 1920, pp. 770–779.

Masaryk, Alice Garrigue. Music in Spillville. Translated by Esther Jerabek. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society, 1969.

Masaryková, Alice Garrigue. Detství a mladí: vzpominky a myslenky. 2nd ed. Prague: Ústav T.G. Masaryka, 1994.

Mitchell, Ruth Crawford. "Alice Masarykova," in The Survey. Vol. 63. March 1930, pp. 633–635.

——, comp. Alice Garrigue Masaryk 1879–1966: Her Life as Recorded in Her Own Words and by Her Friends. Pittsburgh, PA: University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1980.

Zeman, Zbynek. The Masaryks: The Making of Czechoslovakia. London: I.B. Tauris, 1990.

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