Masaryk, Charlotte Garrigue (1850–1923)
Masaryk, Charlotte Garrigue (1850–1923)
American-born wife of Thomas Masaryk, who played an active role in Czech public life during the decades before 1914, encouraging women to fully utilize their talents and engage in political activity . Name variations: Charlotta Garrigue Masaryková; "Charlie" Garrigue. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 20, 1850; died at her country house at Lány, near Prague, on May 13, 1923; daughter of Rudolph Garrigue and Charlotte Lydia (Whiting) Garrigue; had ten siblings; married Thomas Garrigue Masaryk; children: daughters, Alice Garrigue Masaryk (1879–1966), Eleanora (died shortly after her birth in 1889), and Olga Garrigue Masaryk; sons Herbert Garrigue Masaryk and Jan Masaryk (1886–1948, a diplomat and Czech foreign minister).
A native of Brooklyn, New York, who at the age of four moved with her family to the Bronx, Charlotte Garrigue was called "Charlie" by her ten siblings. The large family was a happy one, headed by Rudolph Garrigue, who was descended from a Huguenot family and grew up in Denmark and Germany before immigrating to the United States, where he quickly became successful as the owner of a Brooklyn bookstore. After his shop burned, Rudolph founded the Germania Fire Insurance Company, also a successful enterprise, and the family lived in considerable comfort. Believing that no distinctions should be drawn between his sons and daughters, Rudolph wanted their intellectual and moral development to be as free as possible, and this independence included the right to choose their own religious denominations. These extremely liberal views were shared by his wife, Charlotte Whiting Garrigue , an intellectually adventurous individual who was strongly influenced by unorthodox Transcendentalist ideas and ideals.
The Garrigues' daughter Charlotte was drawn to the arts, particularly music, at an early age. After the family's relocation to a large house in the Bronx, much of her time was spent practicing the piano. Determined to become a famous virtuoso like Clara Schumann , at 17 she traveled to Leipzig, Germany, to study. In Leipzig, she lived with the Goering family, for whom her father had worked in the book trade decades earlier. Her dreams of a musical career as a pianist had to be abandoned after three years of intensive practice resulted in permanent damage to her hands. Back in the United States, Charlotte began to resign herself to a life of giving piano lessons and studying mathematics. Via the post, she maintained contact with the Goerings, her substitute family in Germany, who in some of their letters described an interesting young man who was boarding with them. The son of Slovak serfs, Thomas Masaryk was a student of the new social science of sociology, and he supported himself by giving lessons to other students. The independent-minded Thomas was fiercely determined to be a success.
Obviously intrigued, Charlotte returned to Leipzig in 1876. She and Thomas proved mutually attracted to one another, as well as intellectually and spiritually compatible, and they spent much time together reading and studying. Thomas was impressed by Charlotte's love of mathematics and her strong religious impulses, which while hardly orthodox did include a firm belief in immortality. As a social scientist, he was also drawn to her search for precise knowledge through experience, observation, and disciplined analysis. Among the books they discussed was John Stuart Mill's classic Subjection of Women, a work Thomas Masaryk would later translate into Czech, turning it into a key text of the women's movement in the Czech provinces of the Habsburg Empire.
While visiting some German friends just prior to her return to the United States, Charlotte received a letter from Thomas proposing marriage; she immediately agreed. Soon after her return home, however, she was seriously harmed in a carriage accident. Charlotte's family wrote Thomas, urging him to come to America as quickly as possible due to the severity of her injuries. By the time he arrived in the Bronx, she had made a remarkable recovery, and they were married according to the traditions of Charlotte's chosen faith, Unitarianism, on the Ides of March (March 15, 1878) in the Garrigue family's double living room. In a move indicative of his progressive attitudes, Thomas replaced his patriotic middle name Vlastimil, with his wife's maiden name of Garrigue. Henceforth, he would be known as Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, and in time all of their children would have Garrigue as their middle names. Charlotte's father was taken aback when his son-in-law—noting that it would be difficult if not impossible to support Charlotte in decent circumstances on the meager salary from his new teaching post in Vienna—asked him for financial assistance. Somewhat reluctantly, Rudolph agreed to send a subsidy to Vienna, money which proved particularly needed as the Masaryk family grew rapidly. In all, five children would be born in the next few years, although one daughter, Eleanora, would die soon after her birth in 1889. In 1882, Charlotte joined her husband in Prague, where he had been appointed professor at the newly created Czech-language Charles University.
During her first years as a wife and mother, Charlotte Masaryk worked hard to master the difficult Czech language. In time, she became highly proficient in this venerable Slavic tongue, although she would never completely be at home with the intricacies of feminine verb endings. An enthusiastic mother, she enjoyed the time spent with her children, taking them to open-air swimming baths in the summer and to skating rinks in the winter. Years later, her daughter Alice Garrigue Masaryk would recall her mother walking up and down alongside the skating rink, dressed in a black costume complete with a hat covered with ostrich feathers. She read to them from a great variety of books including Czech, German, and Russian fairy tales; the nursery rhymes of Kate Greenaway ; the Czech classic The Grandmother by Bozena Nemcová ; and works by Dickens and other classic writers of the day. Additional forms of home entertainment included occasional musicales by the Masaryk parents, in which Charlotte played the piano, accompanying Thomas who played the violin.
Charlotte described their summer holidays, which were eagerly anticipated by the entire family, as "fairy tales come true." For a number of years, they went to Klobouky, the home of Thomas' parents' in Moravia, and in later years to a farm in the hills of Slovakia on the river Turec, at a village called Bystricka near Turcansky Sväty Martin. At Klobouky, Charlotte got to know and cherish her husband's peasant parents, while improving her mastery of the Czech language. At Bystricka, where the family lived in a white farmhouse, the girls liked their work in the flax and hemp fields, singing folk songs while carefully picking the plants by hand, and their brother Jan Masaryk enjoyed drilling the local Slovak fire brigade in the nearby village and working as a ploughman in the fields.
These idyllic summers were balanced by the rest of the year in Prague, where studies and Thomas' academic and political activities left their mark on the entire family. Once she had mastered the Czech language and felt at ease in Czech culture, Charlotte Masaryk became increasingly engaged in the most important Czech issues and controversies of the day. Since music remained her first love, she became both an expert and ardent advocate of the rapidly emerging national school of Czech musicians, with particular enthusiasm for the compositions of Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak. The Czech musical world was appreciative of her support, and an edition of Smetana's works was dedicated to her as "the true friend of [his] genius."
But not all of Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk's experiences in her adopted homeland would be pleasant ones. On more than one occasion, her husband's intellectual integrity resulted in difficult situations for the entire family. In 1886, he refused to accept as genuine a collection of ancient Czech manuscripts, which placed him at odds with fellow Czech nationalists. Thomas regarded upholding the truth on a matter of scholarship as being more crucial for the retention of his people's moral integrity than any propaganda victories based on deception. If the documents in question were forgeries, he argued in print and in public debate, this should be acknowledged even if it resulted in a temporary weakening of the Czech national struggle against Austrian domination. Thomas stood almost alone in public on the "manuscript question"; few of his academic colleagues supported him on this issue, and many shunned him. At times, he considered abandoning his teaching post and emigrating to the United States. Charlotte remained convinced that her husband was right in his position and supported him through this difficult period. The stress of the situation was almost more than she could bear—she had suffered a temporary nervous breakdown after the birth of their first child Alice—but while frayed, her nerves did not shatter.
Although in time the bitter memories of the manuscript controversy faded, a new crisis was to put the family's moral resolve even more to the test. In 1899, Thomas, again very much in the minority, spoke out to defend the innocence of Leopold Hilsner, a Jew who had been found guilty of murdering a young girl for purposes of ritual sacrifice. Condemning the case against Hilsner as a terrible miscarriage of justice that echoed the medieval anti-Semitic accusations of ritual murder, Thomas not only defended the accused, but also launched vigorous attacks against the Czech press. He denounced the press for its prejudicial partisanship in this case, which was reminiscent of the anti-Semitism it had displayed several years before when reporting on the Dreyfus affair that had torn apart France. Fearlessly, Thomas also criticized those professional elements among the Czech nation, particularly its doctors and lawyers, who either shared these savage prejudices or remained silent in the face of a grave miscarriage of justice.
Due to Thomas' spirited defense of Hilsner, almost overnight the Masaryks faced a "wave of hatred." Thomas became, in the words of his close friend and ally Jan Herben, "the most isolated man among the Czech public." He was accused of splitting the national cause, of loving the Jewish nation more than the Czech nation, and even of having taken money as bribes from unspecified Jewish sources. Once again, Charlotte provided the strength for him to continue his struggle and persuaded him not to emigrate. Thomas suffered through personal abuse on the street, difficulty in getting published, and countless threatening letters. On one occasion, anti-Semitic students assembled outside the Masaryk home in Prague's historical Malá Strana district, where Charlotte displayed her own gritty courage by successfully persuading them to disperse. Described as a helper and collaborator in all of Thomas' work, Charlotte was willing to make sacrifices: their simple, even stark, flat could boast of few modern conveniences, and in order to provide for the family's necessities she sold all of her jewelry and other luxuries.
Although she often remained behind the scenes in her husband's career, Charlotte Masaryk was an active participant in Czech political life in her own right. She was an enthusiastic advocate of women's rights, presenting her ideas publicly both in meetings and in print. While she maintained a critical stance toward certain aspects of Marxist ideology, in 1905 she nevertheless joined the Social Democratic Party—rather than her husband's Realist Party—because of its ongoing and militant support of the rights of workers, as well as its unequivocally feminist platform. In 1906, she joined street demonstrations of working men and women demanding free and equal suffrage along with the secret ballot. Charlotte saw to it that her older daughter Alice (who would later become an internationally renowned sociologist) was among
the first generation of Prague girls to go on to receive a university education, and she often reminded her husband of the necessity of including Czech women in all aspects of the ongoing national revival. Not surprisingly, Thomas would make an important part of his political credo the idea that the "modern Czech woman signifies for our small nation a doubling of our strength."
World War I would be the last great test of resolve for the Masaryk family. By 1914, the children were grown and settling into marriages and careers. With the start of hostilities in August of that year, Thomas, accompanied by his daughter Olga Garrigue Masaryk , escaped the Austrian police by fleeing first to Italy and then to Switzerland. In July 1915, he declared war on the Habsburg Empire in the name of a yet-to-be-born Czech nation, working thereafter to gain full recognition from the Allies for the Czechoslovak National Council. As a result, Thomas was declared a traitor and sentenced to death in absentia. Back in Prague, Charlotte, depressed, lonely and suffering from heart disease, was now under round-the-clock surveillance by Austrian authorities. Her daughter Alice was interrogated for two weeks in Prague and then imprisoned for eight months in a Viennese prison. Charlotte purposely did not know where her husband's writings might be secreted in their flat, nor did she accept news about his activities abroad, fearing that to do so would endanger those who might bring her such information. Her health was undermined by many personal blows, including her son Herbert's death from typhus while working in a refugee camp in Austrian Galicia and the plight of her younger son Jan, who was captured while attempting to flee abroad and drafted into the Imperial and Royal Austrian Army as punishment.
In late October 1918, the Czech and Slovak nations began the process of dissolving their centuries-old ties to the Habsburg Empire. The independence of the new Czechoslovak Republic, founded in Prague on October 28, 1918, was achieved without bloodshed. On December 21, Thomas Masaryk arrived in Prague to become president of the new nation. He would be elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1920, 1927, and 1934. Thomas retired in 1935 due to extreme age and died, deeply revered, in September 1937. But after 1918, Charlotte could no longer enjoy her husband's triumphs. Her health had been shattered both physically and psychologically during four years of war. She would spend the next years in seclusion, at times under treatment for her troubled emotions, until her death at the presidential summer home at Lány, near Prague, on May 13, 1923.
In his final years, when he looked back on a life rich in achievements and struggles, Thomas Garrigue Masaryk gave credit to his wife for the role she played in his career. On women's issues, he declared, "I am only a peddler of my wife's opinions," admitting that she had in fact been the actual author of one of his major statements in favor of full equality for Czech women, Polygamy and Monogyny. "Without her," he also noted, "I wouldn't have had a clear sense of … my political task." The Czech poet Oldra Sedlmayer summed up the nation's indebtedness to Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk by asserting, "Neither golden letters nor marble monuments can express the moral contribution, the price in human suffering which that daughter of free America paid in the life and work of our president."
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John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia