Queer Places:
Lány Castle, Zámecká 2, 270 61 Lány, Czechia

Alice Masaryková or Alice Garrigue Masaryk (3 May 1879 – 29 November 1966) was a Czech teacher, sociologist and politician. She is a prominent figure within the field of applied sociology and known to many as the daughter of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and the First Lady of Czechoslovakia.

Alice Masaryk was born in Vienna, Austria as the first child to the future founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (Thomas Masaryk) and his US American wife Charlotte Garrigue. Her siblings were Herbert Masaryk, Olga Masaryková, Eleanor Masaryková and Jan Masaryk. In her memoirs Masaryk recalls a "happy and fulfilled childhood...[and] dedicated herself mainly to the study of languages, religion and especially reading."[1]

The family moved to Prague when she was 3 years old, where Masaryk started school in 1886. Her education lasted until 1898 and included advanced secondary education at the first girls' grammar school in Prague, Minerva.[2] This was followed up by university studies at the renowned Charles University in Prague to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. Masaryk reports that she took the opportunity very seriously not least because she was one of few women admitted for medical sciences. However she left the department after a year for several reasons.[3] She continued her studies in diverse subjects such as History, Sociology and Philosophy at the Charles University and moved to London, Berlin (1901-1902) and Leipzig to "deepen her academic education by studying abroad."[4] She received a Doctorate on 23 June 1903, with a dissertation on "The Magna Charta of Freedom of King John Lackland, 1215".[5]

Alice Masaryk went to live in the University of Chicago Settlement in 1904, at the very same time as the young Upton Sinclair was there, asking questions about conditions in the slaughter-houses. Her father, who was also in Chicago lecturing at the University on the problems of small nations, was often to be found in the Settlement playground, sitting on the corner sand-box, talking contentedly to children in Polish, Slovak, Bohemian, German or English. Alice Masaryk, whom people described as ‘talented, attractive and well-educated’, with ‘gorgeous dark eyes’ and always smiling, had come to Chicago to learn about social conditions in America, about settlement work and reform, and to research the lives of the Bohemian people in the US. Chicago was the third-largest Bohemian city in the world; Masaryk also visited Bohemian settlements in Iowa, Nebraska, Cleveland and New York. The Slovak woman who cleaned Hull-House became a particular friend. When Alice visited Czech women in their homes and heard about their brutalizing work in the stockyards, she would return to her room and weep over what America was doing to her people. Mary McDowell got her involved in the business of municipal street-cleaning, and Masaryk helped to organize a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys into the ‘Cleaners’ Club of Chicago’, whose declaration of rights was: ‘we young citizens of Chicago have a right to a city of clean streets, clean air, clean alleys, clean milk, and clean water’. Most movingly, it was one of these boys, Dr Harold O. Rosenberg, who was responsible for inviting Alice Masaryk back to the University of Chicago Settlement during her exile from Czechoslovakia in the Second World War.

Alice Masaryk was the founder of modern welfare systems and of a training school for social workers in Czechoslovakia. She also initiated the ‘Sociological Section’ of Charles University in Prague, bringing in specialists to lecture to students about social problems: neglected children; nutrition; housing; workers’ conditions. Transatlantic networks helped Alice Masaryk during a particularly demanding period of her life. By the time of the First World War she was a declared pacifist, working with American and other European women in the peace movement, and helping to found its Czech branch. In October 1915 she was working as a nurse in a military hospital in a town near Prague when she was arrested, interrogated for two weeks and accused of high treason on the grounds of hiding her father’s political papers. She spent eight months in cell number 207 of Landesgericht prison in Vienna. In one of many letters from her prison cell to her mother, she bravely remarked that ‘Every experience helps us in life, and this is truly better than the Ladies’ Home Journal experience which many women have.’ She asked her mother to send her books on ‘practical sociology’. Tomáš Masaryk, who was out of the country at the time campaigning for Czech independence, enlisted the help of his friend, the businessman Charles Crane, and he wrote to Mary McDowell in Chicago explaining that the government had struck at him through Alice, who was completely innocent. As a result of McDowell’s response, 40,000 letters and telegrams were sent to Vienna petitioning for Alice Masaryk’s release. The case got a great deal of media publicity in the US. Signatories of the petition included McDowell, Jane Addams and Florence Kelley from Hull-House; Lillian Wald from the Henry Street Settlement in New York; the social reformer and leader of the National Consumers’ League, Pauline Goldmark; and the reformer and suffragist Mary Mumford. Julia Lathrop, the head of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Labor, the highest-ranking woman in the federal government at the time, also intervened separately. A resolution was drawn up by Grace Abbott, Director of the Immigrants’ Protective League, and then adopted by the Bohemian National Alliance, asking the US State Department to use all possible influence with the Austrian government. Referring to Alice Masaryk’s ‘nobility of character, her fine sense of honor, her humanitarian interests, and her distinguished scholarship’, her American friends argued that American women couldn’t possibly keep still and allow ‘this cruel act of injustice to a gentle young woman’. Alice Masaryk was freed early in July 1916.

After her release from prison, Alice Masaryk’s sociological work became an object of interest to the secret police, so she conducted it in secret, inviting young women interested in sociology to her home, discussing theory and practice with them and teaching them research methods. When her father became president of the new republic in 1918, she found herself with two jobs: since her mother was ill, she effectively became ‘first lady of Czechoslovakia’, entertaining her father’s political colleagues, together with various kings, princes and lords, and famous personages such as Marie Curie, Thomas Mann, H.G. Wells and Mary Pickford in Lany Castle, a baroque establishment in the Křivoklát woods near Prague. In her day job, as a member of the National Assembly of Czechoslovakia and head of the Czech Red Cross, she was responsible for reforming the old Austrian welfare system and designing a new one for the new republic. The Czech Red Cross was the national welfare agency, and Masaryk spoke of it as a movement – much like the Settlements she had witnessed in the US – for promoting civic altruism. Liberation from three hundred years of Austro-Hungarian rule, combined with the First World War, had left the Czechs with thousands of refugees and displaced persons, a shortage of everything and extremely patchy or non-existent welfare services. Deciding that what was needed was a thorough social survey on the American model, Masaryk turned to Mary McDowell for help. Three young American women were dispatched to Prague in 1919. Five areas were chosen for study: public health; social welfare; recreation; the social aspect of education; and the condition of women in industry. The work was done by Masaryk, nine American women and 35 Czech helpers. There was a pause while the Americans collected and had got translated a ‘sociological library’, helping their Czech colleagues with social research methods. Four volumes of the Prague Survey were completed in English, translated into Czech and published by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Social Welfare in the 1920s. The McDowell–Masaryk connection continued for the rest of their lives. McDowell returned to Prague for six months in 1922 to live with the Masaryks and help with Alice’s welfare work. Her contribution to modern Eastern European society was recognized in the award by Lithuania of the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, and by the Czech Republic of the Order of the White Lion. Nonetheless, Alice Masaryk remains a marginalized historical figure, remembered chiefly as her father’s daughter and First Lady of Lany Castle.

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