More than Words

Feminist Icon That Will Never Be Forgotten - Marija Juric Zagorka

The first professional journalist and one of the most widely read Croatian writers. Fighter against social discrimination, Hungarization, and Germanization. Feminist icon, unique, Marija Juric Zagorka.

One of the many fascinating facts regarding Zagorka is that a lot of people don't know the exact date of her birth, but the most likely date is March 2, 1873. She was born in a wealthy family that was very worried about her education, but in the end they married her off to the Hungarian railway worker. The marriage lasted only 3 years and then she returned to Croatia and began her long and remarkable career.
Image credit: Lice grada

Journalistic activity

Her journalistic activity began in 1896 when her first article came out in the journal 'Obzor'. The article is a reflection of the patriotic and social revolt called Egy Percz (One moment). After that article and on the recommendation of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, she entered the editorial offices of Obzor as a clerk for the Hungarian-Croatian politics. They gave her a separate room because, at the time, it was unimaginable that a woman worked for newspapers. She could write whatever she wanted, but it had to be anonymous. Zagorka considered this to be a discrimination and an insult, and that was probably the impetus for feminist activism later on. She wasn't only the first Croatian feminist icon but also the first journalist in this part of Europe to have dealt with these issues.

In Obzor, she began her journalistic career. But it wasn't easy. Board of directors were opposed because they said that the reputation of Obzor would be tarnished if the public found out that a woman was working for them. Strossmayer then showed that he was a sincere Christian and a true pioneer of the struggle for women's rights by guaranteeing for Zagorka.

Zagorka had struggled her entire life to prove that she was someone. She reported about the political events, the Parliament, and she was a correspondent from Budapest and Vienna, and also the first woman reporting from the Croatian Parliament. She actively participated in political struggles, was loud and harsh against Hungarization and Germanization. During the incarceration of the two editors of Obzor 1896, she edited the papers herself showing remarkable energy and intelligence. She launched and edited the first newspaper in Croatia exclusively for women from 1938 - 1940, and named it - "Ženski list" (Female paper), and then "Hrvatica" (Croatian woman). But she was still continuously exposed to ridicule and humiliation.


Literary work

She wrote comedy, novels, one-act plays and satire, and gave importance to the development of Croatian dramatic literature. Her famous stage work is comedy 'Jalnuševčani' (The Citizens of Jalnuševac) written in 1917. It is not easy to answer the question how many novels Zagorka wrote. However, it is believed that she wrote about thirty-five novels, some of which have not been completed, and some may not be even written. The best-known novel is 'Grička vještica' (The Witch of Grič), and others like 'Lotrščak daughter', 'Queen of Croats', 'Princess of Petrinjska Street', 'Stone Road', 'Little Revolutionary', 'Slaves', 'Innocent in a Mental Institution' and many others. She also wrote plays 'Kalista' and 'Dorothea' (written when she was only 14 years old) and 'Evica Gupčeva'.

However, Zagorka was very popular with readers. Maybe that's why some literary celebrities of the time didn't like her. And only recently did we get the possibility to talk about the attention given to her work. Her popularity grew with each new novel being published, and people gave her nicknames like 'Grička vila' (The fairy of Grič; after the publication of Grič witches) and the 'Queen of Croats'.
She was perhaps best described by writer Paul Pavicic when he said: You're too early in everything, and maybe this would be just the right time for you.

Image credit: Center for Women's Studies


About 'The Witch of Grič'

'The Witch of Grič' is a novel. By topic, it's a romance novel with elements of adventure, crime, action, history. The novel highlights the influence of the Croatian national revival in Zagorka's creativity. It is reflected in the somewhat anti-Austrian orientation because she wanted to show the implementation of Hungarization in its time. She suggestively, but indirectly points out that the troubles in a strange country overtook the main characters and tells us about the writer's opinion about Croatian troubles at that time.
Characters engage in a reckless adventure to save their ideals, defend their opinions and expose the criminals. Historical events that are incorporated into the work as a part of the obstacles that the protagonists must overcome to achieve their happiness in the novel act as Zagorka's intention to Croatian readers interested in Croatian history

Feminist action

In 1896, she organized female typographical workers in the organization 'Kolo'. Six years later (1903) she led the first women's protest in Zagreb at the same time giving lectures on women in politics, solidarity, national struggle, and suffrage for women.
In addition to politics in her work as a journalist, she wrote polemical texts that advocate for gender equality (controversy with Matos, 1909) and women's rights (women's suffrage, the right to education, the right to property and profession). Texts were published under different, often male pseudonyms (Jurica Zagorski, Petrica Kerempuh), and the most famous pseudonym was 'Zagorka'.

In the 1930s, she returned to journalism and feminist engagement. She supported the initiative of the younger generation of female writers for the establishment of the 'Društvo hrvatskih književnica' (Croatian Association of Women in Literature). The establishment of NDH prohibited publication of the journal "Hrvatica" and merged Zagorka's assets. Being left abruptly without a livelihood, she attempted suicide. At the end of World War II, she was in Zagreb thanks to the financial help and care of loyal readers. Although at an advanced age and in frail health in the 1950s, she continued to struggle for women's equality. Her feminist work provoked laughter and hostility from her male colleagues who called her a "mad woman" and a "masculine grandmother". 
She died in 1957 and was buried in the arcades of Mirogoj cemetery. But thanks to her, today in Croatia there are women who follow her footsteps and still fight for equality.

Image credit: Memorial Apartment Marija Juric Zagorka


Memorial Apartment Marija Juric Zagorka

Memorial Apartment Marija Juric Zagorka is located at the address Dolac 8 and shares space with the Center for Women's Studies.
Center for Women's Studies is the first and the only center of this kind in Croatia, founded in 1995 by a group of theoreticians and scientists, feminists, peace activists and artists. Center develops multi-interdisciplinary studies and expert knowledge on women's issues in Croatia and is the place of academic discourse, activism, and artistic practices. The main activities of the Centre are education, research, publishing, library activities, cultural events, advocacy of gender equality and women's studies.
Coexistence and interconnectedness of these two areas indicate the necessary interweaving of past and present whose relationship reveals the connection between Zagorka's life and work, commitment to the field of literature, feminism and social criticism with contemporary feminist efforts of the Centre for Women's Studies.

In 2007, the Centre celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Zagorka's death and since then it is commemorated in December each year. Also, March 2nd marks Zagorka's birthday, every third Thursday of the month public lectures dealing with women's issues in literature and science are held. Memorial Apartment Marija Juric Zagorka takes part in the Night of Museums and is certainly one of the most important cultural and tourist points of the city of Zagreb. Within the library of the Centre for Women's Studies, specializing in women's and gender issues, a collection of Zagorka's books is formed and is open to members.
Marija Juric Zagorka is the first Croatian political journalist, co-founder of the Croatian Journalists Association, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, originators of the genre of science fiction, the founder of the first women's trade union organization in Croatia, a feminist and fighter for human rights.
The permanent exhibition of the Memorial of the apartment Marija Juric Zagorka was presented to the media and the public on November 19, 2014, and is open to visitors on Thursdays and Sundays from 11am - 4pm. With the announcement of the possibility of organizing group visits and admission is free.

Image credit: Memorial Apartment Marija Juric Zagorka


Header image credit: Nina Klarin

Author: Nina Klarin