Ladies American Club
Small Step towards Women’s Education
140 Anniversary of Establishing the Club
In 1862 a well known Prague patron and philanthropist Vojta Naprstek presented his opinion on women’s education at the Industrial Exhibition in Prague. He declared in public that women should use as many household machines and tools as possible. The time saved this way should be used for education and study.
On 16 January 1865 forty nine Prague ladies came into Naprstek House to hear a lecture at the end of which they established Ladies American Club. The word “American” was seen as synonymous with “modern” and expressed the fact that the club presented the newest scientific information to club members and used modern methods of organisation. The founding members of the club were famous writers like S. Podlipna, K. Svetla, famous personalities like A. Braunerova and Marie Riegrova, as well as an employee of Naprstek distillery Josefa Krizova, later to become Naprstek’s wife. The activities of the club were very attractive and it soon had 200 members. During its lifetime some 1,500 women passed through the club. Amongst the club members were women of different ages, poor women as well as noblewomen. Apart from famous writers Karolina Svetla, Sofie Podlipska, Eliska Krasnohorska, Venceslava Luzicka – Srbova, Marie Gebauerova, Ludmila Grossmannova – Brodska, Anna Lauermannova, Ruzena Jesenska, Tereza Novakova, Ruzena Svobodova or Marie Majerova , there were also famous painters like Zdenka Braunerova, Zdenka Kalasova, Vilemina Knizkova, Berta Liebscherova, Marie Purkynova and Marie Urbanova. Famous singers like Klementina Kalasova, Miloslava Havelkova, Gabriela Roubalova or Johana Cavallarova, violonist Anna Laubova or a pianist virtuoso Helena Rossnerova – Konradova appeared on Czech scenes as well as all over the world.
Vojta Naprstek was designated lifelong protector of the club and he allowed the club to use his own premises and library. Twice a week the library was reserved for the use of the club members and during winter months Naprstek organized lectures of prominent experts from different fields. During the summer, the club members undertook educational excursions, instructive and pleasure trips. They were not only interested in natural and historic curiosities and sights but also in factories, plants, economy, social and cultural institutions. In addition to these activities, club members organized language courses, choir singing and physical education in hired gymnasiums.
Apart from education, the club members pursued charitable activities. They took care of handicapped people in nursing homes, read to the blind and took deaf-mute persons on trips and into Naprstek House for New Years’ social gatherings. Moreover, they organized distributions of presents in selected institutions during holidays, prepared music parties and introduced decoration of Christmas trees.
Club members were also concerned with school children. For them they organized school trips with games, singing and refreshments. Children got acquainted with new sports, e.g. with badminton.
The club got into public consciousness already in 1866 when during the Prussian – Austrian conflict club members treated injured persons and sewed clothes for them.
The club was involved in Czech patriotic life and supported Naprstek’s ideas. Members took care of graves of the forgotten giants of the Czech past. In 1869 club members unveiled a headstone of Bozena Nemcova at Vysehrad graveyard. This event was attended by thousands of patriots who also organized a national demonstration. In 1874 Naprstek opened his Czech Industrial Museum and club members helped to look after the exhibits and to guide visitors.
Soon, the club succeeded in developing qualified and self-assured women who were able to establish further womens’ clubs and new educational institutions. Womens’ Manufacturing Association was established in 1871 (later on provided teaching in secondary technical schools), 1885 saw the establishment of Household, First Culinary School, Ltd. and in 1890 first private grammar school for women in Europe, Minerva, was opened.
Amongst the most significant activities of the club at the beginning of the 20th century was the organization of cultural programmes for Prague housemaids. In the period 1901 – 1913 club offered free music and literary productions with actresses from the National Theatre and world famous musicians. The club continued in its activities until 1948 when alongside other similar clubs it was banned by the new political regime.
In 1996, the club re-opened and now organizes cultural and educational programmes for anyone interested in history, culture and meeting other people.This English text was prepaid by Náprstkovo muzeum
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