Nataliya Kobrynska: Organizer of the Feminist Movement in Galicia

The tour company Pro Lviv with Love has initiated a project dedicated to giving new life to the women’s almanac Pershyi Vinok (First Wreath), originally published in Lviv in 1887. The almanac was the first work in Galicia and Ukraine to raise the “woman question” — in addition to works of fiction and ethnographic research, the journal included a number of feminist articles, in particular on the position of women in Ukraine and the world.

If not for Nataliya Kobrynska, Pershyi Vinok would have never seen the light of day. Yet, unfortunately, very few people know much about this extraordinary woman — even despite the fact that in Lviv there is a street named after her. Below is a short description of her life, translated from a post by Pro Lviv.

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She was not a scandalous person, did not organize pickets — it was through her inspired and persistent work in the field of education for women that she helped introduce significant qualitative changes to the lives of women in the early twentieth century — and not only in Lviv.

In Austria-Hungary in the second half of the nineteenth century, women were not allowed to study in gymnasiums (high schools) and universities! And it was this issue that Nataliya Kobrynska dedicated her life to.

Nataliya was born into the family of a Greek Catholic priest, Ambassador of the Galician Sejm and the Viennese Parliament Ivan Ozarkevych. The Ozarkevych family was well-known in the region — her brother Yevhen founded Narodna Lichnytsia (the People’s Hospital) in Lviv under the patronage of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, her maternal uncle Yaroslav Okunevsky was a naval admiral in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, her cousin Sofia Okunevska was the first woman doctor in the same Austro-Hungarian Empire, and many other relatives also left a noticeable mark in the history of Galicia.

And yet she didn’t set out to be a feminist at all. But what will you do? At 19 she was married, and at 27 already a widow. And here is the most interesting part — according to the law, a woman could not control her own destiny. If her husband did not determine what she should do, then her father took on these responsibilities.

And so Nataliya Kobrynska goes with her father to Vienna, gets acquainted with Ukrainian ambassadors, among whom Ostap Terletsky made the greatest impression on her. Smart, educated (again, thanks to her father she knew 5 foreign languages), she easily finds a place in this intellectual environment, in which there are no women. Why? Simply because most women did not get the chance she had. Ostap Terletsky persuades her to start writing. And “Mrs. Shuminska,” her debut, helps her spread her wings. From that moment she starts to write about the situation of women and their total lack of education. By the way, Ivan Franko praised her literary work very much, although he ruthlessly criticized her political journalism. And then, together with Sofia Okunevska, she goes to Switzerland, where she enrolls in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Zurich.

On December 8, 1884, she organizes the first meeting of the Society of Ruthenian Women in Stanislaviv [today Ivano-Frankivsk]. This day is the starting point in the history of the Ukrainian women’s movement. And then follows the almanac Pershyi Vinok (First Wreath), the compilers and authors of which were only women (some researchers say that this is the first such project in the world). Interestingly, among them were representatives of both Galicia and Dnipro Ukraine — perhaps this is also the first project that united the divided Ukrainian lands.

Interestingly, in the 1890s, Kobrynska wanted to create a women’s branch in the first Ukrainian political party, but both Ivan Franko and Mykhailo Pavlyk were very opposed to this. She was left with literature — and so she wrote. As our genius told her: “Do you know that you wrote such a thing, which is not equal to all our Galician literature!” She published the almanac Nasha Dolia (Our Destiny) at her own expense, for which she moved to Lviv. Her work was not in vain — in 1897 a decision was made to open women’s gymnasiums and admit women to universities.

Participants of the Congress of Ukrainian Writers on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of “Eneyida” in 1898. Nataliya Kobrynska is seated third from the left.

By the way, in addition to the issue of education, which she considered essential, the next was patriotism — to make every woman feel Ruthenian (Ukrainian), because it is women who raise children and cultivate in them love for the Motherland. She gathered young and active people around her — those who later became important figures of our nation, among them, Lesia Ukrayinka and Olha Kobylianska, who considered her their teacher.

She never married again — her social activism took away all her time. During World War I, she almost ended up in an Austrian concentration camp for her patriotic stance. And in 1920 she quietly died from typhus. To prevent the spread of the disease, her house in Bolekhiv was burned down. Thanks to the efforts of local enthusiasts, in the Bolekhiv library there is now a room dedicated to this extraordinary woman, about whom much more can be said….

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