If you want to know a true pioneer for writing and women’s rights in Croatia, look no further than the extraordinary Marija Jurić Zagorka.
Now, you may have already heard of her. She was the first female journalist in Croatia, a women’s rights activist and a renowned writer.
But have you heard her story? No?
Excellent. Strap in because it’s quite the journey.
Marija was born into a wealthy family who ensured she received an excellent education. However, she was later married to a Slovak-Hungarian railway officer 17 years her senior. Her new husband would have been any self-respecting Croatian woman’s nightmare. He often spoke about how Croatians were the lesser species, and punched his chest about how great the mighty Magyars were. Marija despised his actions, and suffered a mental breakdown as a result.
She was desperate for a divorce (could you blame her?), but her husband said she was mentally unstable and sent her to an asylum instead.
You’d be unsurprised to learn that the doctors discharged her when they realised she was a perfectly healthy young woman.
With the help of her father, she managed to get the divorce. However, she was found guilty of ‘marriage failure’. Her mother even testified against her so that Marija’s ex-husband didn’t have to pay her alimony or return any of her personal belongings.
Free from the shackles of an undesirable husband, Marija started her journalism career in 1896 for the magazine, “Obzor”. She had strong support from Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the hardships she faced because she was a woman in a man’s world. She endured gender discrimination, contempt from colleagues, accusations of immoral behaviour, politicial persecution and meagre wages. Nevertheless, she persisted and made a name for herself.
During the People’s Revolt against the Hungarians, Marija edited Obzor on her own for 5 months whilst her male colleagues were in jail. She, too, spent 10 days in jail.
Through her work, she also enabled the first women’s protest in Zagreb in 1903.
She gave lectures on women in politics, solidarity and the national struggle for women.
In 1925, she launched Ženski list, the first women’s magazine in Croatia, and edited it.
In 1938, she founded Hrvatica – a feminist newspaper that she invested all her assets in.
She wrote comedy, novels, one-act plays, satire and some historical romance. She was often ridiculed by other writers and men in her field for doing so. Her works were written with the intention of educating her readers on Croatian history, the fight for national independence, women’s and workers’ rights.
Her apartment was eventually turned into a museum about Marija and other influential women in her field.