March – a woman’s touch

Marzec March is the one of the two months whose name does not originate from Polish, but from the Latin name of the God of war Martius or Mars.  It brings the spring equinox (21st March) and the beginning of spring.  The days are getting longer and warmer but the old saying ‘w marcu jak w garnculit. in March as in a cooking pot March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb  still holds true.   Days of heavy snow and severe frost can be followed immediately by days of high temperatures and summer-like weather.  However, there is an unmistaken feel of spring coming which is symbolised by the arrival of storks. 

Stork

In an overwhelming Christian country, one pagan tradition still survives – topienie Marzanny lit. drowning of Marzanna – the old slavic pagan tradition of drowning a straw effigy representing winter and death known as Marzanna.  Ancient Slavs feared Marzanna, and thought the best way to protect themselves and their crops as well as encouraging arrival of spring was to burn and drown a Marzanna effigy made out of straw. On the afternoon of 21st March – pierwszy dzień wiosny the first day of spring – children would parade the effigy around the village. Later villagers would take the effigy to the outskirts of the village, to a riverbank, set it on fire and toss it into the water – symbolically saying farewell to winter. 

topienie Marzanny

Marzec has a distinctive famine theme. Matronalia in the ancient Rome was a popular festival held in March devoted to Juno, the goddess of childbirth.  The modern incarnation of this festival is International Women’s Day on the 8th March.  It was brought to Poland from the Soviet Union. Under Communist rule, it gained the status of an official state celebration within a rigid framework of communist propaganda, endless films, speeches, conferences and party gatherings, showing how much socialism and communism achieved for women. Women were given flowers and gifts such as tights, soaps, tea towels, coffee and tea – in other words products which were in short supply for the rest of the year. It’s hardly surprising that women didn’t think highly of these celebrations. 

However, historically, women in the Polish Christian cultural tradition were treated with respect and held in high esteem. Matki mothers, siostry sisters, córki daughters, żony wives and babcie grandmothers played an important role in the family life, which was at the centre of social and national affairs. But women also became  królowe queens, żołnierze soldiers, piloci pilots, naukowcy scientists, aktorki actresses, pisarki writers, szpiedzy spies, pielęgniarki nurses, sędziowie judges and zakonnice nuns; and some became święte saints of the Catholic Church. The tragic Polish history of the last 200 years or so, meant that men were dying in wars, battles, uprisings, Russian/Soviet gulags and women had to take their place in the society and industry.   

There are numerous interesting and influential women throughout Polish history. They were focused and determined to achieve their goals against all odds. They are still inspirational. 

Here are some of them:

Jadwiga Andegaweńska (1373/4 – 1399) –  Jadwiga of Poland, the first female monarch of Poland, crowned ‘king’ on 16 October 1384 in Kraków (then capital of Poland) when she was only 12 years old. She had become a very accomplished politician.  Known for her passion for books and education, she supported financially the Akademia Krakowska better known today as the Uniwersytet Jagielloński in Kraków.  She has become a saint of the Catholic Church.

Jadwiga_by_Bacciarelli

Magdalena Bendzisławska (no dates known) – surgeon in the Salt Mine in Wieliczka near Kraków – first female surgeon (received her diploma in 1698).

Izabela Czartoryska (1746 – 1835) – noblewoman, writer and art collector, founder of the Czartoryski Collection, first museum in Poland (Puławy). 

Izabela Czartoryska

Emilia Plater (1806-1831) – noblewoman, captain in the Polish insurgent forces during the November 1830 Uprising against Imperial Russia. 

Emilia_Plater

Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867 – 1934) – scientist, twice Noble Prize winner – you can read more here

Pola Negri (1897-1987) born as Apolonia Chałupiec – actress, the biggest star of the Hollywood silent films era.  Read more here 

Halina Konopacka (1900 – 1989) – athlete, discus thrower, the first Polish Olympic champion, won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympic Games.  Read more here 

Elżbieta Zawacka (1909-2009) – mathematician and soldier in the Home Army during World War II, acted as an emissary and a courier sent on secret missions to London. She was the only woman amongst the  ‘cichociemni’ Polish special forces trained in Britain and was sent to organise resistance in occupied Poland. She reached the rank of General.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Communist regime. After her release, she became a professor at Toruń University. (You can watch the trailer of the film “The Emissary” about Elżbieta Zawacka here 

Irena Sendler (1910-2008) – social worker, nurse and resistance fighter in the Polish Underground in German occupied Warsaw; prominent member of the Polish Council to Aid Jews – credited with saving 2500 Jewish children from the Holocaust. Learn more here 

Halina Regulska (1899-1994) – racing driver, writer and resistance fighter during the Warsaw Uprising. Read an article about her life here. You can listen to Polskie Radio programme when Halina Regulska is talking about her life  here 

Anna Walentynowicz (1929—2010) –  free trade union activist and co-founder of Solidarity, the first non-communist free trade union in the Eastern Block. You can watch more about Anna Walentynowicz here and here

Wanda Rutkiewicz (1943-1992) – computer engineer and mountain climber, the first woman to climb K2 and the first European woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. You can watch film about her here 

Krystyna Skarbek (1908-1952) – Polish agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II, intelligence officer and spy, celebrated for her daring exploits in intelligence missions in Nazi German occupied Poland. Watch more about Krystyna Skarbek here and here 

Polish tutor tips

Research other famous Polish women such as:

Urszula Ledóchowska  

Jadwiga Piłsudska, Anna Leska and Stefania Wojtulanis

Stanisława Leszczyńska

In the text above, look at the words describing professions related to women  – which ones have specifically feminine forms?