Interesting and important Hungarian women
International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates the achievements of women, while calling for greater equality. To mark this day we take a look at a selection of important and interesting Hungarian women. While this article is far from exhaustive, we think International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to highlight the achievements and contributions of a selection of Hungarian women – whether they’re key historical figures, active in the arts, have fought for human rights and social justice, or have reached incredible sporting results.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria aka Empress Sisi was of course Austrian, although she was the Queen of Hungary and was sympathetic to the plight of Hungary during the country’s 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs. She tried to do much for the country, so we’ve decided to mention her. Her great affinity for Hungary meant she studied Hungarian and would visit often. She played a role in the creation of the dual Austrian-Hungarian monarchy in 1867 via negotiations between the Hungarians and the Austrians and is said to have influenced the decision for Count Gyula Andrássy to be named the first Prime Minister of Hungary. After her coronation as the Queen of Hungary she was gifted a Hungarian residence and spent much time at Gödöllő and Budapest. Her fourth child was born in Hungary. Today Elizabeth Bridge is named in her honour, among many other things.
We must mention the women of Eger, who we remember for their role during the siege of Eger castle in the 16th century when they helped fight the Ottomans. Among the many tales of heroic bravery are that the women poured hot water and oil over the walls of the castle onto the ascending Turks.
Many women played an important role (alongside men of course) in the 1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. Just one example is revolutionary woman Ilona Tóth who was a medical student at the time and was involved in, and an organiser of, revolutionary activities. She was hanged in 1957 for this and her alleged involvement in a murder of someone thought to be in the dreaded secret service known as the ÁVH, but in 2001 her conviction was overturned.
Blanka Teleki was a campaigner for women’s rights and the promotion of women’s education. In 1846 she opened a school for girls in Budapest. After the revolution of 1848 she was jailed for helping protect revolutionaries. After leaving prison she left to Austria and then France where she took on work to help refugees. Veres Pálné was also a pioneer of women’s education in Hungary in the 1800s.
Ágnes Heller is an internationally known Hungarian philosopher. A large chunk of her work was devoted to questions around the practical and theoretical impact of socialism on society. She has been recognised both in Hungary and abroad for her work and continued to make significant contributions in academia around the world. Most recently Sena Dagadu, who we interviewed in 2014, a Ghanese and Hungarian popular soul singer, was in 2015 named the honorary ambassador to the European Union’s Year of Development program, a role which will see her contributing to creating a better world within the EU framework.
Judit Polgár is a chess master and considered to be the strongest female chess player in history. She was the world number 1 women’s player since the age of 12 (in 1989) until 2015. She was 9-years-old when she first won an international chess tournament, and before she was even a teenager she was able to beat Grandmasters decades older than her. At 15 she was the youngest ever chess Grandmaster. She competed in men’s tournaments rejecting pressure to compete only against women. In recent years she has focused on children’s education authoring books and working on incorporating chess skills into curriculum.