Frame Conditions


Social and political conditions of the situation of women in Poland in the nineteenth century

The Polish state did not exist from 1795 to 1918.  In the nineteenth century its lands were part of the three countries: Russia, Prussia and Austria. The policy of invaders against the Poles was different at different times of the 123rd ocupation. The main objective of invaders’ action was denationalization of Poles through the process of Russification (in the Russian zone) and Germanization (in the Prussian and Austrian partition).

In various times these actions were of varying degrees of severity depending on the socio-political situation in the invader’s country. The strongest of these processes occurred in the Russian sector especially after the January uprising in 1863 -1864, but also in the Prussian partition.

At the time of annexation Poles did not have voting and political rights. In 1867 in Galicia (Austrian partition) men were granted the right to vote but at the same time women were forbidden to join a political party or take part in political assemblies.

The existing codes of civil law in all partitions emphasized patriarchy in the family, thus a male dominance and female subordination. The Polish Kingdom Civil Code which was in force in the Russian zone until 1902 was the most restrictive. It stated that a property of married women belonged to her husband. The same regarded her in come. Besides a woman was not allowed to take up any paid work without a consent of either her husband or her father. Furthermore the most severe restrictions concerning women were: a lack of separate identity document which could be issued only upon a husband’s acceptance, the limitation of woman’s parental rights by the family council. The woman was not allowed to change a place of her residence without her husband’s permission. She had no right to her own earned income. Nor the right to testify in court.

The lack of equal access to education was another barrier for women. Most girls had only so called home education. Richer girls graduated gymnasiums. High education was available for women abroad only. They went first of all to Switzerland, France and Germany. They received diplomas which were not recognized in the Russian zone and required a confirmation.

The first three women began to study at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow/Austrian partition/ in 1894, thus 530 years after the university had been created.

The lack of one’s own country had an impact on the emerging women's movement. But servitude and everything associated with it resulted that the most important was the issue of nationality and independence. The issue of women could not exist by itself. But on the other hand the fall of the country opened the way for women to take an action. Earlier in the Republic of gentry the affairs of the country were the men`s responsibility.

Throughout the nineteenth century the women were involved in work for the society and thus at the end of the age the increasing demand of equal rights became a natural consequence.
The Polish mother under occupation became an exemplary model because men either fought and died or were imprisoned or deported to Siberia for example.

Being a wife and mother became a political issue because the family guaranteed the maintenance of national identity. Pole mother taught language, religion and history, upheld the traditions of the nation being a subject of Russification and Germanization. Women took the fight for the preservation of national identity regardless of social class they came from. The same task had educated landladies as well as simple countrywomen.
The right to vote or gender matters were insignificant against national oppression. The struggle for Polish independence was more important than women’s rights.
The entry of women into public life took place very slowly, and was preceded by hard educational and information work of the first Polish suffragists from the mid-nineteenth century.

Authors: Magda Rogozińska, Grażyna Matulewicz (Lodz University of the Third Age, Poland)


  • I. Desperak, G.Matuszak, M.Sikorska-Kowalska: Emancypantki, włókniarki i ciche bohaterki, Znikające kobiety, czyli białe plamy naszej historii ( Suffragists, weavers and quiet heroes, Disappearing women and white spots in our history), Pabianice 2009
  • Kobieta i edukacja na ziemiach Polskich w XIX i XX wieku, (Woman and education on Polish territory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) red. A.Żarnowska, A.Szwarc, Zbiór studiów, Warszawa, 1995
  • M. Wyrczyńska : Rozwód w świetle prawa obowiązującego w Królestwie Polskim w 2 połowie XIX wieku (Divorce in the law of the Polish Kingdom in the 2nd half of the nineteenth century) , „Historia Pol(s)ki”-periodyk historyczny, nr 1, 2009 (available 14.03.2013)
  • Historia Państwa i Prawa polskiego, t.3 od rozbiorów do uwłaszczenia (History of

Polish State and Law, T.3 of partitions to enfranchise) red.J.Bardach, M. Senkowska-Gluck, Warszawa, 1991