Insurgent Troops

The participation of women in the Greater Poland Uprising

Anna Barłóg-Mitmańska

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The backyard of the uprising 

When writing about the Greater Poland Uprising, one must take a closer look at its backyard. Behind the organised and armed insurgent units, there was an army composed of Greater Poland inhabitants who spontaneously joined the pro-independence movement and supported it with their work and financial resources. The spiritual dimension of the support was also of great significance. The awareness that the whole of society supported the insurgents boosted their will to fight and brought faith in victory. One must, however, take into account not only the activities during the uprising, but also everything that had happened before it broke out and had significantly contributed to the effectiveness of the movement. Let us also remember about years of preparations, which proved that, despite having stayed under occupation for over 120 years, the residents of Greater Poland were a community aware of their national origin. This came as a surprise to the Prussian authorities, who expected that after decades of Germanisation and Kulturkampf, the population living in the Poznań province would be entirely deprived of their national identity. The backyard of the uprising, which is the subject of this present publication, is therefore seen not only from a material, but also from a spiritual perspective, an essential part of which were the initiatives and activities undertaken by women 

Grassroots work

The 19th and 20th century women living in Greater Poland had an immense impact on shaping the patriotic attitudes of the generations they raised. Mothers, sisters, aunts and women who were professional educators moulded young organisms, bringing them up in the spirit of patriotism and love for their home country, which, although not visible on the maps of Europe, was fostered in memory and daily life. Young Poles, educated in Prussian elementary schools and prevented from any contact with Polish culture and language, could easily lose their national identity. The Polish women, however, took a number of initiatives aimed at intensifying the contact with the Polish language and culture. Families cared about cultivating Polish traditions and rituals and national and religious holidays were solemnly celebrated. The Catholic faith, in the form of catechism classes and praying in Polish, was also an element that distinguished the Polish community from the Germans, who were Protestants. Children were taught Polish and history and toddlers were told ancient legends. Women often kept souvenirs of the pre-Partition Poland, walls in the houses of richer families were decorated with the portraits of the most noble Poles and reproductions of Matejki’s and Grottger’s paintings, while Polish literature, including the works of Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Sienkiewicz, was collected, shared and read. Polish poetry was recited and songs were taught and sung during family and national celebrations. It should be borne in mind, that parents or older siblings were often punished for “Polish behaviour”.

As well as the initiatives taken at homes, action on a larger scale was also undertaken. In 1894, the open Mutual Support of Friends and Child Care Association “Warta” was established. It focused on helping poor and disabled children from Poznań, but was also a secret school functioning in the private homes of women who were members of the Association. “Classes”, supervised by female tutors and inspectors, were attended by from five to a dozen children. The Association educated Polish teaching staff, developed curricula and published Polish handbooks. Members of “Warta” were often punished for their activity. The founder of “Warta”, Aniela Tułodziecka, for her series of “Conversations for Polish Mothers” was brought before a court and sentenced to 12 days of imprisonment. 

In December 1910, on the initiative of Ludwika Turnowa née Mycielska, the Association of Female Landowners from Greater Poland and Pomerania, with its seat in Poznań, was founded. The Association’s activity focused on those affairs related to education and economy, but its primary objectives were patriotic education and opposition to Germanisation in the closest environment, mostly among women and children. The women belonging to the Association organised or secretly supported the teaching of the Polish language to children, established child-care centres and libraries, organised lectures for village women and knitting classes for girls, etc. They also taught Polish songs and poems and celebrated national anniversaries, doing all this in a secret and private form. During World War I, they focused on helping families whose fathers and sons were fighting in the war. They collected food and clothing for the poor and took care of the homeless and the orphans.  

Singing societies were a somewhat less obvious form of fighting for independence, but in the Partition period, songs were like weapons, because they sang about national affairs. Furthermore, singing in a group strengthened the patriotic spirit. The Prussian authorities were aware of this and frequently imposed punishment on choirs and musical societies. The list of forbidden songs, published in February 1911, included 244 musical pieces.

The People's Libraries Society was also very active – permanent and mobile libraries, based on the rule of exchanging books between individual locations, were set up. Activities organised for children included reading fairy tales and stories, nativity plays, amateur theatres and “living word” events. Women, landowners in particular, also founded independent reading rooms to popularise reading among rural women. 

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