MEMBERS OF PWA
its founding in 1898, the Polish Womens Alliance of America
has opened its doors and its heart to many people from all walks
of life. Some of them were celebrated and many of them were women
- writers, poets, artists, scientists, educators, social workers,
members of religious orders, business leaders, journalists, and
with Polish women who were activists and patriots, dedicated to
changing the world and helping the disadvantaged, were especially
meaningful. Their work brought them in contact with members of
the PWA who were inspired to offer help and solidarity.
honor special bonds of friendship and a commitment to shared causes,
the PWA National Board has, since 1903, extended Honorary Membership
to nine internationally renowned women:
Konopnicka, poet and author
Sklodowska Curie, scientist
Sikorska, social activist
Mikulski, U.S. Senator
Sendler, social worker
nine women were honored for their courage, integrity, and achievement.
Their lives narrate the story of the empowerment of Polish women
in the 20th centuryfrom a writer who had only the power
of her pen to act against the tyranny of an occupier to a U.S.
Senator elected to the highest level of democratic government;
from an internationally acclaimed scientist who was the first
woman to win a Nobel Prize to a young social worker secretly saving
the lives of children in the dark alleys of the Warsaw Ghetto.
lives of the Honorary Members exemplify the motto of the PWA,
The ideals of a woman are the strength of a nation.
Maria Konopnicka (18421910)
Konopnicka was a poet, novelist, translator, and essayist. Beloved
for childrens tales, her patriotic legacy is enshrined by
the poem Rota (The Oath), set in 1910 to powerful music by Feliks
Nowowiejski. It became a popular anthem throughout partitioned
was not a free nation during her lifetime, occupied by the three
superpowers of the era: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Konopnicka
was dedicated to keeping the Polish language and culture alive.
Her emotional and accessible words encouraged not only the oppressed
people in Poland, but also Polish immigrants in distant lands.
She became their voice as they struggled for freedom and dignity
in forging new lives.
Polish Womens Alliance sent wishes to Konopnicka in 1902
on the occasion of her 25th jubilee as a writer. At a time when
Poland did not exist as a nation and its writers and artists were
stifled, Konopnicka was inspired by the fact that far away, in
another country, Polish women founded their own organization and
made their voices heard. She encouraged the fledgling organization
in its work and motivated members to extend the reach of PWAs
mission beyond the parameters of their personal lives. In 1907,
she sent an emotional appeal to PWA members, requesting aid for
Polish political prisoners in Siberia. The membership responded
was an intellectual and spiritual force for the PWA in its formative
years and can be credited with guiding the young organization
on its path toward the dedication to social causes that have defined
the PWA throughout its history.
died at age 68 and is buried in Lwów (Lviv, now in the
Ukraine). In 1935, the 17th National Convention of the PWA designated
funds for a memorial, which was erected at the cemetery. The PWA
also honored the writer with contributions to her museum in Zarnowiec,
Poland, and endowed a school there, which bears
Konopnicka was named the first Honorary Member of the PWA in 1903.
Pawlowska Orzeszkowa was a novelist and, like Maria Rodziewi-
czówna, an adherent of the Polish Positivists, who advocated
the exercise of reason before emotion to sustain a Polish national
writers at the turn of the 20th century played a forceful role
in the emancipation of women and Orzeszkowa was a social spokeswoman
for her readers.
in what is today Belarus, Orzeszkowa married at age 17 a Polish
nobleman Piotr Orzeszko. The marriage was unsuccessful, largely
because Orzeszkowa was not only passionately and actively pro-independence
but also sought emancipation of the serfs. When the marriage was
annulled 11 years later, she settled in her native Grodno, where,
in 1879 she opened a bookshop and publishing house. The Russian
censors closed down her business in 1882, and she was placed under
surveillance for five years. She remarried in 1894; her beloved
second husband, Stanislaw Nahorski died two years later.
wrote a series of powerful novels and essays addressing the social
conditions of her country. She described the peasant milieu in
shocking depictions of the ignorance and superstition of poor
farmers, as well as portrayals of the impoverished gentry of small
villages. Considered Orzeszkowas masterpiece, Nad Niemnem
/On the Banks of the Niemen (1888), describes the life of Polish
society in Lithuania.
Konopnicka influenced PWA members to honor Orzeszkowa on the 40th
anniversary of her writing career and raise funds for a pedagogical
association bearing Orzeszkowas name.
wrote to preserve Polish heritage for her contemporaries who lived
under foreign occupation during the partitions of their country.
Her patriotic writings resonated just as deeply with immigrants
in America as they did with Poles. Her novels are translated in
twenty languages and she was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize
in Literature. Orzeszkowa died in Grodno at age 68.
Orzeszkowa was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1904.
Modrzejewska (1840 1909)
in Krakow, Helena Modrzejewska [Modjeska], née Benda, developed
a spectacular career in the theatres of her native city and Warsaw.
Employing a modern, psychological approach to dramatic interpretation,
she became the most sought-after actress of her era in Europe.
the age of 36, at the height of her career, she decided to leave
Poland with her husband and manager, Karol Bozenta Chlapowski,
a Polish politician and critic, and, together with a group of
friends - writer Henryk Sienkiewicz among them - to establish
a utopian community in Orange County, California. The endeavor
was a failure, but after intensive study of English, she made
a debut at the California Theatre and skyrocketed to worldwide
fame attributed to her Shakespearean roles and abetted by her
became a U.S. citizen in 1893. That year she was invited to speak
at a womens conference at the Columbian Exposition, the
Chicago Worlds Fair. She described the dire situation of
Polish women in the occupied territories of partitioned Poland,
invoking a Tsarist ban on her subsequent travel to Russia. The
PWA contacted the actress soon afterwards with the intent to utilize
her stature in the world to promote Polish charities and the causes
of oppressed women. Modrzejewska was a generous and willing supporter
of PWA endeavors.
actress suffered a debilitating stroke in 1897, and, upon her
recovery performed sporadically and exclusively in benefit performances.
After her death, at age 69, her remains were taken to Poland and
buried in the family plot at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Kraków.
Her funeral was a great patriotic manifestation.
a resolution, the Polish Parliament paid homage to Helena Modrzejewska,
honoring her as an international celebrity and an extraordinary
personality who promoted Polish arts and culture around the world.
Modrzejewska was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1908.
Gorska Paderewska, Baroness de Rosen, was the second wife of Ignacy
Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), the renowned 20th century Polish musician,
philanthropist, and statesman. When World War I broke out, Paderewski
and his wife came to the United States to lobby President Woodrow
Wilson and the U.S. government to support Polish independence.
During four years Paderewski gave concerts to raise funds for
Poland, visiting over 200 cities in the U.S. and playing before
an estimated five million people. Helena accompanied him on these
tours and she was a welcome presence in the concert halls and
meetings he attended, but she also devoted herself to her own
causes and worked on mobilizing not only the U.S. government but
Polish Americans to assist their homeland. Active with the International
Red Cross, she formed the Polish White Cross, an organization
serving the Polish Army in France. She recruited nurses from the
Polish American community to volunteer abroad; it was during this
time she first met PWA members in Chicago and Detroit, who contributed
consistently to her causes. Paderewska was the U.S. president
of the Gray Samaritans who provided relief to POWs and soldiers
by sending parcels with bandages and supplies.
WWI ended, Paderewski became the Prime Minister of free Poland
and Helena its much beloved First Lady. The Paderewskis were great
patriots, highly visible on the international stage, devoting
their lives to the cause of Polands freedom.
advocated courageously for those who suffered most in the wars
that ravaged Europe for so much of her lifetime - children, orphans,
the elderly, and the wounded. For her extraordinary humanitarian
efforts on both sides of the Atlantic, Pope Benedict XV conferred
upon her the golden cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice,
a distinction rarely bestowed upon women, but richly deserved
by this woman of honor and compassion. Helena Paderewska died
at her home, Riond-Bosson, in Morges, Switzerland, at age 77.
Paderewska was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1915.
Marie Sklodowska Curie (18671934)
into a family of renowned teachers in Warsaw, Marie Sklodowska
began scientific training in Kraków and, in 1891, went
to Paris to continue studies in physics and mathematics at the
Sorbonne. She married Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of
Physics, in 1895. In 1898 the Curies isolated the elements radium
and polonium, the latter named for Sklodowskas native Poland.
Together with Henri Becquerel, the Curies received the 1903 Nobel
Prize in Physics for their study of spontaneous radiation.
Curie pursued the study of radium, especially its therapeutic
properties, work she continued after her husband died in 1906.
In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry,
in recognition of her work in radioactivity. With the visibility
the Nobel Prizes accorded, she promoted the use of radium to alleviate
suffering and, during World War I, she devoted herself to this
remedial work, outfitting mobile x-ray units and traveling to
the front to instruct nurses and medics in their use. She donated
the gold Nobel medals she and her husband had been awarded to
the war effort.
Curie traveled to the United States to propagate the use of radium
in medicine and to raise funds for her research. She first met
with PWA members in 1921, during a fundraiser in Chicago, initiating
a fruitful relationship. The PWA contributed to her cause again
during a visit in 1929, this time raising funds for her Warsaw
Radium Institute. She corresponded with the PWA and a friendship
was formed that lasted until her death from leukemia in France
at age 67, caused by overexposure to radiation. The auditorium
in the former PWA headquarters on Ashland Avenue in Chicago was
named in her honor.
was the first woman appointed professor at the University of Paris,
the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and the only woman to
receive the award twice.
Sklodowska Curie was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1921.
Maria Rodziewiczowna (18631944)
Rodziewiczowna was one of the most popular Polish authors of the
interwar years in the 20th century. Her writings idealized rural
life and praised the peasants attachment to land. She wrote
of the need to maintain a national identity and support for traditional
values of the landed gentry, presenting anti-urban views and a
dislike for bourgeois mentality, topics that were close to the
hearts of Polish American immigrants.
parents were exiled to Russia for their political beliefs after
the unsuccessful January Uprising of 1863, a protest by Poles
against conscription into the Imperial Russian Army. When her
parents returned from exile, the family moved from Warsaw to an
estate in Hruszowa, in the eastern Polesie region. Upon her fathers
death, seventeen year-old Maria assumed the management of the
estate and remained closely bound to it for the rest of her life.
adherent of the Polish Positivists - who advocated the exercise
of reason before emotion and viewed work, not uprisings, as the
way to maintain a Polish national identity and constructive patriotism
- she founded a clandestine society for women, Unia (Union), in
1906. Inspired by the ideals of the PWA, Rodziewiczówna
initiated a correspondence with PWA members in 1920, encouraging
their mission and communicating about the unimaginable blight
of poverty in Poland. The membership responded and remitted funds
to support her work with the poor in rural areas. When PWA members
traveled to Poland in 1923 for the first official homecoming of
the young American organization, she was on hand to welcome the
never married, devoting her life to writing, working the land
she loved, and improving the lives of women. She was indomitable,
living life independently at a time when not many women could
pursue careers. WW II forced her departure from Hruszowa to Warsaw,
where, suffering material hardship, she was supported by friends.
She succumbed to pneumonia at age 81.
Rodziewiczowna was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1927.
Zubczewska Sikorska was the wife of Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime
Minister of Poland and Minister of Military Affairs (1922-25)
in the early years of the Second Republic. During World War II,
Sikorski served as Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile
accompanied her husband, a vigorous advocate of the Polish cause
in the diplomatic sphere, on trips to the U.S. and, through her
charitable work with refugees, established contacts with the PWA.
She was invited to speak at the 19th National Convention of the
PWA in Philadelphia in September, 1943, but was obliged to cancel
the trip after her husbands and daughters tragic deaths
in an airplane crash over Gibraltar in July of that year. At that
convention, a $100,000 war relief fund for Poland was established
in her name by the PWA delegates.
WW II, the Polish Red Cross was based in London and Sikorska became
closely involved with the organization, assisting occupied Poland
as well as Polish refugees beyond its borders. During the 1944
Warsaw Uprising, when the Russian Army waited on the outskirts
of the city withholding aid to the Polish Home Army fighting the
Nazis, Sikorska, by then a widow, led a group of prominent Poles
in London who protested the lack of support for the Uprising from
the British government.
1947, Sikorska published The Dark Side of the Moon, an account
of the suffering of Polish people exiled to Russia, in which the
victimization of Polish captives by the Soviet regime is compellingly
portrayed. She donated her husbands papers and memorabalia
to The General Sikorski Historical Institute, founded in London
and Mrs. Sikorski were respected internationally and they were
especially admired by Polish Americans for their work in the struggle
for Polands freedom. Helena died at age 84 in Surrey, England.
Sikorska was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 1943.
Barbara Mikulski (1936 )
Mikulski is the Senior Democratic Senator from Maryland. Elected
in 1986, she is the highest-ranking and longest-serving woman
in the U.S. Senate. A PWA member since childhood, she was raised
in a Polish neighborhood in East Baltimore, where she learned
the values of hard work, neighbor helping neighbor, and heartfelt
patriotism. Determined to make a difference in her community,
Mikulski became a social worker in Baltimore, helping at-risk
children and educating seniors about the Medicare program. Social
work evolved into community activism when Mikulski successfully
organized against a plan to build a 16-lane highway through Baltimores
historic neighborhoods, transforming Fells Point and Baltimores
Inner Harbor into thriving residential and commercial communities.
first election was to the Baltimore City Council in 1971, followed
by election in 1976 to the U.S. House of Representatives from
Marylands 3rd District. In 1986, she ran for Senate and
became the first Democratic woman Senator from Maryland. Mikulskis
experiences as a social worker and activist provided valuable
lessons that she draws on as a Senator. She is often the sponsor
of resolutions and bills in the U.S. Senate that address Polish
issues, such as support of Polands membership in NATO or
the Visa Waiver for Polish citizens.
community activist to U.S. Senator, she never changed her view
that all politics and policy are local, and that her job is to
serve the people in their day-to-day needs as well as to prepare
this country for the future. She serves on several Senate committees
in Washington and is especially committed to securing access to
quality education for all, equal pay for equal work, and other
issues affecting working women.
her political activity, Senator Mikulski shares what she learns
in the corridors of power in the form of novels about a woman
senator whose activist ways win her fans at home but endear few
in the back rooms of Capitol Hill.
Mikluski, a PWA member since childhood, was awarded Honorary Membership
in 1998, the year of the 100th anniversary of the organization.
Krzyzanowska Sendler (Sendlerowa) was a Catholic physicians
daughter whose Warsaw practice served many Jews. He was the role
model for the compassion and sense of social justice that marked
was a social worker for the Warsaw Social Welfare Department when
World War II broke out. In December of 1942, the newly created
Zegota Committee, the Polish Council to Aid Jews - operating under
the auspices of the Polish Government-inExile based in London
- nominated Sendler to head its childrens department. As
a social worker and nurse, she received a special permit to enter
the Warsaw Ghetto and, as a sign of solidarity, she fearlessly
wore the notorious armband with a Star of David.
by the conditions she encountered in the Ghetto, she began clandestinely
to transport children out in ambulances, suitcases, sacks, and
even coffins. With the help of the Warsaw Social Welfare Department,
Sendler successfully smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to
safety and gave them temporary identities, placing them with Polish
families, orphanages, or convents. She buried lists of their real
names in jars to keep track of their identities and in order to
find the children and return them to their parents after the war.
in 1943 by the Gestapo, she was bruttaly tortured and sentenced
to death. Zegota managed to bribe the German guards and Sendler
escaped on the way to her execution. She continued her underground
activity, living in deep hiding, until after the war.
lived her life quietly after WW II, working and raising a family,
until, in 1999, high school students in rural Kansas State produced
a play based on Sendlers life, entitled Life in a Jar, bringing
her renewed international acclaim. Sendler was nominated in 2007
for the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 96. She died in Warsaw
Sendler was named an Honorary Member of the PWA in 2007.