one of the oldest fraternal benefit societies founded by women
to help them and those they care about establish financial security
and economic independence.
a fraternal benefit society, we welcome you into a unique
A family that prides itself on commitment to preserving
Polish heritage and culture, developing a spirit of volunteerism
and support for programs and projects that benefit humanity,
and encouraging future generations to pursue excellence
its founding in 1898, Polish Women's Alliance has opened its doors
and its heart to many people from all walks of life-some of them
were famous and many of them were women-writers, poets, artists,
scientists, educators, social workers, activists, clergy, members
of religious orders, business leaders, journalists, and politicians,
from Poland, from the United States, and from all around the world.
Some of these contacts stood out more than others, especially
the bonds forged with women, Polish women, who were able to inspire
PWA members with their dedication to their work and to their Polish
heritage. To honor these special bonds of friendship and commitment
to shared values and common causes, the National Board extended
Honorary Membership to eight extraordinary women in the last 108
years. The Honorary Members of Polish Women's Alliance are:
first Honorary Membership was conferred in 1903 on Polish writer
Maria Konopnicka; the last one to U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski-
almost one hundred years later. These women are true examples
of courage, integrity, and achievement. And their lives tell the
story of the empowerment of Polish women in the 20th century-from
a writer who had only the power of her pen to act against the
tyranny of an occupier-to a woman one hundred years later elected
to the highest levels of democratic government.
Maria Konopnicka (1842 - 1910) was a Polish patriot, poet, novelist,
translator, and essayist. She is most beloved for her children's
poetry, especially the popular fairy tale "Little Orphan
Marysia and the Elves" that every Polish child knows and
for the patriotic poem "Rota" or "The Oath."
Her poetry was emotional, spontaneous, accessible, and fresh.
Poland was not a free nation during her lifetime. It was occupied
by the three superpowers of the time, Russia, Prussia and Austria,
and Konopnicka's works were dedicated to keeping the Polish language
and culture real and alive for new generations of Poles who had
never known a free Poland. Her words encouraged not only the oppressed
people in Poland, but also Polish immigrants far away from the
homeland. She became their voice as they struggled for freedom
and dignity in their new lives.
Polish Women's Alliance sent wishes to Konopnicka in 1902, on
the occasion of her 25th anniversary as a writer. This was the
beginning of a warm correspondence between Konopnicka and the
PWA that continued until her death. She encouraged the fledgling
organization in its work for women and for Poland and inspired
them to see their mission as reaching beyond the borders of their
lives. At the 4th National Convention of the PWA held in Chicago
in 1903, Honorary Membership was bestowed on Maria Konopnicka.
In 1907, the pages of G³os Polek printed an emotional appeal
from Konopnicka to PWA members, asking for help for Polish political
prisoners in Siberia. The men were forced to work long hours in
labor camps in chains and they needed bandages for the wounds
on their arms and legs from the chains. PWA members made these
by hand and sent the bandages called "podkajdanki" to
Siberia for many years, until Poland regained its independence
after World War I and the prisoners, those who had survived, were
able to return home.
Konopnicka did not live to see Poland's independence restored.
She died in 1910 and is buried at the Lyczaków Cemetery
in Lwów. The 17th National Convention of the PWA held in
1935 approved funds for a memorial to be erected at the cemetery
in her honor. It stands there to this day, a testimonial to the
friendship between the great Polish patriot and writer and the
generations of women in the United States, whom she had never
met, but whom she had inspired with her words and with her courage.
Through the years, PWA has continued to support the legacy of
Maria Konopnicka, including the Museum and school in Zarnowiec
in Poland that bear her name.
second Honorary Member of PWA is Polish writer and novelist Eliza
Orzeszkowa. Women writers at the turn of the 20th century
played a special role in the emancipation and formation of generations
of women and Orzeszkowa, much like Konopnicka, was such a mentor
for her readers. Maria Konopnicka wrote to PWA members asking
them to honor Eliza Orzeszkowa on the 40th anniversary of her
writing career. She also asked them to help raise funds to build
a pedagogical institute bearing Orzeszkowa's name. The Board approved
a donation for that cause and also made an appeal to PWA members.
Orzeszkowa was named an Honorary Member of PWA at the Fifth National
Convention in 1904.
Eliza Pawlowska (1842-1910) was born in what is today Belarus.
In her sixteenth year she married Piotr Orzeszko, a Polish nobleman,
who was exiled to Siberia after the insurrection of 1863. She
started writing early and wrote a series of powerful novels and
sketches, dealing with the social conditions of her country.
On the Niemen (1888), her best-known work, deals with the Polish
aristocracy, and Lost Souls (1886) and Cham (1888) with rural
life in Belarus. Her study On Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism appeared
in 1880. Like Konopnicka, she wrote to preserve Polish culture
and heritage for generations of her contemporaries, who had only
known life under foreign occupation. These patriotic writings,
imbued with love of Poland, its people and land, as well as its
traditions resonated just as deeply with immigrants in America
as it did for the Poles living in Poland under foreign rule.
third Honorary Member of Polish Women's Alliance is world-famous
Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. She was a legend in her
time, known and respected on two continents. She was as beloved
in America as she was in Europe-one could call her one of the
very first international super stars. She spent her early life
in Poland, immigrating later to the United States which became
her second home. She was born on October 12, 1840, in Cracow,
Poland, and she died on April 8, 1909, in Newport Beach, California.
Helena started acting as a young girl at a school run by the Presenta-tion
Sisters in Russian-occupied Poland. Her acting career began on
provincial stages and by age 21 reviews of her talents were reaching
the bigger cities in Poland as well. She was tall and graceful
and she had a beautiful voice. She soon earned a contract in Lwów
and after two years there, went on to perform and tour in other
Polish cities on the Russian border
as well as in Russia. Her career really took off when she finally
moved back to Kraków in October 1865. The theater scene
in Kraków was a special place, brimming with new ideas
and energy. The repertories embraced both Polish and foreign classics,
as well as ambitious contemporary dramas, and with a group of
other talented Polish actors Modrzejewska soon became part of
the "Cracow School," known for a modern, psychological
approach to dramatic interpretation.
After four successful years in Kraków, Modrzejewska finally
made her Warsaw debut. The capital city fell in love with the
young actress from the provinces, whom they had heard so much
about. For the next ten years, she appeared in countless plays
in Warsaw to rave reviews. She loved playing Shakespearean roles
and it seemed like they had been written especially for her! Her
acting skills got even better as she matured She became one of
the most talked about women in Europe.
In 1876 Modrzejewska, her second husband Karol Chlapowski, and
her son left Poland for the United States. They bought a farm
near Anaheim, California, along with Henryk Sienkiewicz, the future
Nobel Prize-winning writer, and a few other artists. They wanted
to establish a community where creativity and art would thrive,
but they were not successful at this endeavor, so Helena took
a crash course in English, simplified her last name to Modjeska,
and appeared in San Francisco in her first English language role
in 1877. She was an instant hit and her American career was launched.
She then appeared to great acclaim on the stages of New York,
Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Her excellent
acting technique was often commented on as was her magnetic personality.
Three years later, in 1880, she sailed to England for a number
of guest performances and she would go back many times, both to
England and to Poland. She especially loved to perform for her
countrymen, in her mother tongue. She became a U.S. citizen in
1883 and continued acting until her retirement from the stage
in 1907. Her home and gardens, called Arden, in Lake Forest, California,
have been designated a National Historic Landmark.
After her retirement, she devoted herself to writing her memoirs,
in English, Memories and Impressions. She died in 1909 and was
buried in Los Angeles. In accordance with her last will, her remains
were later put to rest next to her mother's grave at the Rakowicki
Cemetery in Kraków in a funeral ceremony which turned into
a patriotic demonstration.
PWA members were very proud of Modrzejewska and the good will
and good name that she brought to Poland and to Polish people
everywhere. She was clearly the most famous Polish woman, not
only in the U.S., but in the world. They contacted her soon after
the organization was founded. She was interested in women's causes,
had attended a Women's Conference in Chicago in 1893, and was
very supportive of PWA and its mission. After her death, her daughter-in-law
donated some of Modrzejewska's personal mementos to PWA, many
of which can be viewed at the Home Office.
Irena Sendler was one of the most powerful voices on Irena
Sendler in year 1943 behalf of tolerance and peace during World
War II and afterward. Irena Sendler or Irena Sendlerowa was born
February 15, 1910 in Warsaw. During the World War II German occupation
of Poland, she lived in Warsaw while working for the city's Social
Welfare Department as a social worker. She became an activist
of the Polish Underground and the Polish Anti-Holocaust resistance
in Warsaw, where she helped save about 2,500 Jewish children from
the Warsaw ghetto by providing them with false documents and finding
organized the smuggling of the children from the Ghetto carrying
them out, and placing them with either Polish families, the Warsaw
orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Catholic convents
such as the Sisters Little Servants of the Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Mary at Turkowice and Chotomowo. She kept lists
of the names, hidden in jars, in order to keep track of original
and new identities of each child.
In October of 1943, eleven Gestapo agents surrounded Irena Sendler
in her apartment in Warsaw.
Why were the Nazis so intent on capturing her? What did they want
from this petite Polish Catholic social
worker? The answer: Irena Sendler was in charge of a vast underground
conspiracy to rescue Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. Her
work extended from the city's social services department to whole
neighborhoods in Warsaw to convents and shelters all over Poland,
to the Polish government in exile in London. The Nazis suspected
her of underground activities and they wanted the names of her
co-conspirators. But Irena refused to betray any of her associates
or the children in hiding.
was rescued from her death sentence after her legs and feet had
been broken. The active underground railroad which Irena Sendler
developed to rescue Jewish children continued. It was comprised
primarily of women and they were, all of them, extraordinarily
brave. They inspired hundreds of other Poles to do their part.
There are times when compassion is the hardest thing in the world
to defend. For Irena Sendler and her cadre of women, it was the
only thing worth doing.
In 1965 Irena Sendler was recognized as "Righteous Among
the Nations." She received the "Order of the White Eagle",
Poland's highest civilian decoration. She was also awarded the
"Commander's Cross." In October of 2003 Sendler was
honored with the Jan Karski Freedom Award for Valor and Compassion
by Freedom House and the American Center of Polish Culture. Irena
Sendler currently lives in Warsaw, Poland.She has been nominated
for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mission of the Polish Women's Alliance is to preserve and promote
the high ideals of the Polish people. Irena Sendler represents
these high ideals and it is for this reason that she is being
nominated for Honorary Membership in the Polish Women's Alliance
Polish Women’s Alliance of America (PWAA)
was founded on May 22, 1898 in Chicago, Illinois, as a
fraternal benefit society. Fraternal benefit societies
brought people together through a common bond with an
offer of friendship and support while providing financial
peace of mind for its members.
were unique at the time of our founding, in the sense
that, women were not included in the executive positions
of fraternal societies, but our founders started PWAA
for women with women as its leaders a truly monumental
achievement when women did not even have the right to
founder, Stefania Chmielinska, was a Polish immigrant
who worked as a seamstress in Chicago. From these humble
beginnings she learned that women needed equality and
worked to promote this cause. Her belief in the ability
of immigrant women to establish themselves into an organization
that would promote self-sufficiency and offer financial
stability was quite progressive for the 1900s.
right of women to pursue higher education, the right to
enter many professions and the right of women to purchase
life insurance in their own names were some of the issues
tackled by our founding members. Stefania Chmielinska
and our other founding members worked against these prejudices
and narrow-mindedness to see Polish Women’s Alliance develop
into a national organization and leader in the Polish
and Polish American communities.
this founding mission in mind, the organization has also
taken on social, cultural and political roles to help
their communities. During World War I and II, during the
years of political freedom in Poland between the wars,
and for almost 50 years of Communist rule in Poland, PWAA
with other organizations in the United States worked to
bring aid and moral support to the Polish nation, its
people and religious institutions.
the last one hundred years, PWAA members actively supported
some of the following causes: Poland’s determination
to become a nation after it “disappeared” from the map
of Europe; Madame Maria Sklodowska Curie and funding of
the purchase of radium for her experiments; World War
II fundraising effort for a Polish Women’s Alliance “bomber”
for the United States Air Force; the founding and organizing
of the Polish American Congress in 1944; restoration and
renovation projects for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis
Island; Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown,
PA; Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C.
and the Pope John Paul II Pilgrim Home in Rome among others.
modest immigrant woman is considered the "Mother"
of the Polish Women's Alliance. A seamstress by trade,
Chmielinska believed deeply in the cause of women's equality.
She worked to form the first PWAA group in 1898 and in
1899 was one of the founders of the national Polish Women's
Alliance fraternal society. Despite the prejudice and
difficulties that greeted her and her friends' early efforts,
Chmielinska persevered and lived to see the Polish Women's
Alliance become a leader in the Polish community in America.
During her presidency, Stefania Chmielinska established
contact with women leaders like Maria Konopnicka, made
the first attempt in 1902 to create the PWAA's own newspaper,
Glos Polek, and established the Alliance's education committee
called Komitet Oswiaty. In 1931 the organization named
her its first Honorary President and proclaimed May 22
to be the Founder's Day of the Polish Women's Alliance.
Not long after her death the Polish government awarded
her its Gold Cross of Service for her patriotic labors
on behalf of Poland and the betterment of its immigrants.
Neumann served two
terms as president from 1902-06 and 1910-18. She also
started as a seamstress and rose to the leadership of
a clothing cooperative. During her tenure the organization
tripled in size and increased its assets more then seven
fold; the organization’s offices also found a permanent
home in Chicago. She served during the dramatic years
of World War I and was influential in leading the organization’s
efforts for the cause of Polish independence.
Napieralska was the
first American-born president serving from 1918-35. She
was a dynamic and effective speaker on immigrant and women’s
issues and played a leading role in the 1916 International
Women’s Peace Conference. Napieralska also spearheaded
the efforts to rename Chicago’s Crawford Avenue after
General Casimir Pulaski, the founder of the U.S. Cavalry.
Today it is known as Pulaski Avenue.
Wolowska served as
president from 1935-47. Her presidency came at a key time
in both America’s and Poland’s histories, she activated
the organization’s humanitarian efforts in helping support
both communities during World War II. Through her efforts
the organization became involved with the Polish American
Council to deliver tons of food, clothing and medical
supplies to Polish war victims. In 1944 Wolowska led
PWAA in helping to found the Polish American Congress
political action federation; she was elected its first
you would like to learn more about our beginning and our
organization, you can contact the firstname.lastname@example.org
or our current National Officer listed here.
Donation to a Special Museum"
first donation of the New Year from the PWA Charitable and Educational
Foundation went to honor the memory of one of the most beloved
writers in Polish literature and an Honorary Member of Polish
Women's Alliance: Maria Konopnicka. A contribution was sent to
the Museum in Zarnowiec, Poland, which is dedicated to the writer's
Konopnicka understood an exile's soul. During her lifetime, Poland
did not exist as a nation in its own right. It was partitioned
by the three superpowers of the time: Austria, Russia, and Prussia.
Konopnicka used the power and passion of her writing to nurture
the Polish soul and its love of tradition, freedom, and language.
She championed the poor and disenfranchised in her poetry, short
stories, and essays. She also wrote stories for children, and
the tale of "Orphan Marysia and the Elves" has been
loved by generations of Polish children throughout the world.
Her patriotic poem "Rota" became the national anthem
of freedom for Polish exiles and expatriates: "We shall not
abandon the land where we come from..." Konopnicka understood
what the Polish immigrant women in Chicago were trying to achieve
when they started their organization "Zwiazek Polek w Ameryce"
in 1898. She wrote letters to the members and encouraged them
in their work. In return, they loved her and read her works, and
her an Honorary Member in 1903. Also in 1903, the people of Poland
raised funds and bought a country villa for Konopnicka in Zarnowiec
in southern Poland, where she could retire and continue writing.
In the 1960s a new school was built in the village and named after
the writer. PWA made a donation to help buy equipment and furniture
for the school. The villa where Konopnicka spent her summers up
to her death in 1910, has been turned into a museum, devoted to
her life as well as the cultivation of young writers. If you ever
travel to Poland, be sure to visit the school and museum in Zarnowiec
that your funds helped build!
house in Zarnowiec, Poland, where Maria Konopnicka spent the
last years of her life has been turned into a museum bearing
her name. It is set in a beautiful park surrounded by gardens.
rooms in the house have been restored with furniture and artwork
from the time that Maria Konopnicka lived in Zarnowiec. This
room is the dining room where she received her visitors.
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