PWA CHARITABLE&EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
"SPECIAL DONATION TO A SPECIAL MUSEUM"
LONG HISTORY OF HELPING OTHERS
HONORARY MEMBERS

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The PWAA is one of the oldest fraternal benefit societies founded by women to help them and those they care about establish financial security and economic independence.

 

As a fraternal benefit society, we welcome you into a unique family.
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 through education.

 

 

 

HONORARY MEMBERS

 

Since 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:

Maria Konopnicka
Eliza Orzeszkowa
Helena Modrzejewska
Helena Paderewska
Marie Sklodowska Curie
Maria Rodziewiczowna
Helena Sikorska
Barbara Mikulski
Irena Sendler

The 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.


The 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.

The 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 hiding places.

She 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.

She 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.

The 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 of America.

The 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.

We 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 vote yet.

Our 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. 

The 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.

With 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.

In 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.


Stefania Chmielinska, a 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.

Anna 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.

Emilia 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.

Honorata 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 vice president.

If you would like to learn more about our beginning and our organization, you can contact the editor@pwaa.org or our current National Officer listed here.

Antoinette L. Trela Secretary /Treasurer. secretarytreasurer@pwaa.org

"Special Donation to a Special Museum"

The 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 memory.Maria 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 PWA made

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!
The 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. The 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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