Historical story

Silesian celibacy for female teachers

In the interwar period, the Silesian Parliament introduced the so-called celibacy law. It prohibited married women from working as a teacher.

After Upper Silesia was incorporated into Poland, it turned out that there is a shortage of qualified teaching staff in the region . It got to the point that the voivodeship authorities called on Polish educators to move to Silesia. The response was considerable. About 3,000 ready-to-work teachers found employment in Silesian schools. There was, however, a slight snag. Not all were "right" sex.

It is estimated that at the beginning of the 20s women constituted slightly more than 20 percent of the teaching staff in Silesia . In the second half of the 1930s, there were over 30 percent of them. Most of them were visitors. Most often they came from Galicia. Brought up in a completely different culture and unfamiliar with the Silesian dialect, they met with reluctance. In fact, parents even asked for men to be employed in schools!

A woman's place is at home

Where did this aversion to teachers come from? It was mainly about the specificity of the region. Upper Silesia was - in short - very conservative. One of the "fathers of independence", the Silesian Wojciech Korfanty repeated: "the first and most honorable field of action of a Catholic and Polish woman is and will always be the family" . His words reflected the approach of the vast majority of the inhabitants of the then Silesian Province, which in the Second Polish Republic was the only one to enjoy autonomy (granted in 1920 by the Polish Legislative Sejm).

Regional tradition dictated that a Silesian woman looked after her home and family (in the photo:unemployed women from Silesia).

It was argued that women employed in schools inferior to youth. It is not so bad that they wore fashionable clothes and did not enjoy such authority among students as male educators. Their worst "crime" was the fact that they ... got pregnant . Effect? "Children often ask parents questions that parents cannot answer." Apparently, the mere sight of a pregnant teacher was supposed to arouse "immoral urges" in young people. The recipe was simple. Pregnant with her demoralizing belly should lock up at home. And certainly not to stand in the school chair.

To protect the innocence of little Silesians, it was decided to introduce ... celibacy for female teachers. Appropriately structured legal regulations were to dissuade women from choosing a career path in the education system. Work on the act regulating this started in 1925. It was then that the Silesian Provincial Council sent Konstanty Wolny the draft of the new law to the Marshal of the Silesian Sejm.

Celibacy for economy and health?

Forcing women to choose - either career or family - was justified by the necessity to unify the legal status throughout the entire Silesian Voivodeship (celibacy was in force in the Cieszyn part, but not in Upper Silesia). But not only. According to the then president of the Court of Appeal in Katowice, the introduction of forced celibacy for female teachers was also supposed to be ... economical . As he explained:

Experience shows that a married teacher is a more expensive force than an unmarried teacher or a teacher because a married teacher is so absorbed in the family that she takes advantage of and must take leave to a greater extent than a person who does not have the duties of a wife and mother.

He was echoed by MP Janina Omańkowska from the Christian Democracy Club, who argued that the division of roles in a marriage into a man earning enough to support his family and a woman devoted to housework is a guarantor of "the healthiest social relations". And the employment in education - horror of horrors - of teachers who are the wives of the superiors of educational institutions or officials who have influence on the school, creates "some ferment and simply pushes the entire teaching community to some kind of corruption."

Celibacy law passed unanimously

The voices of the opponents of the celibacy bill were effectively silenced. Besides, they were not very numerous. Only a member of the PPS Club, Wiktor Rumpfeld, protested loudly against the new regulations in the Sejm. His doubts if it really was compatible with the March constitution , ignored. It was considered impossible to perform well at the same time as wife, mother and teacher. Thus, Article 101 of the Basic Law, guaranteeing everyone - regardless of sex and marital status - the freedom to choose an occupation, did not apply in this case.

For getting married, teachers were punished with dismissal and a lower severance pay (illustrative photo)

Without much discussion, the act was adopted during the 134th session of the Silesian Sejm on March 29, 1926 . Officially, it was called the Act on the Termination of the Teaching Service As a result of a teacher's marriage. Six months later, at the 145th meeting on October 1, some of its provisions were changed. As Józef Sprawwa from the University of Silesia in Katowice reports:

The act was published in the Journal of Laws of Silesia, No. 23, item 39, issued October 21, 1926; entered into force on the day of its publication, ie October 21, 1926, "with effect from April 10, 1926." (Article 2 of the Act). This is gross violation of the rule lex retro non agit , which will soon be highlighted by the Minister of Social Welfare.

The deplorable effects of the new regulations

At the time of its enactment, the celibacy law enjoyed universal public acceptance. It did not take long to see its effects. Since only unmarried women could be teachers in Silesia, mass dismissal of married women began. The first group was teachers with less than a year of work experience. Later, all jobs were lost. Regardless of experience and qualifications. According to Magdalena Czyż, " in August 1926 alone, 250 teachers said goodbye to their work in schools , in the following years, dozens of women were successively dismissed ”. They also received a severance pay - but lower than the applicable one.

One thing has certainly been achieved thanks to the act. Men have liquidated "dangerous" competition . As the number of jobs in schools was then very limited (compulsory education included only elementary school students), the elimination of women from the market made it possible to counteract the inevitable unemployment among male educators. However, it is in vain to look for positives in this. In time, the question of the demoralizing action of ... celibacy itself was raised as well. Well, the teachers to keep their jobs began to enter into informal relationships . And life in cohabitation was definitely more scandalous than even the most visible right-bed pregnancy.

The wind of change

The unfortunate act, which sentenced teachers to starvation or life "on the cat's paw", was formally in force until the autonomy of Silesia was abolished by the constitutional act of May 6, 1945. (In practice, it was lifted on April 9, 1938). Interestingly, President Ignacy Mościcki officially approved it only in 1933. The strong and numerous - albeit too late - voices of opposition began to appear much earlier. As early as in the fall of 1926, Józef Machej, an MP from Cieszyn, called in the Sejm to withdraw the "regulations which derogate from women". And one of the teachers wrote in a protest letter:

Do you think that there would be one of us so eager to come to Silesia, knowing that it is doomed to old manhood? That she would be bothered by the 40 percent allowance? Certainly not. She would prefer to stay in areas where she is not a cripple but an equal citizen where she is allowed to get married and work. (...) We were prepared for harassment from hostile elements and for the Sisyphean hardships we found here, but celibate cloister, denying us civil rights, neither of us expected .

Teachers in Silesia were supposed to live celibate so as not to demoralize students (pictorial photos).

At one point, even the Catholic Church became critical of the celibacy law. The Bishop of Katowice, Stanisław Adamski, in a letter of May 28, 1937 to the voivode, Michał Grażyński, explicitly stated that:" this provision in Silesia causes very serious moral damage . (…) The conditions not only weigh on teachers personally, but also make it difficult to educate young people ”. Although the arguments of the Church included not so much guaranteeing women full rights as stopping illegal intercourse, preventing motherhood and terminating pregnancies, the effect was the same. Consideration of abolishing the harmful law began.

Silesian quirk

Today, it is difficult to assess the scale of the damage caused by the celibacy act during its nearly two decades in force. It has certainly led to many personal tragedies. Many teachers of the time were torn between a desire for personal happiness and a vocation to education. After all, they came to Silesia to fight Germanization and popularize Polishness among local children. In return, they were punished for wanting to lead a normal life.

The elimination of teachers from schools also inevitably caused shortages in the teaching staff. Men - against their best intentions - were unable to complete them. The Act did not bring the expected savings in the budget. On the other hand, in other regions of Poland mocked the "Silesian weirdness" for a long time which was one of the gloomiest examples of discrimination against women in our country's history.