The book of the professor Alin Ciupală- Bătălia.Women in Romania in the First World War, published this spring at Polirom Publishing House, show Romania’s involvement in the First World War from the perspective of the role played by women in supporting the military effort. Alin Ciupală is among the few Romanian historians who leaned on the feminine perspective of the Romanian society. Analyzing and bringing to light documents, testimonies and archives he made a picture of the role of women from the 19th century to the First World War. Approaching the centenary The First World War mobilized writers, publishers, historians in publishing new books and retrospectives, an occasion with which I discussed with Alin Ciupală about war, models and feminism.
How did you start writing the book?
There are two things that overlap. On the other hand, my interest in the subject, in everything that means the history of women in the Romanian society of the 19th century. And from this point of view, it is a continuation. Secondly, it is about the First World War and Romania because many works have been written, others will be written. It’s natural now when we remember what it was 100 years ago, we write, talk, research and try to understand what happened. So the book appeared at the intersection of these two points of interest.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I consider myself a researcher trying to cover a gap. Because I am a historian and I investigate the past with my means that are different from those of a sociologist, a literary historian or a political scientist. This attracted me at the first moment, the fact that in the literature from us there was no research to talk about what the woman meant in the past and if all these things mean being a feminist, then yes I am a feminist.
Queen Maria was present on the front, was active through charities but also politically. How did ordinary women see her presence there?
I think that the role of Queen Mary beyond the practical contribution, as it were, day by day, was to provide a model. Because in the end, the kind of total involvement of Queen Mary had this formative importance. It represented a model, and the model was not suspended somewhere, it was replicated, it was followed and completed.
“The women had been trained, educated, trained, like the whole Romanian society from the second half of the 19th century, for this moment and when the time came, they acted. The merit is undoubtedly theirs and the concrete involvement demonstrates this. Women’s action brought an organization that was often lacking in government, for example, and solidarity that can be equated, to use a current term, with what we call civic spirit. In a word, the women were there too, even if they were above measure, even if all this contribution is now valued. “- Alin Ciupală – Their battle. Women in Romania in the First World War
In antithesis to the social origin of the Queen, we have Ecaterina, a peasant’s daughter. But the vast majority of the information we have about it is from the perspective of others, men, official documents. Do we have anything left from Ecaterina to clarify the mission and the departure on the front?
We know a lot about Ecaterina Teodoroiu at the same time because she wrote a lot about her, but we know very few things because her image was used a lot after the War to talk about this gender solidarity. All Romanians contributed to the creation of Greater Romania.
Ecaterina Teodroiu is a unique case and is an exceptional case not only by what she did but by what was said about what she did. I think the most important moment was her heroic death on the front because that’s where it all begins. If we look at all the works that have been dedicated to him, there are many inarvendences, there are many contradictions when talking about the life of Ecaterina Teodoroiu from the time of his sacrifice. It was not at all easy to write about Ecaterina Teodoroiu because, on the one hand, you are assaulted by this multitude of sources, but on the other hand you must somehow see exactly how her image is constructed. It is necessary to verify all the information, the fact that I discovered many documents related to it in the Military Archives, it helped me a lot because I could see how erroneous information, released by one author is retrieved by other authors and repeated so that it becomes a commonplace.
We have the Queen, we have the Catherine – the heroine woman, we have the other anonymous women. Compared to the other countries participating in the First War, the Romanian women involved were more active, less active. Or was it a model, a similar trend?
I do not think that the Romanian example is particularly different from other European examples. So much so that we haven’t talked about this topic for a long time. Speaking, no research, at least at the level of public perception, the impression that the women in Romania did nothing. Well, it’s not like that at all. They have done many things, but on the other hand, I do not think that women’s involvement in Romania has fundamentally differed from other similar examples in Europe.
“One day in the hospital there was a great shock. She had come to visit Queen Mary. He went from salon to salon and ours was the last one. He would go through each bed, talking to each individual injured. Following her system, she had in her left hand a paper like a postcard that she wrote down details about each – whether he was married, if his wife was in Moldova or Muntenia, or if he had children. Everyone was amazed that he knew their names and sometimes he even heard from their families. “(Dan Dimăncescu) -Alin Ciupală- Their battle. Women in Romania in the First World War
If we continue to make parallels, in Poland the Catholic Church has become very involved to the point where it monopolized all charitable acts. In the Orthodox Church we have the Romanian Orthodox Society of Women who had the same values. Did the other Christian churches get involved?
Yes, they got involved. There are women’s societies organized by Catholic ladies active both before and after Romania’s occupation of the Central Powers. The sources also talk about the existence of women’s associations and organizations both within the Israeli community and in the Armenian community in Romania. All these points are to be followed. For now, at least, the sources I have identified at this time did not allow me to develop the book issue very much. We talked about the existence of these organizations and it is for future research to complete the picture of the involvement of the Israeli women, the Armenian women in this period of the War.
You have identified a lot of historical material. The natural question is, will another book follow?
Other things will follow because I have more materials. The book does not exhaust the subject, on the contrary, it only opens a work site. I hope that I can continue to publish other papers, but I also hope that other colleagues continue what I started. I did not intend to exhaust the subject, but on the contrary, I just wanted to open a discussion.
Alin Ciupală is a university professor at the Faculty of History of the University of Bucharest and scientific secretary of the Institute of Art History “G. Oprescu ”of the Romanian Academy. By the same author: Woman in the Romanian society of the 19th century. Between public and private (2003); Modern Studies (2009). He coordinated the volumes: Hypotheses of modernity in the Old Kingdom, vol. I-VI (1998, 2005-2008, 2010; together with Ion Bulei), About women and their history in Romania (2004), Horizons and directions in historical knowledge (2009; with Laurentiiu Constantiniu), Medicine, Hygiene and Society from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries (2011; with Constantin Bărbulescu)