Conspirator, soldier, caregiver

The Role of Women in the Januray Uprising

Insurgents (1880) by Jan RosenPolish History Museum

January Uprising (1863-1864)

The January Uprising was a Polish insurrection against the Russian occupiers. It erupted in discontent following the loss of independence in 1830. Despite ending in defeat, it symbolizes the unwavering spirit of the fight for national freedom and sovereignty in Poland.

Polish insurgents from the Warsaw Governorate; (1863) by unknown; Druck von J.J. Weber (woodcut)Original Source: "Illustrirte Zeitung", 1863

This exhibition shows various forms of support for the January Uprising by women. Their participation in this independence movement was no less important than the actions of the male part of the population

Mourning news from the "Polonia" series by Artur Grottger (1864) by Artur GrottgerOriginal Source: National Museum in Cracow

Mourning news from the "Polonia" series by Artur Grottger

Portrait of a woman in costume from the period of national mourning (1861/1863) by Karol BeyerOriginal Source: Museum of Warsaw

National mourning

On March 1861, the conspiratorial authorities introduced the so-called national mourning.  Women were recommended to wear black dresses with white elements, men wore black frock coats.  Wearing mourning colors, women expressed protest against Russian repression.

Women in national mourning clothes on street of Warsaw (1862 or 1863) by Karol BeyerOriginal Source: Museum of Warsaw

Mourning quickly spread over virtually the entire Polish lands.  Black dresses with crinolines often had another practical dimension - they could easily hide smuggled tissue paper or weapons.

Mourning necklace (after 1861) by unknownOriginal Source: Museum of Warsaw

Black jewelry

Part of the national mourning was wearing black jewelry. These included: crosses, wedding rings, brooches, buckles, made of cheap materials, for example black patinated (oxidized) iron.  The beads were worn in a way that resembled a loop rather than decoration.

Portrait of Julia Bock (1861) by Józef SimmlerOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

Portrait of Julia Bock, Józef Simmler, 1861

Portrait of Julia Bock, Józef Simmler, 1861, Original Source: National Museum in Warsaw
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Portrait of Julia Bock, Józef Simmler, 1861, Original Source: National Museum in Warsaw
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“In Poland the males may withdraw at any given moment, retreat ..., they may simply get bored with the struggle and become numb ..., the female population, however, never changes ... . The Polish woman is a constant, relentless, incurable conspirator.”  Mikołaj Berg,  Notes on the Polish Uprising of 1863 and 1864 and the era of demonstrations preceding the uprising from 1856.  , vol. I, Cracow 1898

Portrait of a poet Seweryna Duchinska (ca 1860) by unknownOriginal Source: Wikimedia Commons

Seweryna Duchińska (1816–1905)

Polish poet, publicist, translator. From 1861, on her initiative, women began to organize themselves in the so-called Fives. Each woman should have brought five more ladies with her to the "Five". 

Contemporary women's clothes (1863) by Juliusz KossakOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

The "Five" consisted of several women and organized all kinds of help for the insurgents, their families and the insurgent cause. Duchińska's apartment served as a meeting place for the "Five", where she also collected clothes and shoes for the insurgents, and insurgent meetings

Portrait of a courier in Marian Langiewicz’s unit, Jadwiga Prendowska (1863) by unknownPolish History Museum

Jadwiga Prendowska (1832–1915)

She was a member of the underground independence movement, courier, organizer of hospitals in the Sandomierz region. Grateful for her support, the insurgents called her “mother of the unit” and “our Prendosia”. 

Ring with a padlock (after 1863) by unknownOriginal Source: Museum of Warsaw

Arrested by the Russians, she was imprisoned at the Warsaw Citadel and then exiled to Kungur in the Perm Governorate. After returning from exile and her husband’s death, she maintained her five children working as a French and piano teacher. 

Portrait of Maria Piotrowicz (1863) by Karol Beyer and 1863Original Source: National Library

Maria Piotrowiczowa (1839–1863)

She came from a family deeply involved in the fight for independence. Her father funded and organized a unit in the November Uprising, and her uncle took part in the underground political movement leading to its outbreak.

Maria and her husband Konstanty both belonged to an underground patriotic organization. After the outbreak of the January Uprising the couple joined Józef Dworzaczek’s unit. The pregnant Maria was killed in the battle of Dobra. 

Portrait of Anna Pustowojtówna, unknown, 1863/1864, Original Source: National Library
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                                                        “You cowards, go fight! Win or die, or be ashamed!”                                                              Henryka Pustowójtówna during the battle of Małogoszcz

Portrait of young Henryka Pustowojtoff (1927/1936) by Cracow: Publishing House of the Salon of Polish PaintersOriginal Source: National Library

Henryka Pustowójtówna (1838-1881)

One of the symbols of the January Uprising, just like Emilia Plater of the November Uprising, was Anna Henryka Pustowójtówna, adjutant of General Marian Langiewicz. Raised by her grandmother to be a Polish patriot, she joined the national movement.   

For her participation in the patriotic manifestations in Lublin preceding the Uprising the tsarist authorities exiled her to a female Russian Orthodox monastery. She escaped house arrest and left for Moldova.    

Marian Langiewicz and H. Pustowojtowna (1863) by Druck u. Verlag Carl Lanzedelli (Vienna)Original Source: National Museum in Cracow

Marian Langiewicz and Henryka Pustowójtówna

Upon hearing of the outbreak of the Uprising, she enlisted in Marian Langiewicz’s unit.  Soon she became his aide-de-camp.  In her service she did not complain about the inconveniences or the snide remarks of her male comrades

Marian Langiewicz and H. Pustowojtowna (1863) by Druck u. Verlag v.C.Barth, Mariahilf BarnabitengasseOriginal Source: National Museuim in Cracow

She impressed soldiers with the fact that even in the most difficult moments she did not get discouraged.  In the battles of Małogoszcz and Grochowiska she fought in the front line with tremendous courage and cheered her comrades into battle.

Interview with Ewa Jaxa-Chamiec, descendant of Anna Henryka Pustowójtówna; original source:

Insurgent arrested (1910) by Stanisław MasłowskiOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

Repression after the uprising

After the failure of the uprising, women were forced to raise their children alone and manage the remnants of their lost property. Those who were actively involved in the uprising were sent to Siberia. 

Postcard showing the insurgent courier Helena Krukowiecka (1905) by unknownOriginal Source: Biblioteka Narodowa

The involvement of women on such a large scale during the January Uprising consolidated the ideal of a socially engaged woman. It also had a huge impact on the active participation of next generations of Polish women in social, educational and, over time, political activities.

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