Notable women in Croatian history (Part 1)

Croatia is lucky to have a bunch of ladies of whom it can be proud. They are strong, brave, and persistent visionaries who never gave up on winning in life. Some are famous, and others have flown under the radar. All of them influenced the development of Croatian society.

This is the first post in a new series on notable women from Croatian history. In each edition, we will feature 10 women with different interests and fields of work. It was extremely difficult to boil down what makes them special into just a few paragraphs, as each deserves their own stage.

This post will serve as merely an introduction to these incredible women who helped shape Croatia. If you want to know more about any of them, let us know in the comments.

The female facts are these…

#1 Marija Jurić Zagorka (1873 – 1957), writer and journalist

Marija Juric Zagorka - Croatia's first female journalist

Marija Jurić Zagorka was the first Croatian female journalist, political activist, and one of the most read Croatian writers. Commonly known as simply “Zagorka”, she was a fighter against social discrimination, Hungarianization, and Germanization. Zagorka also advocated women’s rights which made her one of the precursors of Croatian feminism. She was way ahead of her time, so she was commonly misunderstood and people made fun of her.

Marija named herself “Zagorka” in honor of Croatian peasants and their hard lives. Instead of educating her, her parents married her off to a Hungarian railway clerk while she was still a minor. Zagorka ran away from him and started to work for the respectable Croatian daily newspaper “Obzor”. She wrote in an isolated room under male pseudonyms Jurica Zagorski, Petrica Kerempuh, and Iglica. She became the first political woman journalist to report about all the important political events in the region.

Zagorka also launched “Ženski list”, the first Croatian women’s newspaper. She wrote many historical novels, satires as well as humorous and polemical texts. Her biggest strengths were humanity, gratitude, loyalty, charity, sincerity, empathy, grace, and modesty. People often called her a madwoman, tomboy, and crazy suffragette.

#2 Helga Vlahović Brnobić (1945 – 2012), TV presenter

Helga Vlahović Brnobić - Legendary Croatian TV reporter

Helga Vlahović Brnobić was a Croatian journalist, TV and radio speaker, TV host, producer, and editor. She stood out for her pleasant voice, good diction, dedication to work, professionalism, recognizable smile, and cheerful personality. Helga is a trademark of Croatian journalism and a big inspiration for all generations of journalists. Her career lasted more than 50 years within which she was constantly awarded for her work.

Her numerous talents including dancing, singing, and foreign languages helped her enter the world of television. Helga worked on news and political shows, entertainment, music, and educational shows, Eurosong, and she narrated documentaries. Her show called “Go­vo­ri­mo o zdra­vlju” (Let’s talk about health) had more than 400 episodes. During the 70s, she was the only Croatian television presenter invited to host prestigious festivals abroad.

#3 Bira (15th – 16th century), one of the first educated Benedictines

Elvira Pecenić-Marulić called “Bira” was the sister of Marko Marulić, a Croatian writer known as the father of Croatian literature. Bira refused to get married and went to live in a Benedictine monastery next to Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

At that time, young women were often sent to monasteries when they had lovers, were rejected by their families or their families didn’t have enough money for the wedding. Also, women didn’t have the same rights to education as men. There is no proof that Bira became a nun. However, she was one of the first educated Benedictines in Croatia.

Marko Marulić was inspired by his courageous sister Bira, so he dedicated many of his literary works to her and nuns from the monastery. Although they didn’t speak Latin, they enjoyed reading, so Marko wrote novels in the Split čakavian dialect for them. Some of them are “Judita”, his most significant work, “Anka satira”, and “Povid koludric od sedam smrtnih grihov”. Marko left her a silver clock given to him by Petar Berislavić, Croatian ban and bishop.

Although Bira lived in a period difficult for women, she influenced Marko during his life and work. If she had equal access to education as Marko did, perhaps Croatia would have a mother of literature instead of a father. Who knows.

[Read: The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj and Ča]

#4 Mia Čorak Slavenska (1916 – 2002), prima ballerina

Mia Čorak Slavenska - prima ballerina from Croatia
Glas Slavonije

Mia Čorak Slavenska is the greatest Croatian ballerina and one of the most influential artists of her time. Mia was often called “a pure star in the enchanted sky of dance” and the successor of Ana Pavlova, a prominent Russian ballerina. She became a prima ballerina at the age of 18 and the youngest prima ballerina ever in Croatia.

Regardless of her great talent, Mia was underpaid. She spoke publicly about the problems of the Croatian ballet scene and demanded change. As punishment, her contract with the theater in Zagreb was not extended.

Afterward, Mia started performing abroad where she achieved a significant dance career. She performed all over the world and had her own ballet troupe. She was also engaged in pedagogical work and gave private lessons.

#5 Milka Trnina (1863 – 1941), opera singer

Milka Trnina - Croatian opera singer
Russian Beyond

Milka Trnina was the biggest Croatian opera singer and one of the most impressive artists in the entire history of opera worldwide. Milka studied singing in Zagreb and Vienna. She primarily performed Wagner’s compositions, but also the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi. She sang all over Europe and the US – and even gave singing lessons in New York.

Although Milka had a gift, she was also diligent, highly intelligent, and dedicated to work. Due to her self-criticism, she ordered all of her recordings destroyed after the end of her career. She was compared with actresses Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt – the most famous singers at the time.

#6 Nada Dimić (1923 – 1942), national heroine

Nada Dimić - Croatian heroine

When she was only 15, Nada Dimić became a member of Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije (League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia). For resisting the government and demonstrations, she was often imprisoned and banned from all schools in Yugoslavia. By joining Prvi sisački partizanski odred (Sisak People’s Liberation Partisan Detachment) as a fighter, Nada became the first Croatian women partisan.

Nada was a brave and courageous communist, persistent in implementing her revolutionary ideas. She performed various tasks for the cause, sabotaged actions, and prepared advertising material under her false name Ankica Vinek. While transferring civilians to the partisan ranks in Karlovac, ustaša police arrested her. She was imprisoned in jail and then put into a camp. She died as a result of torture and poor conditions.

#7 Slavka Pavić (1941 – ), photographer

Slavka Pavić, Croatian photographer
24 Sata

Slavka Pavić is one of the most prominent photographers of the 2nd half of the 20th century. Her most common motives were landscapes and architecture. She also featured seemingly banal subjects such as traffic signs, stairs covered with snow, or ladders leaning against the wall to evoke the true appearance of the city. She also played with experimental photography including double exposure and negatives.

Slavka is one of the founders of the women’s section of the Fotoklub Zagreb (Photo Club Zagreb). She held more than 19 exhibitions, participated in over 300 group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad, and won more than 90 awards. Her work can be found in Zbirka hrvatske fotografije Fotokluba Zagreb, Muzej za umjetnost i obrt (Museum of Arts and Crafts), Muzej grada Zagreba (Zagreb City Museum), Muzej suvremene umjetnosti (Museum of contemporary art), and Etnografski muzej (Etnographic Museum) in Zagreb.

#8 Slava Raškaj (1877 – 1906), painter

Slava Raškaj, Croatian painter

Slava Raškaj was a deaf-mute Croatian painter, considered one of the best Croatian painters of all time. She stood out in the watercolor technique. Since deafness was then considered a mental illness, her father sent her to Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Vienna where her talent was noticed. She was sent to the same institute in Zagreb where she was educated by the best Croatian painters (Ivan Bauer, Bela Čikoš Sesija).

Slava spent a lot of time in Hrvatsko zagorje where she painted extraordinary watercolor paintings. Nature was her focus. She painted pears, flowers, and both summer and winter scenes. From her work, it is obvious that she was extremely sensitive, especially to nature. Slava died very young from tuberculosis, at the age of 29.

#9 Savka Dabčević-Kučar (1923 – 2009), politician and economist

Savka Dabčević-Kučar, Croatian politician

Savka Dabčević-Kučar was a Croatian economist and one of the most important politicians. In the early 70s, she had an important role in Hrvatsko proljeće (Croatian spring). This was a Croatian cultural and political movement initiated by intellectuals and students whose goal was to reform Croatian politics, economy, society, and culture. The movement resulted in great achievements in Croatian science, literature, art, the publication of many printed books and magazines, and greater freedom of the media.

Savka was an anti-fascist since high school. In her political work, Savka advocated for the equality of Croatia within the Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and economic policy under less control of the state and bureaucracy. She opposed centralization and fought against the domination of Greater Serbia in all aspects of life. She was the founder of the Hrvatska narodna stranka (Croatian People’s Party) and Prime Minister of the SR Hrvatska (Socialist Republic of Croatia).

#10 Zlata Bartl (1920 – 2008), inventor

Zlata Bartl, Croatian inventor of Vegeta

Zlata finished Filozofski fakultet (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) in Zagreb and became a professor of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and metallurgy. She was impressed with foreign cultures and traveling which she encouraged within her students. A school trip to Italy cost her 8 years in prison since Yugoslavian authorities proclaimed her a traitor. Luckily, she was released after only 15 months.

During a job as a chemical technician in a laboratory for the company Podravka, Koprivnica made a lasting imprint on Croatian society. Zlata invented the first instant soups and the famous Croatian spice Vegeta – a staple in Croatian homes. Nowadays, Vegeta is recognizable in more than 40 world markets.

View other women’s posts


Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

Sharing is Caring:
Subscribe to the Expat in Croatia Newsletter and get our FREE Croatia Starter Kit.
I'm already subscribed.