The Bulgarian Association of University Women (BAUW) was founded on the 29th May 1924. Its key goals were: bringing together educated women and encouraging them to pursue academic and public careers, ensuring the closer cooperation among them in their professional activities, fighting for professional equality between men and women and against social injustice, strengthening the young people’s education, taking care of female university students.
The Articles of the Association created regular, extraordinary, auxiliary and honored members. The members were about 4% of all Bulgarian women with higher education: 1924 – 100 persons; 1929 – 320 persons, 1940s – 288 persons. The Association’s activities were predominantly concentrated in the capital but there were co-opted members abroad and in some of the other towns in the country. The members were not only Bulgarian, but also Armenian, Jewish, naturalized Czech and Russian women, as well as foreigners. They came from different academic fields – philology, medicine, history, pedagogy, philosophy, geography, architecture, and trade. They were holders of BA, MA and Ph.D. degrees. By occupation they were secondary school teachers, medical doctors, dentists, university lecturers, architects and engineers, museum curators and researchers at experimental agricultural stations, clerks, housewives.
On the 28th July 1925 BAUW became the twenty-first member of IFUW, first of the Balkan countries and the second after Czechoslovakia from the Slavonic world to join this international organization. Bulgarian women delegates attended the annual councils and the conferences in Amsterdam (1926), Geneva (1933), Stockholm (1939). The Association kept permanent and intensive contacts with the French, British, German, Greek and Yugoslav Associations. Two BAUW members were awarded IFUW grants: the nuclear physicist Dr. Elissaveta Karamihailova received the Yarrow scholarship for work at the Cavendish Laboratory (1935-1939) and the lawyer Dora Mustakova received a grant for her monograph (1937).
Several sections were formed within the Association. The Section of Women Lawyers (1928) with membership over 100 at the end of the 1930s was the largest corporate women’s organization struggling for the acknowledgement of the professional rights of women lawyers in the lawyers’ profession. The Section of Women Painters (1928) which comprised of 35 to 40 women, was orientated towards the socialization of the creative work of its women members and organized exhibitions each year seeking public acknowledgement. The Club of the Bulgarian Women Writers was part of the Association during the period 1930-1934, uniting the most prominent women poets, writers and critics. It achieved serious success in securing place for the works of women writers in the periodic press and within the writing profession as a whole, while its members had diverse international contacts. The Section of Young Women Students (1937) dealt with the specific problems of its members.
After the communist coup d’etat on the 9th September 1944 BAUW was headed by a left-wing management. Gradually its activities got politicized and marginalized. The Section of Women Lawyers attained its goal after women were permitted to practice the lawyers’ profession (1945). Under political pressure BAUW did not renew its membership in IFUW, the connections with the head office and the national associations were made difficult. The ownership of the association was confiscated in favor of the state (1948), its organizational life was suspended and in the mid-1950 it was closed down by the totalitarian power. Only some informal circles of former members were preserved.
This brief history of BAUW shows the main characteristics of the structure, ideology and activities of a whole group of civil organizations in Bulgaria after the First World War – democracy, pluralism, pacifism, revisionism, aspiration for cultural cooperation without borders, commitment with topical public causes, “openness” with regard to other formations.
BAUW was an association of the high stratum of the Bulgarian intelligentsia. It adopted most of the already existing models, but strived after having its own profile – without politization, without external cultural partialities, without radicalism, without militant criticism to analogous associations.
BAUW was the first union of the women’s elite with higher education and this makes it very important for the feminist cause. It developed as a result of the difficult but persistent work for the imposition of the authority of the educated and emancipated women, for defending women’s civil rights and rendering assistance to their professional realization. Although not all set goals were attained, the activities of the sections of women lawyers, painters and writers were sufficiently important and effective in themselves.
BAUW was elite in its membership and it was not always benevolently accepted by the remaining women’s organizations in Bulgaria. Guided, however, by the universal principles of the International Federation of University Women and by the ideas of its highly educated women participants, the Association preserved its autonomy under the pressure of the authoritarian (1934-1944) and of the communist regimes (1944-1948). Its dissolution at the beginning of the 1950s was another proof that totalitarian regimes do not need free, independent, defending various ideologies intellectuals and organizations.