We take pride in the amazing women who have broken the glass ceiling. These three women were the first in their respective fields. They stood in the face of prejudice and sexism, but they were still able and brave enough to make those first steps and pave the way for the women in the future. #BreakThroughLikeAGirl
Ksenija Atanasijević was born in 1894. After a difficult early life, with her mother dying during childbirth and father dying when she was 12, her stepmother, a high school teacher, took care of her. Her presence probably influenced Ksenija’s interest in learning.
She was an editor of the first feminist journal in Yugoslavia called “The Women's Movement”. The journal was published between the two world wars. She was also in various feminist organizations including Serbian Women's League for Peace and Freedom.
At the age of 28 she became the first woman with a PhD in Serbia. In 1924, she became the first female university professor. She would stay on that position for twelve years. In 1936, some of her male colleagues accused her of plagiarism because they felt threatened. She was removed from the position and never returned to it. During the Second World War she was arrested for writing articles against anti-Semitism. After the war, she worked at a library and later taught at Kolarac University.
She was the first notable female philosopher in Serbia; in her long life, she had written over 400 essays on philosophy and was known for her “philosophy of meaning”. She also translated several important philosophical works, most notably Aristotle, Plato and Spinoza. She died in 1981 in Belgrade.
Draga Ljočić was the first female physician in Serbia. Born in 1855, she was also a notable member of the suffrage movement. In 1872 she was the first Serbian woman to be accepted at the university of Zürich. During a Serbian-Turkish war (1876-1878) Draga was a medical assistant and subsequently became a Lieutenant. After the war, she finished her studies and became the first Serbian female physician.
Even though she was clearly an expert in the field, she had to deal with the prejudice and wasn’t able to get a medical job. She got a private practice after the intervention of the queen Natalija herself. Several years later she got a job at the state hospital, but she had less rights and lower pay than her male colleagues. Getting a raise or pension rights weren’t possible for female doctors at that time. At the end of the century, she advocated fiercely for equal professional rights.
She was also a philanthropist who helped open several children hospitals and orphanages. Draga Ljočić was finally able to get a pension in 1924, two years before her death.
Probably the most famous woman on this list is Mileva Marić, a notable mathematician born in 1875. She had gotten her elementary education in Ruma, then went to the high school for girls in Novi Sad and later in Sremska Mitrovica, Šabac and Zagreb.
Mileva Marić was among the first women to have finished a full program of study at the Department of Mathematics and Physics at the Polytechnic institute in Zürich. In 1986 she was the only woman in the group of six students. The admission rules for women were very strict at the time. Any woman would’ve had to be extremely good however Mileva was. For one semester during her studies she attended physics and mathematics lectures at the Heidelberg University. The university wasn’t open to admitting women yet, so she was only able to attend Philipp Lenard’s lectures as an auditor.
One of the other five students at the Polytechnic institute was Albert Einstein. On several subjects they’ve gotten the same grades. By the 1901 her studies were disrupted by her pregnancy and she never got her PhD. Nevertheless, she had collaborated with her husband, Albert Einstein, at the time and largely contributed to his work. Some of Einstein’s early papers on relativity were signed as Einstein-Marity, proving that she was a coauthor. Several renowned physicists at the time also collaborated with her.
Over the years, Albert continued working on his theories, rejecting and divorcing Mileva and the children in the process. After he had won the Nobel prize, he gave some of the prize money to his and Mileva’s children.
Mileva Marić died in 1948 in Zürich. However her death wasn’t reported in Yugoslavia.
In the following decades, several streets and schools in Serbia were named after Mileva. In 2009, almost 60 years after her death, a memorial plaque was unveiled in Zürich. That was the first time that Serbia officially paid a tribute to Mileva Marić.
These three, along with many other women, helped move the women's movement in Yugoslavia forward. Even though they were pioneers in different fields, all of them inspired women to realize that they can do anything they set their minds to. They’ve all faced many obstacles in their way because of their gender, but they persevered because they wanted to do something that they wanted and liked. They were trailblazers who opened the doors for the generations to come. And that’s why we should celebrate them.