Why Calypso Botez?
By Sara Șchiopu
Calypso Botez was a Romanian writer and women’s rights activist. She fought for gender equality in the 20th century and for women’s right to vote in public elections, campaigned for reforming the powers of the government and the divorce law and co-founded the National Council of Romanian Women in 1921 and the Romanian Women’s Union in 1917, together with Maria Baiculescu, Ella Negruzzi and Elena Meissner.
Born in 1880 in Bacău, Calypso studied history and philosophy at the University of Iași. She became the principal of the girl lyceum in Galați. She married a local lawyer, Corneliu Botez, who was an active supporter of women’s rights. During World War I, Calypso Botez was the President of the Red Cross in Galați. The two then moved to Bucharest, where she started teaching at a secondary school, while inspecting other schools as well.
Botez wrote several books and studies, such as The Problem of the Rights of the Romanian Woman (1919), The Problem of Feminism. A Systematization of its Elements (1920), Women’s Rights in the Future Constitution (1922), Women’s Rights in the Future of the Civil Code (1924) and Report on the Legal Situation of Women (1932). She has also published articles in important Romanian magazines: Convorbiri Literare, Revista pentru Științe and Reforma Socială.
The author then went on and became a member of the National Peasant Party. She pleaded for voting rights, growth of economic roles and intellectual and political emancipation for women. Her interest in politics had to do with her belief that “women could no longer depend on the kindness of male politicians to change fundamental legal and social inequalities, designed to keep women dependent on men in every walk of life”. She became one of the first female representatives on the Bucharest City Council. Because of this, Calypso helped found several training schools for young female workers, as she worked hard to protect and to improve the life of Romanian women. She participated in international conferences organized by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Rome (1923), Paris (1926), Berlin (1929) and Istanbul (1935) and travelled abroad to the League of Nations in Geneva. In 1929, the National Peasant Party finally allowed women to vote in local and municipal elections, but not in national ones.
After 1934, however, Botez and two other women were accused of financial improprieties, in what seems to be a political manoeuvre. The media blew the situation out of proportion, which Calypso had expected. Even female activists were among the critics, as they were prioritizing their political loyalties over feminist ones and didn’t question the nature of the accusations. In the end, they were proven unsubstantiated, but the scandal did not motivate women activists to defend their cause. In fact, many saw it as a warning. However, Calypso did not give up and she continued to remain active in the National Peasant Party until 1938, when, under the authoritarian dictatorship of King Carol II, she decided to step back from the political area.
Today, Botez is remembered with the help of the “Calypso Botez Prize”, which was initiated in 2011 by the FILIA Center after 11 years of activity. It helps celebrate the active participation of Romanian women in different activity fields.
Calypso Botez was not only a fearless leader, a passionate activist and an incredible politician. She was one of the first Romanian feminists and she was way ahead of her time, together with other amazing women who have fought for their rights without backing off, no matter what life was throwing at them, thus opening the gates towards a much brighter future for women around the country. Her studies, articles and other writings inspired and motivated other activists, being some of the firsts to tickle the problem of feminism. She continues to be a role model to all, as she helped us, Romanian women, get the recognition we deserve and that we are so happy to be able to receive today.