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Extraordinary Women: Remembering the Shumen 15

On March 25, a century and a half ago, fifteen of Shumen’s most distinguished women met at the home of one of their circle. Yet, this was not just another neighborly gathering of nineteenth-century socialites. An important center of manufacturing and trade, the northeastern Bulgarian city of Shumen had long been distinguished by its progressive attitude to women’s education and development—Shumen extended religious and secular education opportunities to girls before many other places in the then-Ottoman Empire—and the gathering of the Shumen 15 was yet another milestone in that tradition.

The Shumen 15—teachers and the wives and daughters of prominent industrialists—wanted to make education accessible to every girl in town, regardless of her social or economic standing. That was how the Women’s Patriotic Society was born.

The society opened a free school for illiterate girls and women and a community center that held talks on family planning, child rearing, and home care. It also supported talented students of limited means who wanted to pursue further education.

The society’s educational activities in independent Bulgaria included offering classes in self-care and family planning to the wider community of women and vocational training to eligible girls. The society was instrumental in the founding of the town’s first vocational school for girls, later named the Princess Eudoxia Vocational School. Between 1897 and 1942, 650 full-time and 235 part-time students completed their training at the school.

The society’s ambitions went beyond education. In addition to supporting economically disadvantaged fellow citizens in Shumen, the society sent help to Bulgarians affected by the crushing of the April Uprising of 1876. Thereafter, society members donated generously to or participated as volunteers in every major national event until the society was disbanded and its assets nationalized by the communist regime in the 1950s.

Learn more about the Shumen 15 in An Encyclopedia of Philanthropy, published by the Bulgarian Donors Forum (in Bulgarian only), or online HERE.

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