Isidora Sekulić

16 February 1877 – 5 April 1958

Isidora Sekulić was a writer and literary critic, member of the Antifascist Women’s Front (AFŽ), and the first woman member of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences. She advocated the emancipation of women and fought misogyny in literature and culture in general.

She was born in the village of Mošorin near Titel. She lost her mother early, so her father took care of her and her brothers. She attended school in Novi Sad and Sombor. Her strong interest in literature and her knowledge of languages separated her from her peers. They would often tease her for this, and she would withdraw into herself and flee “to the last rows, to the darkest corners.” She graduated in mathematics and natural sciences from the Pedagogical School in Budapest in 1892, and received her PhD in Germany in 1922.

She wrote prose, short stories, essays, novels, treatises, literary critiques, travelogues, notes and translated works from various world languages, having spoken several classical and nine contemporary languages. Her first published work was the short story collection “Saputnici” (Companions) from 1913.

She lost her father and brother Dimitri in 1900. She often visited Zemun’s Orthodox cemetery, where they were buried. A local gravedigger started telling her the life stories of the people buried there, and Isidora began to transcribe these conversations and later turned them into her biggest novel called “Kronika palanačkog groblja” (Chronicle of a Provincial Cemetery). She did not hesitate to endow her female characters with courage, pride and determination, and some of the characters from this collection are the first strong female characters in Serbian literature.

Isidora was a world traveler, having visited England, France, Sweden, Germany and Italy. In Norway, she found peace and enjoyed the forests and fjords that inspired her to write the travelogue “Pisma iz Norveške” (Letters from Norway) in 1914. There, she met doctor Emil Stremski, who died the same year, shortly after their wedding. Isidora never remarried and never had any children.

She worked as a teacher of mathematics and later French literature in Pančevo, Šabac, Skopje and Belgrade. Her work was often hampered by health problems (she suffered from tuberculosis). She lived modestly and withdrawn, shying away from publicity. She was known for her distaste for household chores like cleaning, washing and ironing. Some say she only ate in restaurants and took her female students to football games.

Props of Isidore Sekulić, Photo archive of the rarities department of the University Library

Sekulić believed that solitude, silence and hard work were crucial to the spiritual development of a person, and she attributed these characteristics to men. She attributed this attitude to the fact that she had been raised by her father.

She was a member of various associations, often organizing gatherings in her apartment where guests would discuss literature and art. She was considered to be the most educated Serbian woman of her time, and in 1939 she became a correspondent of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences, and the first woman member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1950. In 1993, the Committee of Academics included her in the list of the 100 most important Serbs.

She died in 1958 in Belgrade and was buried in the Topčider cemetery. An elementary school in Savski Venac in Belgrade is named after her, as well as a high school in Novi Sad. The “Isidora Sekulić” Literary Award has been awarded since 1968, and in 2015 a monument in her honor was erected on Topčider.

University Library "Svetozar Marković", King Alexander Boulevard 71, Beograd

After the death of Isidora Sekulić, in April 1958, in accordance with her wishes, her personal library, furniture, manuscripts and works of art were given over to the University Library "Svetozar Marković" in Belgrade. The library hosts an exhibition of her personal items - typewriters, pens, glasses, photographs and other objects that are kept in the estate of Isidora Sekulić. The University Library also runs a web page with a digitized written legacy of Isidora Sekulić - 206 manuscripts and a list of all her objects and writings.