Lydia Sklevicky

Illustration: Zoran Cardula / Fierce Women

7.5.1952 – 21.1.1990

Making women visible is the first step in calling into question the usual relationship between the general and the specific in the hierarchy of relevance in historiography.

Lydia Sklevicky was a feminist theorist, historian and sociologist, and the first Croatian scientist to research the social history of women and the women’s movement from a feminist perspective.

She was born in Zagreb in 1952. She studied sociology and ethnology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, and immediately upon graduation got a position at the Institute for the History of the Labour Movement (today the Croatian Institute of History).

From the very beginning, Lydia’s central interest had been the history of women’s movements. She started her academic career working on the Institute’s project “Socio-historical Aspects of Organized Activity and Social Position of Women in Croatia 1945-1980”. She continued to research similar topics in her master’s thesis “Women and Power – Historical Genesis of an Interest” (published in 2020 as a book edited by Andrea Feldman and Marijana Kardum), and in her doctoral dissertation, in which she researched the role of the Women’s Antifascist Front (AFŽ).

She used an interdisciplinary approach in her reconstruction of women’s history and the role of women in social upheavals through different periods. In the process, while researching elementary school history textbooks, she noticed that their authors referred to horses more often than women. She believed that history should be rewritten not only “because it is an indisputable fact that women in Yugoslav society make up (a slightly larger) half of the population,” but also because “they have always outnumbered horses.” Women and horses (and wars) also appear in the title of her probably most famous book, edited by Dunja Rihtman Auguštin and published by Ženska infoteka in 1996.

Together with Žarana Papić, Sklevicky co-edited the first book of feminist anthropology in Yugoslavia, Anthropology of Women (1983), which was supposed encourage the discussion and further study of the social experience of women. She wanted to shape a new anthropology that would redefine its own boundaries and allow for the visibility of women and other oppressed and silenced groups.

In 1978, in Belgrade, she participated in the first major feminist conference in Eastern Europe entitled “Comrade Woman. Women’s Question – A New Approach,” together with feminists such as Dunja Blažević, Žarana Papić, Rada Iveković, Vesna Pusić, Slavenka Drakulić, Nadežda Čačinović, Nada Ler Sofronić and others.

She authored numerous academic and research papers, newspaper articles and reviews; translated Erica Jong’s poetry collection Fruits and Vegetables (1981); and was on the editorial board of the international journal Gender and History. She was a co-founder of the Woman and Society Section (1979), which still operates within the Croatian Sociological Association. She was a member of Ženska grupa Trešnjevka (Women’s Group Trešnjevka), a civic initiative in that organized gatherings of feminists from the region in the late 1980s, and launched the SOS hotline for women and children victims of violence in Zagreb – the first of its kind in Eastern Europe.

From 1988 until her untimely death, Sklevicky worked in the Department of Folklore Research at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, where she studied the construction of tradition and the political dimension of rituals.

She died in 1990 in a car accident.

24 Primorska Street, Zagreb

Lydia grew up and lived in an apartment on Primorska Street, where her daughter still lives today. Ženska infoteka, which published Lydia's book Horses, Women and Wars, operated at 16 Varšavska Street. This organization, launched in 1992, published the feminist magazine Bread and Roses and worked to preserve knowledge about women's history and movements in the region and beyond. It is, therefore, a touch ironic that the archive of Ženska infoteka was lost when the organization was shut down in 2011.