Retracing the Herstory of Celje

Celje city centre with the City Hall, mid-20th century. Photo Josip Pelikan, Celje Museum of Recent History

The herstorical figures of Celje include Vera Levstik, Tončka Čeč, Pavla Jesih, Olga Vrabič, Božena Pelikan, Ana Baumbach and others highlighted by the TraCEs project.

The walk through the history of Celje from a female perspective begins outside the Celje Museum of Recent History, the former City Hall that was also home to the city’s first library. The library was a long-time project of Vera Levstik (1890–1967), who was a math and physics teacher and the first professional librarian in Celje. She was initially head librarian of the General Slovenian Women’s Society and in 1927, on her initiative, smaller society libraries merged into the Public City Library. Had World War II not crossed her plans, writer and translator Vladimir Levstik would undoubtedly be remembered as her brother – and not the other way around.

The war years were especially cruel to people in the infamous Stari Pisker Prison not far away from the museum. Among the prisoners was a political activist from Trbovlje, Tončka Čeč (1896–1943). She was most active in the women’s movement: she chaired the founding assembly of the women’s section of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia on behalf of Slovenia, advocating the general equality of women. In 1942, she was wounded and captured by German soldiers as a partisan, brought to Celje and dragged through the city streets to the National Hall in a shaming procession. The people of Celje remember her as an exhausted and beaten but proud woman with a clenched fist and fingers raised in a gesture of resistance.

The National Hall, the headquarters of the municipality, was also where Olga Vrabič (1916–2001) searched for and eventually found her place in a predominantly male political environment of post-war Yugoslavia. Before the war, she chaired the Women’s Work Commission, and after the war she became one of the leading faces of Celje politics. Between 1967 and 1971, she presided the Celje Municipal Assembly, meaning that she was the city’s first and thus far the only female mayor.

Opposite the City Hall was the birthplace home of Alma M. Karlin (1889–1950). Owing to extensive research, this globetrotter, author and theosopher, who set out into the world in 1919, is today the most famous resident of Celje; numerous literary works written in German have recently been translated into Slovenian, finally plucking her from obscurity.

The Pri Orlu Pharmacy in the main square was run by Ana Baumbach (1776–1877) and her husband. As prominent and respected members of the community, they retained the longest monopoly in the city as, despite the continuous efforts of their competition, the authorities refused to issue other permits to open a pharmacy. Ana Baumbach outlived both her husband and her son; she successfully ran the pharmacy to the day she died at the age of 101.

The guided tour of Celje sheds new light on 20th-century history from a female perspective.

The Celje Hall was home to the Union Cinema. In 1937, the building was renovated by Pavla Jesih (1901–1976), one of the first world-class mountain climbers and Ljubljana-based entrepreneur – owner of the largest chain of cinemas (in Ptuj, Celje, and Ljubljana) in the country at the time. During World War II, she provided logistical and financial support to the resistance movement; nevertheless, the post-war authorities accused her of collaborating with the enemy and seized her theatres and inventory. After her trial, the previously unrelenting Pavla Jesih withdrew from public life, silenced and ashamed. She went back to mountaineering and made a living as a cabin keeper until she retired. Her last climbing exploit was the Čop Pillar, the most impressive route on the Triglav North Face named after her climbing partner.

On Razlagova ulica, you will find the Pelikan Photographic Studio. Having no son, photography master Josip Pelikan wished to pass his knowledge onto his youngest daughter Božena Pelikan (1922–2016). She wanted to study languages and travel the world, but she gave in to her father and became a portrait photographer instead.

The guided tour of the streets of Celje includes other forgotten, overlooked, even deliberately silenced figures to balance and shed new light on 20th-century history from a female perspective.

Celje Museum of Recent History

The museum preserves, explores, and displays local cultural heritage from early 20th century onwards. The TraCEs project examines this heritage from the perspective of women who have left their mark on the city and, upon prior request, offers a guided tour of the streets associated with them. The Women's Footsteps walk through Celje is accessible for persons with reduced mobility.