Given its affordability, the Ursuline Girls’ School and Teachers’ College in Škofja Loka (1783–1941) significantly increased the education level of women in Slovenia.
In the past, girls’ education on the Slovenian territory was not self-evident. Even in the 19th century, schools were still mainly reserved for boys, so girls’ educational facilities were especially important. The history of Slovenian and European education is marked by the Ursuline Sisters, a Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1535 in Italy. From the beginning, education of young women was at the core of their mission, and a well-founded structure and progressive orientation made their educational institutions highly popular.
Škofja Loka has a long tradition of girls’ education. In fact, the Sisters of the Franciscan Clarist Order founded their own girls’ school as early as in the 14th century. They held classes in their convent which can still be seen in the (old) city center. Due to the extensive State and Church reforms introduced by emperor Joseph II, the city authorities dissolved the Clarist Order in 1782, but the Ursuline Sisters revitalized their educational work only a year later.
Advanced, but strict educational approach of the Sisters did not include the traditional method of punitive switching and threats, but was based on guidance and support. They complied with the state curriculum providing courses of religion, Slovenian, home economics and handicraft, which was an established practice in girls’ schools of that time. When 14-year-old girls finished the regular program, the Sisters offered them additional courses, teaching them music and foreign languages – Italian, English and French, the latter being a prerequisite for a teacher certification.
Guidance and support instead of the traditional method of punitive switching and threats.
The Ursuline Girls’ School and Teachers’ College in Škofja Loka were renowned for their quality education and attracted girls from around the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a result, the number of students was constantly growing, so in 1890, the Sisters bought the castle above the convent and connected the two buildings with a covered staircase. They thoroughly renovated the castle, making it one of the most beautiful and modern girls’ educational institutions in the Empire. It included a recreational hall, equipped gymnasium, and spacious courtyard that was used during breaks. After 1869, the courtyard was also exploited for other activities, since the Sisters, following the State recommendations, made physical education a mandatory course.
In the first half of the 20th century, physical education was led by Sister Angela Bahovec, also a math teacher, who was considered one of the most progressive sports educators at the time. In 1936, at a professional training in England, she learned of basketball and introduced the sport back at home. The basketball game at the time differed from its modern version, since the basket only had an opening at the top, and there was a goalkeeper standing beneath it. The girls had to wear black, long-sleeve overgarments and high socks which caused many inconveniences. Minka Bevk, a former student recounts: “The high socks and the cotton trousers quickly slipped down to the ankles, and I remember how one time the buttons got torn off and my clothes fell to the ground. Luckily, the overgarment was knee-length … but we played despite all that, and with great joy.”
Interestingly, the same year (in 1936) when men’s basketball became an Olympic discipline, the girls’ team from Škofja Loka allegedly played their first match on the Slovenian territory. Women’s basketball was introduced to Olympic Games only in 1976, despite the fact that women tournaments in the USA started soon after the invention of the game in 1891.
In January 2020, the city authorities opened the Avenue of Honorary Citizens of Škofja Loka. It, however, currently features only one woman, physician Marija Bračko (1914–2004), who received this honor thanks to the efforts made by the local community and the Tri Institute (Zavod Tri). They work towards equal representation of women in the public sphere and collective memory, and it might not be long before the Ursuline Sisters get their memorial, too.
Škofja Loka Museum
The Škofja Loka Museum resides in the city castle which housed the Ursuline Girls’ School and Teachers’ College. At one of the permanent exhibitions which tells the story about sport in the region, we learn that it was the Ursuline Sisters who introduced basketball to the Slovenian territory (or at least the Gorenjska region). The exhibition is not accessible for persons with reduced mobility, but you can explore the collections on the first floor as well as the courtyard which was used for physical education.