Slovenian Women in American Arts


Slovenian women are a small entity within the melting pot of North America. Yet their artistic and literary accomplishments are considerable, perhaps even greater than their number might promise. Slovenian-American women have achieved recognition in every expression, from literature, drama and film to music, dance and the visual arts. Many women inspired creativity within their communities in cities and settlements where Slovenian cultural groups thrived. Others excelled at their crafts in mainstream circles to attain national acclaim.

Women from Slovenia emigrated to United States and Canada in greater numbers in the 1890s and were soon accepted as equal members in fraternal societies, choruses and drama clubs. By World War I, women were encouraged to form auxiliary groups within the new parishes and Slovenian cultural centers opening in industrial cities, such as Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as in farming and mining towns. Just as in Slovenia, women were usually responsible for sustaining music and culture in the home. Some earned income with traditional crafts, such as sewing, cooking, lace-making and plaiting straw hats, and applied their detail-oriented skills to other trades, including electrical assembly, pattern-making and foodservice.

Slovenian women took advantage of the opportunities and technology available to them in the New World to develop a level of artistic expression which was unattainable or inaccessible to their cousins in the Old Country. American women were the first to perform Slovenian music on radio, television as well as in recorded recitations, a decade or more before comparable media were established in Slovenia. Others found their creative niche as newspaper editors, publishers, radio broadcasters, performers, as well as music and drama directors - a generation before women reached similar positions in Slovenia. In some Slovenian-American communities, women of exceptional talent became local legends.

Women's lodges within Slovenian-American fraternal societies helped members to expand their horizons as well as to work together for a common good through their common interests, whether fund-raising projects, education, heritage and faith-based activities, or political action. Two national organizations, the Slovenian Women's Union of America (SWUA, 1926) and the Progressive Slovene Women of America (PSWA, 1934-2004) recognized the role of wives and mothers in maintaining Slovenian traditions to enhance their lives as American citizens. The groups' circles offered cooking, language and craft classes, as well as lectures and events. Their publications connected far-flung members and provided an outlet to write about local events and personal experiences. After World War II, more women assumed leadership positions within Slovenian-American cultural organizations and, today, are largely responsible for maintaining these groups.

With each successive generation, more Slovenian women left their close-knit communities to follow their muses. A rare few achieved notice between the wars, mostly in performing arts in New York and California. The literary impulse of Slovenian-born women resurfaced after World War II in their English-speaking, college-educated daughters as many of them excelled in writing and journalism. Others established highly-regarded careers in music and dance and have been honored for their work. Not many are known in fine arts, photography or architecture, although some women are successful within their local communities. While no superstar has yet emerged, on a par with painter Frida Kahlo or film actress Lana Turner, Slovenian-American women worked alongside them, as well as with famous men in the performing and visual arts and literature, and built reputations of their own. Many artists and writers from Slovenia also studied, taught and performed in the United States and Canada.

Slovenian women who have made names for themselves in the arts in America are of more than just passing interest. Although there may be nothing intrinsically Slovenian about their genius, they still inspire and instill pride in Slovenes everywhere. They reassure them that the daughters of such a tiny nation can achieve recognition for their creative vision. And, when one of them does show something distinctively Slovenian within her work, it is a gratifying bonus.
Joseph Valenčič

This year‘s Festival also presents a photo exhibition from Joseph Valenčič’s personal archive, entitled We Are Bold American Women.

Organisation: City of Women
In collaboration with: Cankarjev dom
With the support of: U.S. Embassy Ljubljana, Slovenia; Skrivanek Prevajalske Storitve d.o.o

Date and time of event: 
Oct 04th 17:00
Place of event: 
Cankarjev dom, Klub Lili Novy