Noor-Eesti ja naised. Young Estonia and Women


  • Rutt Hinrikus Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum



In the early years of the 20th century, representatives of many areas of Estonian social life were coming to the understanding that the position of Estonian women was historically, socially, and culturally undefined, that it was hedged about by various limitations, and that the role of women in public life was getting in the way of the advancement of Estonian society. Articles with titles like ”The Woman Question” and ”Why the Estonian Woman Will not Awaken” were published frequently in the Estonian press at the beginning of the 20th century. The Young Estonians were not left out of these discussions: in Young Estonia’s publications, there were both fictional and non-fictional texts, novellas and essays focused on the position of woman in society. The 1905 revolution broadened this outlook and increased women’s real prospects for getting an education. Two girls’ high schools were established with Estonian as the language of instruction: one in 1906 in Tartu, and another in 1907 in Tallinn, with the goal of furthering the inclusion of women in public life. Schools of home economics were founded, and the first women’s associations were established. Comparisons with Finland served as a stimulus to the development of Estonian education and culture. In Estonia, the highest level of education for women was limited to a private course of study in university; thus whenever they had the opportunity, women went abroad to attend university, either to Germanspeaking parts of Europe or Finland (e.g. Hella Murrik). At the beginning of the 20th century several women writers had become known through the Estonianlanguage press or poetry anthologies, but on the whole, the development of Estonian literature lagged behind. There was only one woman actively involved in the discussions on culture of the Young Estonian renewal movement – Aino Kallas, who had received her education in Finland, and who participated in the movement from the beginning. Of the scant 10 women authors represented in the Young Estonia albums and magazines, Kallas’ writings can be found in all five of Young Estonia’s albums. The other women writers are but occasional guests. Many of the Young Estonians find their ideal woman in Finland. The realm of Young Estonians’ romantic longings is revealed not only by their fictions, but by their correspondences, especially with women. The correspondences of the Young Estonians are characterized by intellectual dialogue, in which conversation percolates around literature, language, and social thought. The article concludes with a comparison of the development of two women poets who began their career in the Young Estonia period and in its publications.


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