Emilia Rațiu: Women, the United Kingdom, and Romania’s National Emancipation

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by Andreea Scridon

Dr Emilia Rațiu

For Romanians in Transylvania, the Memorandum Movement represented a significant step towards ethnic equality to other groups under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, later, towards the national emancipation of Romanians, an ethnic majority whose rights restricted for centuries under foreign dominion. But how was this act – which would have a pivotal role for Romanians – viewed in Great Britain, at that time a redoubtable empire, with apparently only marginal contact with Romania?

Much of what is known today about British opinion regarding the Transylvanian Memorandum Movement is in fact due to the work of the wife of Ioan Rațiu, head of the Romanian National Party. In 1894, two years after the Memorandum Movement, his wife, Emilia Rațiu, sent Jeanne del Homme a telegram thanking her for a conference held in support of Romanians in Transylvania. From this correspondence, a unique historical aspect of Anglo-Romanian relations is highlighted, characterised by an apparent sympathy on behalf of the British towards the Romanian national cause.

Jeanne del Homme was a French teacher in Oxford in the last decade of the nineteenth century. She was instrumental in promoting the 1892 Memorandum to certain English progressive liberals at Oxford and further afield in the United Kingdom. Emilia Rațiu, for her part, was an activist for the rights of Romanians in Transylvania and a frequent contributor to various literary journals. She was the president of the Romanian Women’s Association in Turda, the founder of the Romanian Women’s Reading Society in Turda, in 1873, and the initiator of several social reform and charity activities. She led international mobilisation efforts in favor of Transylvanian Romanians in Austria-Hungary, especially after the arrest of her husband Ioan Rațiu in 1894, following his sentencing for activity against the state, which consisted in the distribution of a manifesto supporting Transylvanian autonomy and language rights in the Trial of the Memorandum.

From letters of correspondence between the two ladies one learns a number of things about how public relations were constructed at that time. Jeanne del Homme thanks Mrs Rațiu for the “beautiful chemisette and bolero”, recalls her English friends’ admiration for Romanian folk clothes, with “graceful shapes and harmonious colours”, and asks Mrs Rațiu to thank everyone who contributed to completing the costume. One can recognise, therefore; this profoundly feminine tactic of national mobilisation which shall be seen later in Queen Marie of Romania, who was born English but served the country she reigned over and became famous for her donning the national Romanian costume, now known around the globe for its quintessential white blouse with embroidery.

Miss del Homme informs Mrs Rațiu about the long discussions she had with three members of Parliament about the “Romanian Question”, trying to convince them that “a word in Parliament” would be of great help in supporting her efforts. Del Homme responds that the members of the parliament expressed their sympathy and that they asked for more documents on the subject – and that she had sent reports about the Cluj Memorandum to the editorial offices of some English newspapers, but the press hesitated to publish such articles for fear of “inciting polemics”. From such a letter one learns that Mrs Rațiu practiced true cultural diplomacy, exemplifying the fact that Transylvanian-Romanian women had a political voice in the West since before 1900; at the same time, the reluctance of the Members of Parlament and the press to get involved indicates that the national problem of the Romanians in Transylvania was perceived as a delicate one some time before the culmination of the dramatic events of 1918, when Transylvanian Romanians rose up for their rights, as the majority population.

In another letter, del Homme informed Mrs Rațiu that she had given an extensive interview about the Memorandum Trail to The Daily Chronicle in London. It is entitled “A Rift in the East: Trouble in Transylvania, An Appeal to English Opinion” (July 10, 1894). On this occasion, Miss del Homme asks Mrs Rațiu for additional information about the judge and jurors, the conditions of the accused’s incarceration, and a copy of the pamphlet that had been distributed by the Memorandum members in the early 1890s. She mentions the support of Sir Charles Dilke, a Liberal and Radical politician and Member of Parliament. It is of interest that Miss del Homme expresses her wish that that the newspaper clipping of her interview reach Mrs Rațiu and not be stopped by various antagonists or opponents on the way Before leaving Oxford definitively in 1894, she organises a conference on this topic at Oxford (a fact that illustrates the sincere devotion of this French woman to the principle of this cause). On March 5, 1894, this meeting was held at Oxford, organised by Miss del Homme. From the Junimea archive in Cernăuți and from a letter from Vasile Suciu, one learns that the individuals who supported the emancipation of the Romanians in Transylvania on this occasion were the following:

William Richard Morfill – Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Oxford and the first Professor of Russian in the United Kingdom. Having written Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian and Russian language manuals and translating important Russian texts into English, today he is considered a pioneer in his field and even a cultural ambassador.

Sidney Ball – University Professor at the University of Oxford and socialist activist. As a founding member of the Fabian Society (a British society dedicated to the advancement of democratic socialism), he is the author of the treatise “The Moral Aspects of Socialism”.

Alexander James Carlyle – historian and theologian. He was a prelate in London and later the dean of All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He is the co-author, with his brother Robert Carlyle, of the book A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West.

Charles Roberts – Radical Liberal politician and Professor at Oxford University. He was a Member of Parliament and Under-Secretary of State for India. His wife, Lady Cecilia Roberts, as President of the Women’s Liberal Federation, also attended the meeting in Oxford.

Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse – a political theorist and sociologist, considered one of the first exponents of social liberalism. He worked as a journalist, but also in academia, being the first Professor of Sociology in the United Kingdom. He is the author of the famous Liberalism (1911).

And, Jeanne del Homme, of course, participated as organiser of the meeting. Beyond this chapter, It is known that she devoted herself to the study of critical philosophy after leaving Oxford for Le Mans. Vasile Suciu’s letter of thanks to the conference participants mentions a certain Miss Melland, most likely a relative of H.H. Asquith, Prime Minister in the United Kingdom in the period leading up to the Great Unification which tied Transylvania to Romania in 1918, which suggests that the English women in the period’s high society had a degree of political awareness and concern for the Transylvanian/Romanian situation, the final and most telling example of course being represented by Queen Marie of Romania.

Miss del Homme’s last letter to Mrs. Rațiu emphasises “victory over injustice”, foreshadowing the trans-European ideas of national emancipation that would lead to the Great Union in 1918. It is confirmed, therefore, from these facts that the dream of Greater Romania were fulfilled through the cumulative work of certain idealists – men and women alike – who understood the crucial importance of dialogue with Europe’s great powers.

“A Rift in the East: Trouble in Transylvania, An Appeal to English Opinion” in The Daily Chronicle.
London, July 10 1894.
1212/1894, 1246, Personal Archive Dr Ioan Rațiu F1, Romania. The National Archives. National Central Historic Archives, Bucharest.
“Sibiu’s Feminine Faces from Another Era”, Tribuna, Sibiu. December 21 2019.

Andreea Iulia Scridon is a Romanian-American writer and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at King’s College London and Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. She is the author of four books of poetry, one of which won second place in a national manuscript contest in 2021. A translator of Romanian literature into English, Andreea Iulia Scridon has translated two books of poetry from Romanian to English, one of short stories, and is the editor of an anthology of contemporary Romanian poetry. Her efforts in cultural journalism were rewarded with the University of Oxford’s 2020 STAAR Editorial Prize, and she currently co-manages the English section of www.universul.net, while also acting as a founding member of Syntopic, a youth-run intellectual platform. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature, examining the exportability of Romanian literature in English translation.