Kalliroi Siganou-Parren (1859–1940)

The Greek feminist

Kalliroi Siganou-Parren was born in 1859 in Platanias. A village in the Amari Valley some 20 kilometres south of our holiday house, Villa Talea. She was the first to introduce feminism to Greece, mainly through her weekly 'Ladies Journal' (Εφημερίδα των Κυριών) and therefore she can also be regarded as the first female journalist in Greece.

During the last half of the nineteenth century the Greek nation was trying to define itself as a modern European state but also as the bearer of ancient Greek customs, traditions and lore. The question of women's rights and the role of women in society influenced this cultural process and was reflected in the arts and the cultural life of the time.

Kallirroi Siganou-Parren advanced her feminist ideas through her writing and her political work on this background of a state trying to find its cultural identity. At first her family lived in Rethymnon but due to events during one of the many Cretan uprisings against the Turkish occupation of Crete (1866-1869) the family was forced to flee Crete and settle in Athens. Here, in 1879 she graduated from 'Arsakeion' - a private institution that trained female teachers.

For a while she worked as the headmistress of a girls school in Odessa until she met her husband, the Anglo-French journalist Jean Parren. The couple moved back to Athens and the journalistic milieu she met here inspired what she called her 'mania for writing'. She was foremost occupied with women's emancipation through education and work.

The 'Ladies Journal' that were soon to become an intellectual forum for scholarly women she founded in 1887. It became one of the most successful periodicals of the time and until 1917. In her articles Parren brought forward the first coherent ideas about a women's liberation programme in Greece redefining traditional gender roles within the framework of the Greek nationalist ideology of the time. Moderate, as it may seem today, it provoked an outcry in those days.

Apart from journalism Parren also wrote translations, interviews, travel journals, biographies, novels and plays. In one of her most well-known works, the trilogy 'The Book of Dawn' (1899-1903) she described the emancipation of women as a process of self-discovery gradually releasing women from the restraints of social conventions leading towards equal relations between male and female roles in society. She describes her vision of women as educated and independent but also maternal-capable and the nationalist sentiments of the time is reflected in the idea that women should raise citizens that are willing to sacrifice everything for the security and social progress of their nation.

In 1896 she also founded the 'Union for the Emancipation of Women' and the 'Union of Greek Women'. She educated women in reading and writing, founded hospitals and homes for widows and orphans. It was through her influence that women were permitted to study at the Universities in Greece and women doctors were appointed to women's prisons. She also campaigned for a legislation to protect women in paid employment.

Because she was opposed to Greece participating in World War I she was exiled to the island of Hydra in 1917 and therefore had to close down her newspaper. But on her return the following year she immediately took up her work again. In between the two world wars she presided over the 'Lykeion ton Ellidon' (Lyceum of Greek Women) but other women's organisations had been formed and gradually she became a representative of the more conservative position among the women's liberation movements in Greece. Her organisation mainly engaged in philanthropic work.

She was awarded the Silver medal of the Athens Academy, the Silver Medal of the Red Cross and the Medal of the Municipality of Athens. Kalliroi Siganou-Parren never had any children. She lived with Jean Parren until her death in 1940. She is buried at the First Cemetery in Athens.

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