General & Trivia People

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, First President of Czechoslovakia

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is a name that resonates in every talk about the history of Czechoslovakia and, subsequently, the Czech Republic.

tomáš garrigue masarykMasaryk is best known for being a Czech statesman, the first president of independent Czechoslovakia. Nowadays, he’s being idealized by many and there’s also lots of interesting gossip surrounding his heritage and personality!

The information about Masaryk is enough for a book. The objective of this article is to tell you a thing or two and make it a light reading. If you wish to know more, I will like some interesting sources at the end of this article.

A President Was Made

Tomáš Masaryk was born on March 7, 1850 in the south-Moravian town of Hodonín to Terezie (née Kropáček/Kropaczek), a cook, and Josef, a coach driver. He was christened Tomáš Jan. Josef’s paternity has been questioned several times but more of that later.

Interestingly, before diving down into studies, young Tomáš was a locksmith’s and blacksmith’s apprentice.

Masaryk went to school in Čejkovice, Hustopeče, Strážnice and Brno and graduated university in Vienna (philosophy). During his studies in Leipzig, he met his future wife Charlotte Garrigue whom he married in 1878 in New York and whose surname he added to his. They had 5 children and his son Jan became a politician, as well.

In 1891, he was elected member of the Imperial Council of the Austrian Empire where he defended the interests of the Czech nation as well as other southern-Slavic nations. He gave up his post two years later because of the disputes with the radical wing of his party, the National Liberal Party. He continued the ideas of the Czech National Revival.

Czechoslovak Accomplishments

In 1900, he founded the Czech Realist Party and was elected a member of the Imperial Council again between 1907 and 1911. Masaryk had countless political and other influential connections in the USA, Russia, Switzerland, Great Britain and France. He started exposing his demands for Czech independence in 1914 and after travelling to Switzerland in 1915, he couldn’t come back because there was a warrant issued for his arrest. The official demand to found an independent country was announced in 1915 in Geneva. He travelled western Europe meeting influential politicians convincing them to support his ideas and his book “The New Europe” helped convince also the US president Wilson.

Masaryk was still in the USA when he got the news of the revolution and establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state on October 28, 1918 and of his being elected president of the new country. He was welcomed home after 4 years in exile, on December 21, 1918.

Karel Čapek (died 1938), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Four Times President

Czechoslovakia held its first presidential elections in 1920 and Masaryk was elected president by 65 % of voters. He was re-elected in 1927 and 1934, the last mentioned being his most successful election by 73 %. He stepped down at the end of 1935 due to his health problems and died on September 14, 1937. His funeral became a country-wide manifestation for freedom. He was buried in Lány, Prague.

Commemorative plaque in Olomouc

Question of Origin

Masaryk’s mother Terezie of Czech-German origin spoke better German than Czech, his father was from Slovakia (his surname was spelled Masaryk, Masárik or Maszárik).

Some people including historians present the idea of Masaryk’s biological father being the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. There are several facts that lead some people to believe that the first Czechoslovak president was of this noble heritage. First of all, Masaryk was born 7 months after his parents married and their marriage was supposedly patched up very fast, moreover, Terezie was 10 years older than her groom. Josef Masaryk was illiterate, he learnt to read from Tomáš and his firstborn son was not only different in character and appearance from his father but also from the other children of Josef and Terezie. On the other hand, the similarity in looks between Tomáš Masaryk and the emperor Franz Joseph is striking.

FranzJosef I. and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Author: Montage Richard Cortés

How would Masaryk’s mother and the emperor even meet? Young Franz Joseph would have village girls taken to his quarters which wouldn’t be so unusual for nobility. He did reside in the area where Terezie lived and the chance of them meeting is not impossible, especially in the aforementioned “unofficial” way. Another indirect proof is supposed to be the notice in the emperor’s diary which says “Kropaczech erl.” (erl. = erledigt), translated as “Kropaczech resolved” and which some people interpret as a pregnant girl being married off. A curious thing is also Masaryk’s education. Although he started as an apprentice, when he later decided to study, all doors seemed to be open to him, despite of being from a really humble background.

tomáš garrigue masaryk

None of these are a definitive proof and so there have been initiatives to perform a DNA test. In 2016, the documentarist David Vondráček and the geneticist Daniel Vaněk embarked on a journey of testing the genetic material of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his son Jan and the remains of the last emperor Charles I, a direct descendant of Franz Joseph. This initiative was stopped by Masaryk’s granddaughter Charlotte Kotíková who resides in the USA and who sent an e-mail prohibiting the DNA testing and deemed it “disrespectful to Masaryk and the whole nation” which, quite understandably, only strengthened the belief that there was a reason that Masaryk’s heritage needed to stay a mystery.

And so it does and his paternity continues being a subject to speculation. The only thing we know for sure is that Tomáš Masaryk considered Josef Masaryk his father and treated him as such.

Left: Emperor Franz Joseph I; Right: Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk


Would you like to learn more about Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk? Here are a few links and works you might find interesting:

  1. Official information from the President’s office
  2. Beneš & Masaryk: Czechoslovakia (Makers of the Modern World Book 18)

  3. T. G. Masaryk on Brittanica

  4. Masaryk on Google Arts and Culture

  5. Masaryk on Radio Prague International

  6. Tomáš Masaryk Wikipedia entry
B. Heinz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Featured picture: Masaryk visiting Beth Alfa, British Mandate for Palestine; Author: Imrich (talk) 14:36, 26 July 2008 (UTC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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