Monday, April 29, 2013

Monica Barbara Kowalewska 1887-1954

Monica Barbara Kowalewska was born on August 5, 1887 in Winona. She was the first of nine children born to Jozef (1860-1930) and Anastasia nee Fortunska (1865-1938) Kowalewski. Like her slightly older classmate and (briefly) colleague, Franciszka Milanowska, Monica Kowalewska, better known by her married name of Monica Krawczyk, selected and pursued a rather different career track than most of Winona's young Kashubian Polish women. As a teacher, social worker, writer and activist, Monica Krawczyk's life and works illustrate and exemplify the transition of America's Kashubian Polish community.

Monica was a child prodigy, and her mother somehow found the time and energy to assist her talented daughter's education by teaching herself English. She attended Saint Stanislaus Kostka parish school and Winona High; as best I can tell she became in 1909 the second Kashubian Pole, after Frances Milanowska, to graduate from the Winona Normal School. After a short time teaching high school near the Canadian border in Tower, Minnesota she returned home to teach at Washington-Kosciuszko. Monica was very active in the church community and the Kashubian Polish community at large, founding the Outreach Club for her young countrywomen and directing a number of plays. But she was eager for new challenges, which led her to study social work at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

As a young social worker, Monica achieved literally spectacular success, going undercover to expose the exploitation of young Polish women in the Twin Cities. After marrying Mieczyslaw "Mitchell" Krawczyk of Minneapolis in 1916, she returned to a more traditional career as wife, schoolteacher and (eventually) mother. But deeply as she loved her Kashubian Polish traditions, her social outlook remained modern and American. The Winona Republican-Herald reported that she gave the dollars normally piled on a plate at a Polish wedding reception, to assist the young couple in buying a house, to a charity.

By the middle 1920s the Krawczyk family had grown to five with the addition of two sons and a daughter. Monica and Mitchell were able to hire a maid to take care of the housekeeping, which freed Monica to teach at Sheridan School and to write on the side. She was an extremely prolific contributor to a number of popular magazines and newspapers, which undoubtedly brought in additional money. She also began work on her own short stories, which focus on the challenges faced by Polish-American families, and which are collected in the anthology "When The Bough Breaks" or something like that. Also in the 1920s, she helped found the Polanie Club, which united young Polish-American women from the Twin Cities area in various social and cultural pursuits, and which still thrives to this day.

Monica was at work on a novel "Not By Bread Alone" when she died at the age of 67 in Minneapolis. Surely the manuscript must exist somewhere; it would be depressing indeed to think that the crowning work of such an educated, thoughtful, and socially active Kashubian Pole's literary career could just vanish into thin air. On the other hand, depressingly little of her work survives to this day, so maybe it is par for the course.

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