1900

1900

Millennial Modernity

Arrow Arrow Here is my great-great grandfather István in 1900, son of József Fábos and Julianna Csizmadia, happy and handsome at age 23. Here is my great-great grandfather István in 1900, son of József Fábos and Julianna Csizmadia, happy and handsome at age 23. Here is my great-great grandfather István in 1900, son of József Fábos and Julianna Csizmadia, happy and handsome at age 23.
Chapel

It was Hungary’s agricultural successes, built on the backs of laborers, like my Hungarian family members, that turned the country into an economic and cultural power.

IN1902, István (25) married my great-grandmother Regina Börczi (17, from the neighboring town of Horvátkút) in this church. And soon they had a son, Pista, my grandfather, born in 1904. (Pista is short for “István,” and he is the first family member in this story that I actually knew.)

The Fábos family statue located in Marcali

"TO THE GLORY OF GOD!"

"ERECTED BY THE WIDOW

MRS. JÓZSEF FÁBOS

AND HER CHILDREN

IN 1908"

Then József Sr. died four years later at age 62. Upon his death, his wife (my great-great-grandmother) Julianna Csizmadia (age 58) ordered an elaborate statue made from expensive stone from the north shore of Lake Balaton.

Julianna was as commanding as this statue (she ordered her young daughter-in-law, Regina, around as if she were a servant). Through the statue, Julianna  let others know that the Fábos family was important.

The statue is still standing
in Marcali today, on the
main road entering town.

During this time, a new work ethic was emerging all across Europe — a new kind of thinking. Farmers across agricultural Hungary began to recognize that hard work, education, and risk-taking could bring advantages.

What a complete turnaround this was from the lackluster agricultural practices of the last century! What a complete turnaround this was from the lackluster agricultural practices of the last century! What a complete turnaround this was from the LACKLUSTER agricultural practices of the last century!
Working hard led to increased personal wealth! Working hard led to increased personal wealth! Working hard led to increased personal wealth!

My family members were performing intense labor from dawn ‘til dusk. Young István and Regina labored in the field alongside István's parents, József and Julianna, and their other family members. Everyone evaluated one another in terms of how hard and how long they worked.

They had no more time to make folk art! They had no more time to make folk art! They had no more time to make folk art! They could buy mass-produced embroidery instead! They could buy mass-produced embroidery instead! They could buy mass-produced embroidery instead!

The Fábos family’s pumpkin seed oil business had somehow become successful; they were able to leave Boronka, selling their swampy land in favor of higher pastures on the outskirts of Marcali. What a move! What a step up! My father would always remember his remaining Boronka relatives as poor, with “dirty necks.”

Correspondingly, Budapest became the fastest-growing city in Europe, with magnificent neoclassical and Art-Nouveau-style architecture! Correspondingly, Budapest became the fastest-growing city in Europe, with magnificent neoclassical and Art-Nouveau-style architecture! Correspondingly, BUDAPEST became the fastest-growing city in Europe, with magnificent neoclassical and Art-Nouveau-style architecture! EXPLODING
Map of Budapest around 1900
pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer pointer
Dohány Street Synagogue around 1890 Wenckheim Palace around 1910 New York Café around 1894 Great Market Hall in 1903 Andrássy Avenue by the Opera around 1890 Royal Hungarian Palace of Justice around 1898 Heroes’ Square around 1912 Hungarian Parliament Building around 1896 Austro-Hungarian Bank around 1905 Budapest Stock Exchange in 1906 Gresham Palace in 1908 St. Stephen's Basilica in 1895 Gerbeaud confectionery around 1900 Széchenyi Bath around 1913 Hungarian State Geological Institute around 1899
GREAT SYNAGOGUE 1859
WENCKHEIM PALACE 1890
NEW YORK CAFÉ 1894
GREAT MARKET HALL 1897
ANDRASSY BOULEVARD 1896
ROYAL HUNGARIAN PALACE OF JUSTICE 1896
HEROES' SQUARE 1900
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT 1904
AUSTRO HUNGARIAN BANK 1905
BUDAPEST STOCK EXCHANGE 1905
GRESHAM PALACE 1906
ST. STEPHEN'S BASILICA 1906
CAFÉ GERBEAUD 1910
SZÉCHENYI BATH 1913
GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 1908
A woman reading in 1910

LITERACYexploded too. Thousands of periodicals and newspapers emanated from Budapest and other town centers, feeding into a robust literary and artistic scene, not to mention a vibrant café culture!

Herend espresso cup Coffee and come to Budapest before Vienna - one splendid benefit of the 16th-century Turkish invasion. Coffee and come to Budapest before Vienna - one splendid benefit of the 16th-century Turkish invasion. Coffee had come to Budapest before Vienna - one splendid benefit of the 16th-century Turkish invasion.

Before long, Budapest had 600 cafés, patronized by countless journalists, poets, playwrights, actors, scholars, and musicians.

Budapest Café in 1900
The view from Gellert Hill in 1904 Men sitting atop Gellert Hill.

Public skating also became a favorite pastime. Budapest held the World Figure Skating Championships in 1909 — Hungary’s first world event!

Lily Kronberger posing on the ice for a photograph Lily Kronberger: World Skating Champion (sort of) Lily Kronberger: World Skating Champion (sort of) LILY KRONBERGER World Skating Champion (sort of) Hungarian skater Lily Kronberger won the Ladies' Competition Hungarian skater Lily Kronberger won the Ladies' Competition Hungarian skater won the Ladies’ Competition Lily Kronberger (perhaps this wasn't too difficult, she was the sole competitor). (perhaps this wasn't too difficult, she was the sole competitor). (perhaps this wasn’t too difficult, she was the sole competitor).
Two years later, upon the suggestion of Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály,
Kronberger would be the first skater to use musical accompaniment during her free program. Kronberger would be the first skater to use musical accompaniment during her free program. Kronberger would be the first skater to use musical accompaniment during her free program.
What innovation!

AS
a European intellectual and cultural center, and as an industrial powerhouse, there was much to be proud of in Budapest. Accordingly, Magyar nationalism and ethnic pride became an ever-growing obsession. Witness the public outpouring at the 1894 funeral for Hungary’s anti-Habsburg, pro-independence national hero, Lajos Kossuth.

"LONG LIVE KOSSUTH!"

"LONG LIVE OUR

NATIONAL HERO!"

the city was draped in black for three days.

A similar outpouring occurred five years earlier at the funeral of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), a Habsburg, but also a beloved proponent of Magyar independence. She was stabbed to death by an Italian anti-Habsburg anarchist in 1889.

Matters of ancestry and Magyar identity had preoccupied Hungary’s aristocracy for centuries, but now a general interest in Hungarian ethnicity was flourishing. Witness composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály discovering “true” Hungarian folk music — which included Slavic songs, Romanian dances, and Bulgarian melodies...

Béla Bartók Béla Bartók BÉLA BARTÓK Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály Zoltán Kodály Zoltán Kodály ZOLTÁN KODÁLY
Bartók recording folk music. Béla Bartók music score Click to play!
Béla Bartók recording folk music in 1908

Meanwhile, ethnographer/photographer István Györffy (master of the earliest color photography process, autochrome) documented the “authentic” culture of Transylvania...

Two girls in folk costume in 1911

... and architect Ödön Lechner developed a new “Hungarian style” that integrated folk art (and special Zsolnay ceramics) into the decorative elements of his buildings.

Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest around 1896
With all this change and discovery and Magyar pride, what would happen to the old ways of thinking that privileged the nobility? With all this change and discovery and Magyar pride, what would happen to the old ways of thinking that privileged the nobility? With all this change and discovery and Magyar pride, what would happen to the old ways of thinking that privileged the nobility?

FOR
many centuries, the Magyar aristocracy defined themselves by their large country estates and the huge social distance they maintained between themselves and the peasants – Magyar or not – who worked the land.

Nobility on horses in front of their estate in 1905

Only the nobility could own guns and shoot game. Only the nobility could vote or hold public positions.

Nobility posing with guns during a hunt around 1910
But by 1900, numerous noblemen had lost their great estates and their connection to the land. How? But by 1900, numerous noblemen had lost their great estates and their connection to the land. How? But by 1900, numerous noblemen had lost their great estates and their connection to the land. How?

LESSER
nobles were hit hard by the abolition of serfdom and the loss of "free" labor. Other nobles were naïve or reckless in Hungary’s changing economic climate and lost their fortunes.

For example, László Széchényi (great-grandson to the great national hero, Ferenc), famously married the glamorous American heiress Gladys Vanderbilt in 1908. Described as having an “air of aristocratic ennui,” he proceeded to squander half his wife’s $25 million fortune.

László Széchényi in 1907” title= “László Széchényi László Széchényi László Széchényi LÁSZLÓ SZÉCHÉNYI
Gladys Vanderbilt and Lászlo Széchenyi descending a buildin't stairs after their wedding
László Széchenyi and Gladys Vanderbilt Gladys Vanderbilt Gladys Vanderbilt GLADYS VANDERBILT

Some Magyar nobles sold their property to afford expensive hobbies. For example, András Széchenyi, another great-grandson to Ferenc and grandson to István, was quite preoccupied with traveling to Paris on his personal dirigible airship!

There goes András Széchenyi.... There goes András Széchenyi.... There goes András Széchenyi....

SIMULTANEOUSLY,
a new financial elite began to encroach on the Hungarian nobility’s social and economic power. Highly educated, industrious, and often Jewish, this bourgeois class began to dominate the cultural and financial scene in Budapest (where Jews made up 20 percent of the population) and throughout Hungary.

This percentage of... This percentage of... This percentage of... Merchants: 61% Publishers and Journalists: 58% Innkeepers: 42% Doctors: 48.5% Lawyers: 45%
...were Jewish. Hungarian Jews also dominated in the banking industry.
Alajos Strasser around 1900

For example, Alajos Strasser, who was Jewish, was founder and president of the Hungarian Stock Exchange.

This innkeeper’s son from northern Hungary had moved to Budapest, married his niece, Fanny, formed the Strasser & König Corn Trading firm with his brother-in-law, Lévi König, and made his fortune in banking and trade. Three of his brothers (Sándor, Rudolf, and Béla) noble-ized their names to “von Strasser.” Another sister, Charlotte, married a noble-ized Jew with the fancy title of “Edmund Ödön von Goldberger de Buda.” By the 1900s, the Strasser/von Strasser family knew only fabulous wealth and extreme privilege as businessmen, doctors, and lawyers.

Alfred and Charlotte Strasser around 1900
Alajos's son Alfred Strasser (a businessman) with his wife, Charlotte. Alajos's son Alfred Strasser (a businessman) with his wife, Charlotte. Alajos’s son ALFRED STRASSER (a businessman) with his wife, Charlotte.
33l They lived in this mansion, now the Croatian Embassy in Budapest, with their three children and numerous servants.
15 Munkácsy Mihály Street around 1900
Delivery boys in Budapest around 1900
Budapest neighborhood around 1900

This pattern of Jewish financial and intellectual success was repeated, more or less, in smaller towns like Marcali, which had an increasingly prominent Jewish community of 374 by 1910 (about 8.3 percent of the town’s population). Ignác Mayer, a distinguished Jewish lawyer and banker in town, built the first two-story townhouse on main street, with a lavish baroque balcony.

The house was designed by an architect from Budapest. The family lived on the second floor, with Mayer's law office and other shops below. The house was designed by an architect from Budapest. The family lived on the second floor, with Mayer's law office and other shops below. The house was designed by an architect from Budapest. The family lived on the second floor, with Mayer’s law office and other shops below.
Mayer house in Marcali Hungary around 1910

Marcali's Henrik Marczali (born Morgenstern) was also making a name for himself as one of Hungary’s most eminent historians. The son of the town’s rabbi, Marczali had moved at age 14 to study in Budapest, then in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London, and Oxford before returning to Budapest. Marczali would publish three volumes of the groundbreaking and monumental Magyarország Története (History of Hungary) between 1881 and 1888.

Henrik Marzcali Henrik Marczali Henrik Marczali HENRIK MARCZALI Marcali's most famous person Marcali's most famous person MARCALI'S MOST FAMOUS PERSON
Magyarország Története

Volumes I, II, and VIII were written by Marcali’s Henrik Marczali.

Magyar-izing his name — common for Hungarian Jews — and moving in elite circles were symptomatic of this historian’s desire to assimilate and rise in social status. Marczali identified as Hungarian ethnically and Jewish only religiously, and was greatly supportive of the Dual Monarchy (having a special fondness for Habsburg Emperor Joseph II). He taught at the prestigious Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and perhaps rode on the new electronic trolleys, which by 1900 were everywhere.

SO
here was Hungary, the most ethnically and religiously diverse state in Europe, and now home to a large and prospering Jewish population. Indeed, a seemingly tolerant Hungary had become a glorious place for Jews. Given the horrible anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia at this time, this was significant!

And yet, spite and tension among nationalistic nobility and non-Jewish intelligentsia was smoldering... And yet, spite and tension among nationalistic nobility and non-Jewish intelligentsia was smoldering... And yet, spite and tension among nationalistic nobility and non-Jewish intelligentsia was smoldering... So much so that a National Anti-Semitic Party had already formed in 1883. So much so that a National Anti-Semitic Party had already formed in 1883. So much so that a National Anti-Semitic Party had already formed in 1883. So much so that Hungarian Jews frequently challenged the insulting acts of disrespecting nobility (and high-ranking town citizens) to sword duels. So much so that Hungarian Jews frequently challenged the insulting acts of disrespecting nobility (and high-ranking town citizens) to sword duels. So much so that Hungarian Jews frequently challenged the insulting acts of disrespecting nobility to sword duels. (and high-ranking town citizens)
Magyar nobility in their nationalistic Díszmagyar costumes Magyar nobility in their nationalistic Díszmagyar costumes MAGYAR NOBILITY IN THEIR NATIONALISTIC DÍSZMAGYAR COSTUMES

This happened in Marcali in 1901. One of the town’s most colorful figures at that time was Béla Bernáth. He was a lawyer with an enormous fondness for his pet goat. He took it everywhere, got it a special identity card, and successfully defended it in court after the goat attacked some local townswomen. Bernáth was also the first editor of the town’s new newspaper, MARCZALI, and used the newspaper to voice his anti-Semitic discomfort with the rising status of Marcali's Jews.

Béla Bernáth Béla Bernáth Béla Bernáth BÉLA BERNÁTH

The first issue of MARCZALI was published in 1900 (the town’s name would formally drop the “z” in 1945). The paper came out every Sunday.

“HOW INSULTING!

I CHALLENGE YOU

TO A DUEL!”

sword

In a scathing 1901 newspaper editorial, Bernáth wrote that Marcali’s pharmacist, Attila Rekvényi (who was Jewish), came from a “crooked country” (meaning he was foreign, and Jewish, with a crooked nose) and that “here in Marcali we need ‘straight sentences’” (meaning that Marcali’s non-Jewish “straight-nosed” intelligentsia should have more public influence).

The Jewish pharmacist, Rekvényi, was on the committee to hire Marcali's new town doctor. Bernáth was firmly against hiring another Jewish doctor, and argued that Rekvényi would surely push for the Jewish guy. Rekvényi declared his public humiliation to the demeaning editorial and challenged Bernáth to a duel.

The duel was the talk of the town. The duel was the talk of the town. The duel was the talk of the town.
Market square in Marcali Hungary

"WHERE!"

"WHEN?"

"WITH WHOM?"

Because of the many duels they were in (or could expect to be in), a large number of Hungarian Jews developed extraordinary fencing skills to protect themselves.

The duel between Rekvényi and Bernáth never happened (a bit anticlimactic), but pointed to the growing friction between successful Jewish townspeople and the Christian Magyar elite.

BEYOND
brewing anti-Semitism, there was increasing ethnic tension throughout the entire Empire. Much of it stemmed from the Magyar nobility thinking they and all Magyars were racially distinct and culturally superior to all others in Austria-Hungary.

Pie chart breaking down the percentages of Slav versus Magyar versus German populations
It is important to note here that the Habsburgs in Vienna had for centuries treated Hungarians with complete disdain and even revulsion... this is why it had been so daring of Empress Sisi to adopt the Hungarians, and in doing so, snub Austria's German-speaking nobility... It is important to note here that the Habsburgs in Vienna had for centuries treated Hungarians with complete disdain and even revulsion... this is why it had been so daring of Empress Sisi to adopt the Hungarians, and in doing so, snub Austria's German-speaking nobility... It is important to note here that the Habsburgs in Vienna had for centuries treated Hungarians with complete disdain and even revulsion... this is why it had been so daring of Empress Sisi to adopt the Hungarians, and in doing so, snub Austria’s German- speaking nobility...

And as the Magyars pushed for even more Magyar power (they already controlled half the Empire) and complete Magyar autonomy, they fanned Slavic nationalism and thus made it harder for the Habsburgs to hold the Empire together.

On one hand, the Magyar nobility was pulling the country together with their intense nationalism, and on the other hand they were ripping Hungary apart with their increasing inability to accept an ethnically diverse state.

Proud... and torn... Proud... and torn... Proud... and torn...

AS
for Hungarian women, the 1900s were a promising time. Budapest hosted the International Women’s Congress in 1913, featuring all the leading women in progressive European politics. The conference was organized by Rosika Schwimmer, a highly-regarded but controversial Hungarian suffragist and pacifist who later became the first woman ambassador ever!

Countess Júlia “Szikra” Teleki and actresses Mari Jászai and Erzsi Paulay all addressed the crowd, including 240 delegates from 22 countries. The Congress brought attention to women’s rights, especially lobbying for suffrage. Hosting the IWC convention confirmed Budapest’s status as a cosmopolitan, modern metropolis.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S CONGRESS BUDAPEST, 1913
Peasant women delegates at International Women’s Congress in 1913

The new century was thus a fabulous yet perilous time for Hungary. It was a period of social mobility for many people, including the Fábos family. But the period’s nationalism and anti-Semitism foreshadowed dark times ahead. The exuberant hopes for social progress of the early 1900s would soon be dashed by the outbreak of World War I.