WW I & Program Demise

A look at the activities of Šárka Hrbková, the chairman of the Slavonic Department during World War I. After the war the Slavonic Program came under attack. Hrbková fought to keep it in the University. Despite her efforts it was suspended at the end of the 1918-1919 school year.  

Šárka Hrbková, was the department head of the Slavonic Department from 1909-1919. During World War I she chaired the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. This position required long hours in addition to her post at the University. She eventualy worked herself to the point of illness at the end of World War I. During the summer of 1918 the University conducted loyalty trials on its campus. At this time members of the University were brought up on charges of disloyalty to America. Hrbková’ served as a witness during these trials (Manley, 218). Hrbková’s involvement with the Council of National Defense as well as her testimony in the trials may have made her the target of housecleaning after the war. Along with the Slavonic Department she was dismissed in 1919.


Letter, Sarka Hrbkova to Samuel Avery

This November 9, 1918 letter between Šárka Hrbková and Chancellor Avery during his war service in Washington D. C. reveals a cordial working relationship between the two. She is seeking his assistance in delivering a letter to Dr. Masaryk, President of Czechoslovakia. Her letter is written on official Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense letterhead. The women’s committee served to coordinate various women’s groups in war related work such as the prevention of wasting food in the home, service in hospitals and the promotion of liberty and thrift stamp sales (Manley, 35). Hrbková also mentions a letter concerning a position as a translator for the Foreign Language Bureau. A year latter she would no longer be at the University and in a position in the Bureau. 

Click on image to access the text of the letter.

Letter, Samuel Avery to Sarka Hrbkova

In this May 13,1919 letter Chancellor Avery notifies Šárka Hrbková of the Board of Regents decision to cancel the Slavic Department and her termination from the University. Scandinavian and Hebrew language instruction also fell victim to the purge of language instruction at this time. Low enrolment numbers were cited as the reason for this change in curriculum.


Click on image to access the text of the letter.

Letter from Sarka B. Hrbkova to Chancellor Avery Concerning Termination of Czech Language Program

Šárka Hrbková responding to the termination of the Slavic Department and her position at the University in a letter to Chancellor Avery on May 17, 1919.

Faulting Chancellor Avery and the Board of Regents for:

Citing registration and enrolment figures skewed by wartime conditions as evidence of low enrolment in the Slavic Department.

Not allowing Slavic Department classes to fulfill the military program’s academic language requirements despite approval of from Dr. Chatburn from Minneapolis Regional Director of the S. A. T. C.

Not allowing students to choose Slavic Languages for their modern language requirement and pushing German instead. This was a volatile issue in an era of anti-German attitudes.

Insisting she resign from as chairman of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. Citing involvement of the Nebraska State Council of Defense in the loyalty trials of 1918 where members of the University were charged with disloyally to the nation.

Abolishing the department and her position as a punishment for her involvement in the loyalty trials.

For not taking into account:

The importance of Slavic studies after the war which created a free Czechoslovakia Republic.

Her own war work keeping her away at registration.

Slavic Department students enlisting in the military and impacting the department’s registration figures

The 1918 influenza epidemic killing off students.

The removal of the department from a convenient location to an obscure part of campus.

The protection she provided Avery in the wake of the loyalty trials and her own contributions to the war effort on the home front.


Click on image to access the text of the letter.