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Persephone Papadopoulou (1889-1948): The Great Lady of Cyprus
Persephone Papadopoulou was born in 1889 in the village of Kedares in Paphos and died in 1948 in Patras. Despite societal expectations for women in Cyprus during that time, which limited them to roles such as marriage, family, child-rearing, household responsibilities, agriculture, and animal husbandry, Persephone pursued education and defied traditional gender roles.
She studied in Nicosia, Cyprus, and later attended the Arsakeio School in Athens in 1905-1906, earning praise from the school's director, Maria Alexandridou. Upon returning to Cyprus, Persephone worked as a teacher in Varosia, where she, along with two other women, founded the "Lyceum of Cypriot Women" in 1907, inspired by a similar institution in Athens. The association played a patriotic role and protested against English colonialism.
In 1913, Persephone Papadopoulou published a groundbreaking 15-day newspaper for women called "Estiades," covering various topics such as Greek and foreign literature, educational and ethnographic studies, and women's issues. The paper faced criticism from conservative circles who viewed her as challenging family values and motherhood.
Aside from her pioneering journalistic work, Persephone was actively involved in literary and intellectual pursuits, promoting romantic poetry from the old Athenian School in Cyprus. She constantly published articles and presentations advocating for reforms in women's education. She established an Educational Workshop to promote experimental psychology, organized excursions, and engaged in literature, translation, journalism, and literary criticism. She also wrote poetry herself.
In 1921, due to a dispute with the director of the "Eurybiadeion Parthenagogeion," Persephone left Cyprus for Paris, where she continued her studies in Pedagogy and Philology. She obtained degrees from the University of Paris, including Pedagogy (1923), Philosophy (1924), Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (1923), and Journalism and Public Relations from the International School of Advanced Social Studies in Paris.
After her studies in Paris, Persephone Papadopoulou was offered director positions at Arsakeio schools in Athens, Corfu, and Larissa. However, she chose to return to Cyprus, where she became the director of the Faneromeni School in Nicosia.
In 1935, she came to Greece and took over as the director of Arsakeio Patras, succeeding Maria Xydi, who had been in that position for 41 years. Persephone arrived in Patras with her determined and creative spirit, along with her bicycle. Initially, this act puzzled the conservative society of the city, and she received recommendations not to use it, as it was deemed inappropriate for a woman of her stature. Even years later, after being recognized and established as the director of Arsakeio in Patras, her use of the bicycle was still a subject of discussion and commentary.
In 1937, she assumed the directorship of the newly established Arsakeio Pedagogical Academy in Patras. Her contribution was significant and widely recognized. She passed away in 1948 in Patras due to tuberculosis, attributed to poor living conditions during the Occupation.
Persephone Papadopoulou authored several studies of philosophical and psychological content, focusing on educational matters and the empowerment of women. She published the following works:
1. "Educational Memoir: The Reform Movement in Greece and the Main Problems of Cypriot Schools" (1930).
2. "Tables of Student Pallor and Anemia" (1931).
3. "The Philosophy of Bergson" (1939).
She was an exceptional woman, an excellent teacher, and a scholar with keen perception, eloquence, methodical approach, artistic imagination, and profound education and intellectual cultivation. She had a feminist spirit and a notable literary work. In a memorial album dedicated to her, Evangelos Sioutas, the General Director of Patras schools, wrote, "The coming generations will speak of her great and civilizational work, and her image will always stand before us. She was a worker of duty and skillful wielder of the pen. Her preserved speeches and various publications testify to her talent."
The Director of the Elementary School in Patras, Eleni Georgantopoulou, emphasized that Persephone Papadopoulou became the mentor of many present-day mothers who were fortunate to hear her and absorb her wisdom.
Professor G. Bampiniotis, president of the Philological Society, said of her, "Persephone Papadopoulou belongs to those rare charismatic personalities who gather spiritual strength, broad education, a sense of duty to the homeland and humanity, a mission consciousness in education, social responsibility, and militancy for the rights of Greek women, of which she was an unmatched role model. She honored Education, she honored Woman, she honored Arsakeia, she honored Hellenism everywhere."
Therefore, it is justly said by some that she was the "Great Lady of Cyprus."
Special thanks to journalist/researcher Chrysanthos Chrysanthou for providing the photos and valuable assistance.