Hugonnay, Vilma

(Nagytétény, September 30th, 1847 – Budapest, March 25th, 1922)

Hugonnay, Vilma

She was born as the fifth child of a count family. Her education was in line with the aristocratic conventions. When she finished her studies in the girl’s school at the age of 18, she married György Szilassy, a landowner and gave birth to three children. After she realized that women are allowed to study at the medical faculty of the University of Zurich Web link, she enrolled with the support of her family - but without their financial help - in 1872. She acquired the medical certificate on February 3, 1879 and then started to work in the Surgical Clinic in Zurich. Although she received favourable work offers from abroad, she returned to Hungary in 1880.

In May, 1883 she turned to the University of Sciences of Budapest Web link to get her Swiss diploma accredited. Her request was rejected by Ágoston Trefort, who was the Minister of Religion and Public Education, due to the law valid at that time. However, he encouraged her in a private letter to practice her profession if the authorities do not object. Unfortunately she did not have the possibility to do so for a while. Finally Dr. Vilmos Trauffer, the famous obstetrician and gynaecologist agreed that she can practice as a midwife without any exams.

She could only practice her profession as a midwife for a long time; therefore she started to write educational and explanative books on women’s sphere of activity, on equal rights, on menstruation and on many other topics as well. She divorced in 1884 and married to Vince Wartha, who was a professor of the Technical University. He encouraged her, to turn towards scientific literature and theoretical questions of medication, after having many years of experience as a midwife. She requested the accreditation of her Swiss diploma again in 1895, when a ruling came out stating that women are allowed to graduate as arts student, doctor or pharmacist, but she was rejected by the medical faculty. Finally, after passing some exams she succeeded, and she was initiated as the first Hungarian woman-doctor on May 14, 1897.

Afterwards she was teaching while having a private praxis. She gave lectures in the Midwives’ Training Institute, translated several technical books on midwifery and had a great success with her lectures on female education.

Her most important work, Women as Family Doctors was published in 1907 and had two editions. Although it was mainly the translation of the work of a German author, she amplified it with her personal practical experience. This work was considered as the handbook of health care in the fields of women’s and children’s diseases, midwifery and baby care.

Her social activities were also significant; she was one of the founders of the National Women’s Training Society, leader of the Hungarian Midwives’ Association, founder and vice-president of the Free Lyceum, a scientific educational society. She gathered 80 woman-doctors for medical service in the Red Cross Military Hospital during World War I. She fought for the education of women and for their employment that is suitable for their gender.

She rests in peace in the Fiumei Street Cemetery, in the Hungarian National Panteon.