Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937)
Ever since its founding, Masaryk University has been closely linked with the name of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The democratic and ethical principles he espoused as well as his contributions to politics, philosophy and sociology are still held in high regard by the Czech nation today.
A key figure in Czech history, the statesman, politician, philosopher and sociologist Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was born in Hodonín, a small town in southern Moravia, on 7 March 1850. His father, a Slovak from the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, worked on an imperial estate; his mother, Terezie Masaryková (née Kropáčková), came from the then German-speaking town of Hustopeče. Studies at primary school established Masaryk's talent and intelligence and enabled him to study at the German grammar school in Brno.
At this time, Masaryk – in addition to acquiring a deep theoretical knowledge, largely through the study of literature – found himself confronted with perspectives which had hitherto remained closed to him. It was in the multicultural city of Brno that he became aware of his national identity for the first time. From 1872 to 1876 Masaryk studied at the University of Vienna, where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy following the publication of his habilitation thesis “Suicide as a Social Mass Phenomenon of Modern Civilization” in 1881. He then spent seven semesters lecturing at the university as a private associate professor.
Masaryk entered politics in 1889. His continuing and profound interest in Slavic issues led to investigative journeys to Russia. After the outbreak of the First World War, he left his homeland and coordinated efforts among Czechs and Slovaks in order to form a sovereign Czechoslovakia from abroad. In February 1916 Masaryk became chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council in exile, a group he had founded together with the man who was to be his presidential successor, Edvard Beneš, and Milan Rastislav Štefánik. In 1918, Masaryk was elected the first President of the new Czechoslovak Republic, conceived as a common homeland for Czechs and Slovaks. He remained in office until 1935 when he stepped down due to health-related issues. He died after a short illness on 14 September 1937 at Lány near Prague.
TGM and Masaryk University
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was associated with Masaryk University even before its establishment in 1919. In the course of his scholarly and political activities, Masaryk paid systematic attention to the question of Czech universities. As a professor at Charles University in Prague, he promoted the idea of establishing a second Czech university; as early as 1885, writing in Atheneum, he pointed out the need for competition within the Czech university community. In 1891 Masaryk introduced a motion in the Imperial Council in Vienna calling for the establishment of a second Czech university in Moravia and continued to address the issue in subsequent articles and essays. These ideas, however, were not welcomed in the stifling environment of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which did not favour the growth of an educated Czech intelligentsia. The notion of a second Czech university was thus championed largely by those in scholarly and cultural circles, among students and members of the university community. These groups also organized petitions and demonstrations, which in 1912 enabled Masaryk to submit around seven thousand petitions to the Reichsrat, in which Czech cities, towns and villages expressed their demand for the speedy foundation of a Czech university in Brno. Nevertheless, it was only in 1919, as President of Czechoslovakia, that Masaryk was able to sign Act No. 50, establishing the second Czech university in Brno. The university, which comprised four founding faculties, was named after the man who had made the struggle for a Czech university one of the key concerns of his life. To this day Masaryk University continues to value the intellectual and political legacy of the country’s first President.
President Masaryk’s first visit to the university took place in 1924. A second visit, in June 1928, was undertaken on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Faculty of Law.