Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937)
Ever since its foundation, Masaryk University has been closely linked with the name of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, whose person, democratic and ethical principles, and important contributions to politics, philosophy and sociology are still held in high regard by the Czech nation.
One of the most important figures 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, served on one of the imperial estates; his mother, Terezie Masaryková (née Kropáčková), came from the German-speaking town of Hustopeče. Studies at the primary school proved Masaryk's talent and intelligence, which finally enabled him to study at the German grammar school in Brno.
It was at this time that Masaryk, besides acquiring a deep theoretical knowledge (gained largely through the study of literature), found himself confronted with promising perspectives that had hitherto remained closed to him. And it was in multicultural Brno that he also became aware for the first time of his national identity. From 1872 to 1876 Masaryk studied at the University of Vienna, where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy. In 1881, his habilitation thesis, Suicide, was published. Masaryk lectured as a private dozent (associate professor) at the university for seven semesters.
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 to form a sovereign Czechoslovakia from abroad. In February 1916 Masaryk became the Chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council in exile, a group that 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 both Czechs and Slovaks). He remained in office until 1935, when he stepped down for reasons of health. He died after a short illness on 14 September 1937 at Lány near Prague.
TGM and Masaryk University
Masaryk was connected with Masaryk University even before its actual foundation in 1919. In the course of his scholarly and political activities, Masaryk paid systematic attention to the whole question of Czech universities. As a professor at the Czech 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 Reichsrat (Parliament) in Vienna calling for the establishment of a second Czech university in Moravia; he continued to treat this issue in subsequent articles and essays. Such thoughts and ideas, however, were not welcomed in the stifling environment of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which did not look with favour on the growth of an educated Czech intelligentsia. Hence the idea of a second Czech university was 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 eventually enabled Masaryk to submit to the Reichsrat around seven thousand petitions in which Czech cities, towns and villages expressed their demand for the speedy foundation of a Czech university in Brno. But it was only in 1919, as President of Czechoslovakia, that Masaryk signed Act no.50, establishing the second Czech university in Brno. The university, which comprised four founding faculties, was named after the individual who had made the struggle for a Czech university one of the major concerns of his life. To this day Masaryk University continues to value the intellectual and political legacy of the country’s first President.
The first visit of President Masaryk 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.
President Masaryk in August 1935 delivering the Rector's chain of office to then Rector Jan Krejčí during an audience at Lány. The Rector's chain of office was the work of Otakar Španiel and Jaroslav Benda.