In honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, the Ladies Philoptochos Nausica of the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation/Evangelismos in Philadelphia celebrates some of the most inspiring and influential Greek women of history.
Some of them are well known, and others may be less. Through their work or art, they remain emblematic of Greek women to this day.
Despina Achladiotou (1889-1982, known as the Lady of the Ro, is a Greek national heroine. For 34 years, she raised the Greek flag over the islet of Ro, off the shores of Kastellorizo. Tired of the Italian rule of the region after the end of the Turkish occupation, Despina protested to have the Turkish flag removed from the island. Today, a memorial dedicated to her patriotism still stands on the tiny island.
Laskarina Bouboulina (1771-1825), born in a Constantinople prison, is most notably remembered for joining a dissident organization in 1816, aiming to break Greece free from the Ottoman rule. In March 1821, she was the first to raise a revolutionary flag. This fierce woman fought alongside men and witnessed Tripolis’s fall before creating the new Greek state in 1821. After her death, Laskarina has bestowed the rank of general in honor of her many achievements.
Maria Callas (1923-1977), known for her angelic voice, was born in New York City. She received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. To this day, Maria Callas is still considered one of the best-selling artists of classical music.
Eleni Glykatzis-Arveler (1926-), known outside Greece as Helene Ahrweller, is a Byzantine History professor and an eminent Greek University professor. Originally from Asia Minor, she grew up in Athens. Eleni became the first female Rector in History at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She has won countless distinctions during her academic career and is considered one of the most influential modern figures in the academic world. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Greece.
Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas, or Lady Fleming (1912-1986), was born in Constantinople but later moved to Greece. During the Axis occupation, she was jailed by the Italians for her participation in the National Resistance. She moved to London in 1946 to study and met Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. After her husband’s death, she returned to her homeland and was arrested for her uprising against the military junta and forced into exile. Elected to the parliament after the junta’s fall, Amalia is known for her human rights work and her non-profit institute studying genetics and molecular oncology.
Melina Mercouri (1920-1994) was an activist and award-winning actress. Melina Mercouri was perhaps one of the fascinating Greek women. A political activist during the military junta of 1967-1974, she became the first female Minister for Culture of Greece in 1981. She fiercely petitioned for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, which now are on display in the British Museum. Melina remains an inspiration to Greek women even today.
Irene Papas (1926), born in a small village near Corinth, is known for her fantastic interpretation of ancient Greek tragedies. Irene starred in over 70 movies and even gained international acclaim. Her most notable roles include Zorba the Greek, the Guns of Navarone, and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.