In July and August 1918, public supply deteriorated so badly that the lack of basic foods grew to such an extent that there were riots even in several rural settlements. Mostly demonstrations and actions of women queuing or not even queuing (because there was nothing to wait for) triggered panic among local leaders. The biggest outrage was experienced in Cegléd, not only because there was no fat, but also because the mayor tried to hide from the army of women. However, the deeds of the authorities of Cegléd with the hundreds of captured women became a national scandal: “They were beaten and kicked. Especially there are many complaints against Sergeant Darányi and Policeman Kerepesi”, wrote Pesti Napló in August 1918.
“In Cegléd, three hundred women were arrested by gendarmes”, wrote Pesti Napló on August 13, 1918, and “as an explanation” – although there was not really an explanation for this – the paper added: “for demonstration against deprivation due to the war”. But what did policemen and gendarmes did after the demonstration in Cegléd, which turned into a hunger strike? And what did participants of the “demonstration of women in Cegléd” do beforehand? The paper also reported on this, since by that time the case has become a national scandal.
Sándor Wekerle even sent a ministerial counsellor to the scene – the head of government did so after the famous journalist, László Fényes, who advanced to be a member of the Parliament in 1917, had spoken on the matter and questioned him in the Parliament. In the verbal tussle with Fényes, the head of government called the protesters mobs (who he differentiated from “the people”), but he was still forced to launch an investigation. Not against women, since the authorities have already started investigating them in their own sphere of competence, but because of the outrageous actions of the authorities.
In addition to calling the women of Cegléd “mobs”, he said it was intolerable that innocent representatives of the authorities were wrongfully insulted in the town. He thought anyway that the protest was not organized by war women – László Fényes contradicted this, for which Wekerle only admitted that they “too”. The head of government finally came to the conclusion that the protests were organized by “the unprovided and the mobs“. According to the report of Pesti Napló, a “small, gentle storm swirled” around the word “mob” in the room, after which the head of government announced to have sent a ministerial counsellor to the scene to investigate the case.
But let’s look at what happened, more precisely what might have happened in Cegléd, since even the same paper did not report twice in the same way about the events. László Fényes also recalled even earlier events preceding the happenings of the previous couple of days on the parliamentary debate on August 9, 1918. In his view, “the protest was caused by the food shortage due to the bad public administration. War women from Cegléd already visited the Ministry of Public Food three weeks earlier, because they had not received their doses of flour, fat and potato for weeks. The ministry has not acted since then, the situation has not improved. It is understandable that despair has grown in Cegléd ever since.” Pesti Napló‘s issue on August 13, 1918 summarized the beginning of protest as follows: when the women “saw the »No fat« sign in front of the town’s slaughterhouse, they went to the mayor’s office in large groups to present their complaint to the mayor.” Before the Parliament, Fényes added that women already beat up a policeman here at the fat store and only „rushed „to the town hall to” talk to the mayor afterwards.
One thing is for sure: women, waiting for fat in vain, gathered in front of the mayor’s office in Cegléd in outrage. The police wanted to hold them back when they called for the mayor. According to the journalist-representative describing the case in the Parliament, however, the mayor denied his presence, while the demonstrators had previously seen him go into his office. When the police wanted to force the crowd back, a tussle began and a woman’s hand was injured. The mayor only came out of his office afterwards, but at this time he could no longer calm the women, who, according to Fényes, “marched through the streets of the town in uproar.” They then broke windows through the town “and insulted representatives of the authorities who had been rude to them for weeks.” The police then arrested three hundred women in the town.
They were taken to the police detention facility. According to Fényes, women were still under arrest on August 9, “while their children were starving at home”. According to Pesti Napló, three hundred women were arrested, among whom two hundred were kept in prison for a longer time. The representative asked the prime minister to take action and “investigate how well the public administration has fulfilled its duty”. He also asked Wekerle “to calm public opinion” and to take care of the allocation of rations “because until Hungarian citizens are not supplied with the minimum, we must not give our food to our allies”. With this, he referred to food supplies to Austria and Germany.
Pesti Napló wrote about the investigation ordered by Wekerle as follows: “the investigation also started regarding why around two hundred women were kept locked in a mouldy police prison from Tuesday to Saturday without getting anything to eat for twenty-four hours. It is already certain that the destruction was not started by the women, but by the accompanying kids. Women were allegedly treated brutally by the policemen of Cegléd. They were beaten and kicked. There are many complaints especially against Sergeant Darányi and Policeman Kerepesi. The investigation is ongoing.” So, according to Pesti Napló, after the demonstrators left the mayor’s office, a lot of youngsters joined the demonstrating women, who started real destruction around the town. First they marched to the mayor’s residence and broke the windows. Then “they also broke the windows of the salami factory, the economic counsellor, the director of the pork factory. Finally the policemen managed to break up the demonstrating crowd with the help of two gendarmes. Then they arrested three hundred women”.
Pesti Napló wrote about the new developments in the investigation on August 13, in the article entitled “Women demonstrating in Cegléd were released”: “In this matter, Török ministerial counsellor, a delegate of the Ministry of Interior Affairs visited Cegléd on Saturday, who then questioned the women personally all day. Then he released all of them. On Saturday evening – as reported from Cegléd – no women were kept in the police prison. It has been found that the damage suffered by the citizens owing to the destruction exceeds the value of one hundred thousand crowns.”
The author of a study from 1965, László Krizsán, estimated the value of the damage to be 50 thousand crowns, half as much as reported by the contemporary press, but it is certain that the demonstration in Cegléd was one of the most significant women protests in the summer of 1918. However, the protest in Cegléd was not the first in the series of hunger strikes. In early July in Budapest outraged women broke into the public food department of the town hall, also because they did not get anything in exchange for the fat tickets. Earlier, back in May, the armed forced had to be deployed in Budapest to bring the people queuing for fat “under regulation” – we have already written about these cases in Elsovh.hu.
Women also had a demonstration in Lajosmizse on July 19, 1918. According to the local notary, “… mothers with 5–6 children caused a real revolution in the village hall”, and actually besieged the notary’s office. “We could only go home escorted by gendarmes”, quoted Magda Aranyossi the official in her study in 1954. Aranyossi also quotes a telegram of the gendarmerie of Nyitrabánya from July 1918, when “at around noon on the 22nd, miners starting work were not allowed to work by the assembled women. They rebelled against and attacked the patrolling gendarmes. The patrols used firearms and bayonets […]. The crowd went to the barracks against the crew and threw dynamite cartridges to the barracks […] the mine management in Nyitrabánya requested two companies of soldiers.”
According to László Krizsán’s study in 1965, there were serious disturbances due to public food also in Erzsébetfalva (today’s Pesterzsébet), which also “resulted in material damage”. Tensions were also increased by news about “public food abuses”. Among these, Krizsán highlighted embezzlements by public food officials in Pestújhely and Szada.
Summing up contemporary news and subsequent studies, it can be seen that some months before the end of the war the supply of food to towns of the Hungarian Great Plain also caused enormous problems for the government. The cabinet was not at the height of the situation when “managing” the public either: the prime minister hardly resolved the lack of grease by calling the destitute, queuing women waiting in vein “mobs”.
A ceglédi éhségtüntetés a Házban = Pesti Napló, 1918. augusztus 10.
Szabadon bocsátották a ceglédi tüntető asszonyokat = Pesti Napló, 1918. augusztus 13.
Krizsán László: Az 1919-es tanácshatalom és előzményei Pest megyében. In: Pest megye múltjából. Tanulmányok. Szerk.: Keleti Ferenc, Lakatos Ernő, Makkai László. Budapest, 1965. 293–336.
Aranyossi Magda: A Nagy Októberi Szocialista Forradalom és a Magyar Tanácsköztársaság hatása a magyar nőmunkásmozgalomra 1917–1919-ben = Századok, 1954/2–3. 266–284.
Created by: Iván Miklós Szegő