Part 4 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Jelisaveta Načić (1878-1955) was the first woman to graduate from the architecture program at the University of Belgrade, which opened only in 1896. Her attendance at college was highly unusual in a country where the vast majority of women were not formally educated at all, let alone in a profession. As part of the inaugural class of Serbian architects, she was among those forging architectural education and practice in the nation. She joined several classmates in the newly-renamed Serbian Association of Engineers and Architects, which grew from the older Union of Engineers and Technicians of Serbia. However, unlike her peers, she was unable to earn a place at the Ministry of Construction due to its requirement for military service, from which she was blocked as a woman. Instead, Načić went to work for the municipal government, eventually becoming its first chief architect. Her third-place finish in a 1903 competition for a church in Topola helped further to establish her in the profession and attracted private commissions for apartments and private residences. More important independent and public work followed, including the 1906 Kralj Petar I (King Peter I) school, notable for its Renaissance style and modernist concerns for hygiene and natural and electrical lighting, heating and plumbing. Her Workers’ Housing Complex from 1910-1911, designed in a vernacular mode, was an early experiment in modern residential planning in the Balkans, as was a tuberculosis sanitorium, the first of its kind in Serbia.
Her vibrant career of just sixteen years–especially considering the odds against her–was cut short by the outbreak of war. Her work to redesign Terazije, the central square in the Serbian capital, was interrupted in 1914 while the Alexander Nevsky Church in Belgrade begun in 1912 was likewise left incomplete, finished only in 1929 by other architects. Her TB sanitorium was a complete loss. Načić herself was taken to a camp in Hungary, retiring after her release in Dubrovnik. Today, her work is receiving well-earned attention: in 2004 a street opposite her workers’ housing complex was named in her honor.