Anica Vesel Mander

Yugoslavian-born Anica Vesel Mander, nicknamed Ani, dedicated her life to women’s and civil rights. Not only did she become heavily involved in the American Women’s Movement in the 1970s, she also conducted research in Yugoslavia in the 1990s that resulted in an international tribunal declaring rape a war crime.

Ani was born in 1934. After spending several years in hiding from Nazi forces on an island in the Adriatic Sea, Ani and her family moved to the United States and settled in California in 1949. Ani was a multi-linguist, speaking English, French, Italian and Serbo-Croatian. She pursued languages at university in Berkeley and would later receive a doctorate in women’s studies from the Union Institute in Cincinnati in 1976.

Ani’s interest in civil rights and the Women’s Movement developed in the late 1960s when she taught French and Italian at the San Francisco State College. Between November 1968 and March 1969, African American students at the College went on strike, protesting the lack of representation of ethnic minority groups in subjects taught there. The strike formed part of a series of wider protests by the Civil Rights Movement at universities across America. During the strike, College President S. I. Hayawaka closed down the campus and threatened to turn students in to the police. Concerned about the welfare of striking students, Ani and forty-nine of her colleagues joined the strike in December 1968. Ani lost her job as a result. However, her experience encouraged her to dedicate the rest of her life to gender and racial equality.

In the 1970s, Ani became involved in the American Women’s Movement. The Women’s Movement was made up of groups of women who, inspired by feminist politics, fought for gender equality across America. Ani published several works on feminism, focusing on diverse topics including the relationship between feminist politics and therapy, and her own grandmother’s biography. She also founded Moon Books, considered the first feminist publishers in America, in 1976 and was responsible for the first American women’s studies department, at the New College of San Francisco.

Ani maintained her dedication to women’s rights into the 1990s when she returned to Yugoslavia during the Yugoslav Wars. Lasting from 1991 to 2001, the Yugoslav wars were infamous for the extensive use of war crimes, including rape, that were committed throughout the conflicts. Ani interviewed numerous women who were survivors of rape during the conflict. Her interviews were used as evidence at a Hague Tribunal in 2001, which declared rape a war crime. This tribunal resulted in the recognition of survivors of rape in other conflicts around the world, including Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor. Amnesty International declared the Tribunal a ‘significant step for human rights’, the results of which could not have been achieved without Ani’s research.

Anica passed away from breast cancer at her home in Bolinas, California, in 2002. In her obituary, Laurel Fletcher, a Law School professor who joined Ani in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, stated that:

‘She’s one of the unsung heroines who both had the historical perspective on the former Yugoslavia and the academic perspective on women’s causes’.

Her work undoubtedly demonstrates the incredible international achievements of individual women’s rights activists in the twentieth century.

Written by Kate Mahoney, who is undertaking a PhD in women’s history at the University of Warwick.

Find out more:

More information about the San Francisco State College Strike can be found here.

More information about the Hague Tribunal which, through the use of Ani’s research, declared rape a war crime, can be found in this article.

Anica Vesel Mander’s publications included Feminism as Therapy, written with Anne Kent Rush in 1974, and Blood Ties: A Women’s History, published in 1976.

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