Mari Peegel: Koidula is not the only woman who merits a street name

Mari Peegel.
Mari Peegel. Source: Siim Lõvi

In Tallinn and Tartu, the two largest cities in Estonia, there are so many streets named after notable men that it becomes tiresome to list them all. ERR journalist Mari Peegel argues in her cultural commentary, the fact that only two streets in each city are named after women should prompt a change, particularly while streets are being renamed to correct past injustices.

Tartu streets named after Pallas Art School painters Andrus Johan and Kaarel Liimandi were renamed last week due to the fact that both artists were members of the extermination battalion. The two streets were quickly renamed Maali and Muusa [painting and muse], reportedly at the suggestion of local residents.

Although the residents of Uus-Ihaste may have had a flash of inspiration, the city could have spent more time contemplating and considering new street names.
There is no reason to give a street the first name that comes to mind, just as no one gives a child the first name that comes to mind.

If society is now committed to making ethical historical corrections, we should also try to rectify other injustices, such as the fact that there are far too few streets named after prominent women. Estonian culture is skewed toward men, not because Estonian women are less capable than men, but because they have traditionally received less attention, particularly when it comes to sculpture monuments and naming streets and airports. Tartu and Tallinn both have only two streets named after women: Anna Haava and Lydia Koidula in Tartu, and Lydia Koidula and Miina Harma in Tallinn. These numbers are certainly not adequate, as there are dozens upon dozens of streets named after men.

One might wonder why a street named after a female artist from the same school would not be as suitable for a neighborhood, whose streets are all named after male artists. There were women in Pallas; and they were remarkable. The graphic artists Ella Mätik, Aino Bach and Salome Trei, the painter Karin Luts, the theater artist Natalie Mei, the sculptors Leontine Lind-Karu and Linda Sõber, etc., etc. All these names could grace any street.

I would like to end on two happy notes, because a couple of good things have happened in honoring women. The naming of a new office building in Tallinn's Ülemiste neighborhood after Alma Tominga, the first Estonian female professor and pharmacist, is one. I must admit that I had never heard of Alma Tominga, which is understandable given that she was never taught in school and Wikipedia only has five short sentences about her. Now that she has a house, even an office building, named after her there is reason to learn more about who she was.

Narva is another example. The idea of renaming a street after the tsarist labor activist Vassily Gerasimov after his later comrade-in-arms Amalie Kreisberg arose in the fall in connection with the change of street names in Narva. At the end of the day, Gerassimov Street remains and Kreisberg is unlikely to receive a street of her own, but the new cinema hall in the Narva art residence will be named "Amalie." There are also historical reasons for this: the house of the Narva art residence originally hosted a children's club and library bearing her name, and it is said that older people still refer to the house as "Amalie." Kreisberg has become a feminist icon for young Narva residents, hence the name of the cinema. As such, this is a great example of how Amalie Kreisberg, a former Soviet propaganda prisoner, has found a far more acceptable place in Estonian history and how a site has received a meaningful and thoughtful name.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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