Historical Markers
Pittsburgh Agreement Historical Marker
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Pittsburgh Agreement

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Penn Avenue and 7th Street, Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
May 31, 2001

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders portrait
Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, circa 1918.
On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to Congress in which he outlined America's war aims and articulated his "Fourteen Points," the foundations of what he believed were not just terms for the war's end but the inauguration of a "new world order." The right of a people to self-government, which the President called "self-determination," was one of Wilson's hallmark principles for the reshaping of post-war Europe.

Four months later, on May 31, 1918, while German troops were massing near the Marne River in France for a second spring offensive, more than two dozen delegates gathered in Pittsburgh to complete negotiations for the creation of a new nation carved out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Immigrants all, they represented the Slovak League of America, the Czech National Alliance, the Union of Czech Catholics, and other ethnic alliances.

Head and shoulders of a miner covered it soot and wearing a miners hat with light.
Slavic coal miner, in Pittsburgh bituminous coal district, 1910.
The delegates had good reason to choose Pittsburgh for the site of the meeting. In the previous half-century, more than half of the 500,000 Slovak immigrants to America had settled in the Steel City and its surrounding industrial communities. Next to Chicago, western Pennsylvania boasted the nation's largest population of East-European immigrants.

The leading figure at the gathering was Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, a professor of philosophy and former a member of the Austrian parliament, who had been leading an international campaign for Czech independence since the outbreak of World War I. In 1918, Masaryk met with President Wilson to gain his support, then travelled to help convene the meeting in Pittsburgh.

The delegates signed their "Pittsburgh Agreement" on May 31, 1918. Memorial Day was not only an American holiday; it was also a popular day for festivals and celebrations among America's new immigrant groups, including recently settled Slovaks and Czechs. Building on a framework outlined in Cleveland in 1915, the Pittsburgh Agreement-only six sentences in length-called for a new government that would be a "republic with a democratic constitution," and recognized both Czech and Slovak as the official languages, each in its respective geographic region.
signed lithograph with the calligraphic text of the Pittsburgh Agreement.
Signed lithograph with the calligraphic text of the Pittsburgh Agreement, May...

In its broad outline the Agreement reflected Masaryk's long-held vision of an American-style governance in central Europe: a representative democracy with strong political institutions that transcended cultural differences. Not surprisingly, the numerically larger Slovak community had twice the number of eventual signatories on the Agreement.
Representatives of participating nations gather at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on October 26, 1918 to sign the Declaration of Common Aims of the Independent Mid-European Nations. Seated at the center, directly under the crack of the Liberty Bell, is Dr. Thomas G. Masaryk.
Thomas G. Masaryk–sitting just to left of the crack of the Liberty Bell–Philadelphia,...

American Czech, Slovak, and ethnic Rusyn organizations heralded the Pittsburgh Agreement as the dawn of a new era, glossing over the at times uneasy relationship that existed between the groups in both Europe and America. On October 26, 1918, Masaryk stood on the steps of Philadelphia's Independence Hall and declared Czechoslovakia's independence from Austria-Hungary.

Three months later, in January 1919, the Paris Peace Conference carved up Austria-Hungary and created the new nation of Czechoslovakia. In 1920, Masaryk was elected the new republic's first president, a position he held until 1935 when his long-time associate Edward Benes succeeded him. Masaryk died two years later at the age of eighty-seven, just as his homeland was facing the threat of the German invasion that would lead to World War II.

Through World War II and then the Cold War and Communist rule, Czechoslovakia continued to balance deep internal divisions between Czechs and Slovaks, despite the strong cultural differences that drove the two groups apart. Thomas Masaryk and the Pittsburgh Agreement's hope of democratic governance seemed restored, if only for a time, with the so-called "Velvet Revolution" and the end of Communist rule in 1989. Although Masaryk might have questioned its prudence, the "Velvet Divorce" on January 1, 1993, which led to a mutually acceptable separation and establishment of a Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia, also embodied the spirit of solidarity and ethnic solidarity evident in Pittsburgh that Memorial Day in 1918.

The so-called Pittsburgh Agreement of May 1918 also sheds light on American immigrants' political identity and the trans-Atlantic network of ethnic alliances that shaped twentieth-century global diplomacy. In this case, and amidst the continuing crisis of world war, ethnic leaders overcame their mutual suspicions to forge a document that helped alter Central-European politics for generations to come.
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