13 Feb Elena Venizelou biography
Elena Skylitsi Stephanovich was born in London in 1874. The Skylitsi family, coming from Chios Island, was among the wealthier families of London’s Greek community. She was beautiful, intelligent, educated, multilingual, liberated, fascinated for traveling and reading. A failed engagement when she was twenty brought her down to earth and made her rather uninterested in the prospect of marriage.
Her admiration for Eleftherios Venizelos began in September 1910, when she read one of his speeches on domestic policy, while two years later she met him personally. At their frequent social intercourses, she was particularly attracted to his presence.
During World War I and the formation of the Government of Thessalonica by Venizelos, Elena endorsed his choices and really stood by him. She wrote for the press, collected essential stuff for the army, organized events and exhibitions; she even sent to Thessaloniki an equipped field hospital of 1,000 pounds worth, which was eventually torpedoed during transport.
Right after the elections of November 1920 and Venizelos’ eventual defeat, Elena, who observed the course of events from the Grande Bretagne Hotel and was aware of the exaltation of political hatred in Greece, convinced him along with some of his political friends to board the yacht “Narkissos” and sail to Nice, France. There, Venizelos enjoyed the hospitality of Mrs. Zervoudakis, mother of his son Sophocles’ fiancee, who advised him about Elena’s feelings. In Nice, they decided “to face as a couple what we had begun to face as friends”.
On September 15, 1921, in Highgate, London, they got married within a close set of friends at the music hall of the residence of Sir Arthur and Lady Crosfield, as the Police was afraid for Venizelos’ life and forbade the wedding ceremony to take place in a church. A month later, the couple traveled to America, where they received exceptional demonstrations of love from the American people and the Greeks living there.
In 1924, during a trip to Switzerland, she visited a model maternity hospital, managed by her friend professor Rossier. Fascinated by these modern facilities, she decided to donate a model maternity hospital to Greece and to name it after her dear friend Marika Eliadi, who had just passed away. The project was accomplished in 1932 thanks to the excitement of the chairman of the Greek Red Cross and the aid offered by professor Rossier and the architect G. Epitaux. On February 16, 1933, the large central building was founded, which soon acquired the fame of being the foremost in its kind in the entire Balkan region. In the hospital garden, there is the chapel of Saints Eleftherios and Helen, where, after Elena’s death, according to her wish, her heart is kept within an urn.
During the period 1928-1932 when Venizelos had returned to politics, apart from his domestic intense activity regarding the reconstruction and modernization of Greece, he stumped abroad, accompanied always by his wife Elena.
However, the main work of Elena Venizelou is her charity contributions, the most important of which should be mentioned hereunder. In Paris, she contributed to the erection of the Red Cross hospital; in London, she donated a field of 1,000 pounds worth to an old-age home; in Chios, she founded the Skylitseion Hospital of Chios; while in Athens, apart from the “Marika Eliadi” maternity hospital, she contributed to the erection of the Red Cross hospital, founded the “Virginia Skylitsi” School of Nursing and Midwifery, as well as a school for disabled children. Moreover, she donated to the Greek Government the residence of the Greek embassy in London and provided particular care to refugees from Asia Minor.
In Chania, her husband’s native town, she donated the Venizelion Stadium, the Venizelion Conservatorium, the Agioi Apostoloi Summer Camps for kids, the opening of the road to Therissos village (Virginia Skylitsi); she contributed to the Patriotic Refugee Care Foundation and the Aqueduct of Mournies, while she offered scholarships to students from Chania for studies abroad.
In 1933, Elena was slightly injured during the assassination attempt of Eleftherios Venizelos, while two years later, in 1935, she followed her husband to his self-exile in Paris. A year later, in March 1936, the latter passed away at their home in Baujon Street, Paris, and amid unprecedented demonstrations of mourning, was transferred to Chania for his burial.
Twenty years after Venizelos’ death, she published her memoirs “In the shadow of Venizelos”, a short autobiography. Elena Skylitsi Venizelou passed away in a hotel room in Paris on September 7, 1959. Her death was not highlighted on the newspapers, however, her generous personality made history.
- Venizelos with his second wife Elena right after their wedding ceremony, London 1921.
- Venizelos with his second wife Elena during a visit to Mistras, 1928.
- Venizelos with his second wife Elena during the official reception held fo the signing of the Greek-Turkish Treaty of Friendship, Ankara 1930.