Leadership in Public Arenas

Men have long controlled the official political structures of Kalymnos, as no woman has ever been elected mayor, vice-mayor, or regional governor, though women appear with increasing frequency on the town council. The church hierarchy is completely male as well, as is the case for Greek Orthodoxy at large. However, women often hold considerable influence, power, and leadership roles on Kalymnos through more unofficial channels. Never was this more the case than with Katerina Vouvali, the wife of one of Kalymnos' wealthy sponge merchants, who outlived him by several decades and wielded her economic power to control the labor market on Kalymnos and to become, from the 1920s through the 1950s, the most powerful person on the island. Memories of "The Lady," as she was known, are mixed; some remembered her stinginess in relation to her workers. But both men and women also remember her for her intelligence in economic affairs, and employ the word for "legitimate intelligence" (eksipsi), rather than the word "cunning" (poniri), which is a trait often associated with women in Greece.

Vouvali is not the exception that proves the rule, as there are many other examples of women on Kalymnos in the past who have risen to prominence and influence economically, or in the fields of education, local scholarship, or religion, and whose names resonate in local memory (e.g., Vakina Soulounia, "The Teacher"). This continues to be the case today.

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