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Invitation to
Home of S. Korea's 1st First Lady: Francesca
First Lady Francesca Donner Rhee visits Goransa (皐蘭寺) Temple in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province, in 1956. She and her husband President Syngman Rhee are surrounded by their entourage and monks.

Francesca Donner, a 33-year-old Austrian lady, met a 58-year-old Asian man in a hotel restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland in 1933. Accompanied by her mother, Francesca had to share a luncheon table with the man for it was very crowded.

Francesca came to talk to the man and was impressed by his personality and his idea. She fell in love with the man. The Korean man, Syngman Rhee, was there to present the struggle for its independence movement from Japan to the League of Nations. He became Korea's first president and Francesca, the first first lady of Korea.

Mr. Rhee was in exile, a refugee, and a poor man from the Hermit Kingdom colonized by then victorious Japanese imperialists. Rhee was going around the world asking for money to finance Korean independence movement.

Francesca never realized in 1933 that Rhee would become the first president of a post-war South Korea 15 years later. It was purely a love.

Mr. Rhee was equally impressed by Francesca. Soon after the first encounter, he visited her and asked her to marry him. Much to the shock of Francesca's mother, she accepted Rhee's proposal.

Until 1946 Rhee went to Seoul to become Korea's first president, Francesca had to sacrifice herself to help her poor husband in his fight for independence on Hawaii.

Even as a first lady, Francesca's life was no better than the average women in a country plundered by Japanese colonialism (1910-1945) and destroyed by the fratricidal Korean War (1950-53).

From the time Rhee was in exile on Hawaii in 1960 to his death in 1965 she devoted herself to taking care of Rhee in his decaying and bed-ridden years. After Rhee's death, Francesca went back to Austria, only finding out that she did not belong there. She lost her heart and soul to Korea.

In 1970 Francesca returned to Seoul, spending the rest of her life in a residence she used to live with her husband. Her life at Ewhajang (이화장) was so humble and thrifty. Her thrift was beyond imagination and her love of Korea knew no limit. Francesca passed away in 1992.

On May 11, 2006, Mrs. Yan Donko, wife of Austrian Ambassador to Seoul Wilhelm Donko, will lead a group of wives of foreign ambassadors in Seoul to Ewhajang near College Road in the middle of Seoul for an excursion to the residence of President Syngman Rhee and his wife Francesca Donna Rhee.

Mrs. Rhee Hae-Ja, daughter-in-law of the late Madame Francesca Rhee, will show the diplomatic group around in the residence of the Korea's first first lady. Refreshments including Austrian cake will be served.

A Korean-Austrian lady, Mrs. Lee-Fink Soonae, an author of a biographic novel on Francesca's life "The Francesca Story" will also be there to talk with the ambassadorial wives.

For more information please visit a blog site Ehwajang: The Home of President Syngman Rhee.




 

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