What does Boho (Bohemian) mean to me?

Some people refer to Boho-Chic and Bohemian and as a fashionable clothing look. Other’s identify Bohemian and Boho as a decor theme. For many years the term Bohemian has been connected with bands of gypsies from Bohemia, that lived artful, hippie lifestyles. I’ve heard people say, “That’s so Bohemian.” And let’s not forget the popular rock song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I personally love the “Boho” clothing style. I’ve even considered starting an online store that includes the “Boho” look.

But what does Bohemian really mean?

For me, Bohemian refers to my heritage, and part of my family’s culture and history. As a child, I never saw a connection between Bohemians and gypsies. The only mention I ever heard regarding gypsies was when my grandmother would tease me that she was going to sell me to the gypsies. I’m guessing my grandmother had heard the reference between gypsies and Bohemians when she was growing up.

I grew up influenced by the Bohemian culture…

You see, I’m 2nd generation, born in the U.S.A. on my mother’s, mother’s side. My grandmother was born in Prague in 1906, which was the capital of old Bohemia at the time, located in what was formally Czechoslovakia. Bohemia dissolved into Czechoslovakia around 1918. My great grandmother and great grandfather moved from Czechoslovakia to the U.S.A. via Ellis Island with my (infant) grandmother in 1907. They settled in a Czech community outside the Chicago area.

Dressed in Their National Costumes

The above photos are my Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather wearing their traditional, national costume. National costumes varied based on the region you came from. Variations were seen in the style of clothes, accessories, embroidery patterns, colors, beads, lace, etc. Note the detailed embroidery on my great grandfather’s shirt.

Sokol Club, Chicago, IL Photo CIRCA 1930’s

The American Sokol Club: A Czech athletic club that hosted Czech Day in Chicago. The Sokols housed Czech social, cultural, and athletic clubs in the Chicago area. My great grandparents participated in Sokol Club events.

My Bohemian Heritage

Not all my family (on my mother’s mother’s side) spoke English. My great grandmother spoke Czech, my grandmother was bilingual and my mother partially spoke Czech. I only used a few words to identify things or address people. I called my great grandmother “Babi” which translates to Granny, from Czech to English. My grandmother was a Naturalize Citizen.

My great grandfather passed away in 1934. My great grandmother eventually remarried a Russian-Czech widower.

The Food We Ate

I grew up eating homemade food most of my peers never ate, unless they were at my house. We ate schnitzel, cooked potato dumplings, raw potato dumplings, yeast dumplings, plum dumplings, yeast pancakes, potato pancakes, braided bread, dill gravy, tomato gravy, Hungarian goulash, sauerkraut and sweet-kraut. We enjoyed kolache and strudel, along with many other homemade Bavarian style pastries.

Bohemian History

The above picture is my great grandmother with her 2nd husband, dressed in their National Costumes, attending a Czech celebration. Note that my great grandmother was wearing the brightly colored kerchief like the one pictured on the right, tucked in at her waist. This gives you an idea of the colors they was wearing. Yes, I have this kerchief today. It was passed down thru generations from my great grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mom to me.

My great grandmother was holding a 1942 Lidice flag. I wondered why she was holding it, so I did an internet search on the name Lidice. I found the following info: “Lidice was a small town in the former Czechoslovakia located about 12 miles from Prague. German forces destroyed the town and murdered or deported its inhabitants in retaliation for the assassination in 1942 of Reinhard Heydrich, a prominent Nazi official.” You can read more about this tragic story on the Holocaust Encyclopedia: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/lidice

Back in Czechoslovakia

I imagine it was very hard for my great grandparents to hear the threat of war near their homeland. After W.W.I (1916-1919) Czechoslovakia remained a stable democratic country; however, they faced heavy opposition from Germany. The Communist Party (founded in 1920) took over Czechoslovakia in 1938. My great grandmother had 3 sisters, 2 moved to America in the early 1900’s.  

My great grandmother’s one sister that stayed in Czechoslovakia owned a family vineyard with her husband. When the Communist government took over, they confiscated the vineyard and forced them to have other family members move in with them in order to keep their large home.

My great grandmother returned to her homeland two times, once in the 1930’s and a second time in the 1940’s.

One of my favorite childhood memories:
Visiting Babi (my Great Grandmother) in her mobile home.
CIRCA 1960’s.

My grandmother visited Czechoslovakia with one of her Bohemian cousins in 1978. While there, they connected with family and visited family landmarks. I have my grandmother’s photos and journals from that trip. I would love to take a trip over there one day, maybe even follow in my grandmother’s itinerary. I wish I was in touch with our Czech relatives today.

So the next time you hear or see “Bohemian” or “Boho” describing a fashionable look; remember, for many, Bohemian means culture and family heritage.

Inspiring Home Life,


One thought on “What does Boho (Bohemian) mean to me?

  1. Christine says:

    My great grandmother also came to America from Czechoslovakia. My grand parents were both full Bohemians, though I don’t know much about my grandfather’s side. They lived in Fox River Grove, IL.

    It is cool to hear others that have a similar story.

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