On 13th November 1858, the monument of the recently deceased ‘pillar of Monarchy’, Field Marshal Radetzky, was revealed with a great pomp on Lesser Town Square. The ceremony was attended by Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. Six months later, the Austrian army led by the Emperor himself was defeated in the Battle of Solferino, in northern Italy. The defeat revealed the economic weakness of the Austrian Monarchy and the Emperor had to put an end to the era of Absolutism declaring that in the future “the well-being of the Austrian Monarchy will be achieved by adequate reforms of legislation and administration...” In another year time, on 26th August 1860, it was decided that the local municipal authority will be, once again, chosen by election. The municipal election took place on 11th March 1861 in Prague, had voter turnout of 5,344 citizens (the city had at that time 150,000 citizens), and was won by Czech liberals. In tune with their motto “By Progress to Improvement”, they started calling themselves ‘Progress Party’. The party won 52 seats out of 90 in the Municipal Board of Seniors, while the German oriented party ‘Friends of Liberal-Minded Constitution’ gained only 10 seats. The election result meant a revolution in the existing structure and concept of municipal authorities; they were in fact transferred into the hands of the Czech majority. It comes as no surprise that Prague’s German daily paper Bohemia issued in Prague likened 11th March to Battle of Solferino.
On 11th April, factory owner František Václav Pštross was elected a head of the twenty-four member municipal council. He was born on 14th March 1823 to the tanner’s family living in New Town, in the street that was later on named after him. After he had left grammar school, he trained in his father’s trade. For the first time he became involved in municipal politics in 1848, and was later elected a member of the municipal committee. He has been continuously educating himself in legal and economical fields. Pštross was already an adult and married man when he went away from home to gain experience in modern tannery factories in Germany, France and England. After his return he founded a leather processing factory and made sure that the enterprise was successful. His good reputation in entrepreneurial circles brought him a seat of deputy chairman of the Commercial and Trade Chamber and in 1858 he became its chairman.
On 11th September 1861, the Municipal Board of Seniors adopted a resolution deciding to introduce Czech language in all municipal schools. The 20% minority of citizens using German language were to have their own new minority schools. On 1st November, Czech language became an official language used in all municipal offices and institutions. Additionally, it was decided that in future only employees fluent in Czech langue will be able to work in municipal administration posts. This caused a gap between the state and land authorities, which used German as their official language, and Czech language operating offices of Prague’s municipality. In this way, Prague Town Hall became an organiser and spokesman of Czech national and patriotic endeavours, which were spreading vigorously after the constitution had been re-installed. In the course of Pštross’s burgomaster term of office, dozens of Czech societies and cultural institutions were mushrooming all over Prague: Hlahol, Sokol, Svatobor, Typografia, Merkur, Umělecká beseda and many others. In November 1862, the first permanent Czech theatre called Královské zemské prozatímní národní divadlo (Royal Land Provisional National Theatre) was opened in Prague. A year later was founded the first city female collage. The city also gained its first Czech saving banks, banks and Vojta Náprstek Industrial Museum, which was to educate craftsmen and tradesmen. City streets and open spaces alterations started to threaten Prague’s monuments. Roman St Cross Rotunda was saved and eventually renovated between 1863 and 1865, while the beautiful Renaissance Krocín Fountain that used to stand on the Old Town Square became a victim of the time and sadly disappeared in 1862.
Františka Pštross’s term of office ended unexpectedly on 12th June 1863. The promising forty year old politician succumbed to cerebro-spinal meningitis in just a few days after the illness had broken out.