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  • Women, Education, and Science in Imperial Russia
  • Mirjam Voerkelius
Nancy Kovaleff Baker, ed., A Smolny Album: Glimpses into Life at the Imperial Educational Society of Noble Maidens. 183 pp. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2018. ISBN-13 978-1618118929. $45.00.
Varvara Ponomareva and Liubov´ Khoroshilova, Russkaia zhenshchina: Vospitanie, obrazovanie, sud´ba XVIII–nachalo XX veka (The Russian Woman: Upbringing, Education, and Destiny in the 18th–Early 20th Centuries). 259 pp. Moscow: Lomonosov, 2018. ISBN-13 978-5916784275.
O. A. Val´kova, Shturmuia tsitadel´ nauki: Zhenshchiny-uchenye Rossiiskoi imperii (Storming the Citadel of Science: Women Scientists of the Russian Empire). 792 pp. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2019. ISBN-13 978-5444809532.

At the turn of the 20th century, Russian women distinguished themselves from their European peers by their dedication to education and their contribution to science and medicine. Although women at the time were barred from attending Russian universities, they pursued their higher education in Western Europe. In Zurich and at other European universities that began opening their doors to women in the second half of the 19th century, Russian women made up the highest percentage of female students. They were prolific authors of scientific publications and members of even the most prestigious scientific societies.1 The mathematician Sof´ia Kovalevskaia (1850–91) is a [End Page 399] particularly famous example. She was elected as a corresponding member to the Russian Academy of Sciences and became the first woman to be appointed professor of mathematics, albeit in Sweden and not her native Russia. Historians have highlighted the influence of nihilism and the women's social and political motivations to explain why it was Russian women in particular who pursued a higher education, especially in science, which for some turned into a career. These women hoped to prove their intellectual abilities as women. In addition, they hoped to benefit society with their medical skills and knowledge of science, which they identified with progress.2While this story is well known and the importance of the generation of the 1860s in pushing the boundaries remains undisputed, the volumes under review here further refine our understanding of the interrelated subjects of women's education and women in science. Varvara Ponomareva and Liubov´ Khoroshilova's discussion of women's position in the family, upbringing, and education provides a sweeping overview of the history of women's education from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. With her appealing edition of A Smolny Album, Nancy KovaleffBaker has made a rare series of photographs from the Smol´nyi Institute available, which will please specialists on women's history and education as well as the general reader. Ol´ga A. Val´kova's important Shturmuia tsidatel´ nauki contributes to the history of women, science, and higher education. Thoroughly researched, this book uncovers the fascinating biographies of generations of women from the 18th through the 20th centuries and their contributions to the production of knowledge in Russia.


With Russkaia zhenshchina, Liubov´ Khoroshilova and Varvara Ponomareva build on the existing literature on women's education, a literature that has highlighted the connection between education and efforts at reforming society and advancing women's emancipation.3 Historians of Russia will be [End Page 400] familiar with the history of the Smol´nyi Institute, which the authors cover in particular depth. The specialist reader may recognize many of the sources on which the authors draw, which include letters, diaries, memoirs, and literary sources. Embellished with drawings, the second volume of Khoroshilova's and Ponomareva's series on women in imperial Russia is written with a broader audience in mind.4 Perhaps this explains the surprisingly ahistorical remarks interspersed in the volume. For example, the authors remind the reader that men have "At all times … appreciated beautiful, smart, [and] coquettish women, and nothing can be done about that" (208). Nonetheless, this book presents serious historical scholarship that offers a detailed overview of the lives of women, their access to education, and the related emergence of a "new culture" that challenged the traditional patriarchal order. Women's increased autonomy, the authors argue, was owing to their greater access to education. While they underscore that the agency of educated women was essential in...


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