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We consider one important historical document from the collection of the State Darwin Museum and find out how difficult it was for a woman to get a higher education in pre-revolutionary Russia.

One of the most curious documents kept in the Darwin Museum is a permit for higher education issued by one of the founders of the museum, Nadezhda Lodygina-Kots, by her father. Today it is difficult to imagine that a little over 100 years ago a woman had no right to independently choose her future. Whether she should be a housewife or become a scientist – the father or the husband decided for her.

How the formation of female education in Russia from Peter the Great to 1917 took place in a joint article by and the Mosgortur agency.

Let me study

Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots and Alexander Kots, who founded the Darwin Museum, met at the Moscow Higher Courses for Women – in one of the first higher educational institutions in Russia. After graduating with honors from the I Penza Gymnasium, in 1908 she entered the natural sciences department of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty, which she successfully graduated in 1916.

At the time of Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots, girls had to present the following set of documents for admission to courses: an application addressed to the director for admission to a particular faculty, a secondary school graduation certificate, a certificate of political reliability, an autobiography, a photograph, a birth certificate and written permission from the eldest man in the family (father, brother, or husband).

The last point, at least in the eyes of a modern person, was the most unusual requirement. The head of the family vouched for the trustworthiness of her daughter, wife or sister, and in his letter emphasized the confidence that education would not affect her “basic”, “purely female” responsibilities.

Until the last admission to courses that ceased to exist after 1917, girls needed this archaic document to enroll.

The first women’s educational institution

For the first time, the idea of ​​opening an educational institution for women came to Peter I. For this, in 1717, he specially inspected the oldest educational institution for girls in the provincial French village of Saint-Cyr and in 1724 even issued a decree instructing “nuns to raise orphans of both sexes and teach them to read and write, and to teach girls, moreover, yarn, sewing and other skills. ” However, the emperor’s idea was not implemented.

The first state secondary educational institution for girls was founded by Catherine II, who considered herself the successor of Peter. The Educational Society for Noble Maidens, better known as the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, was opened on June 28, 1764 at the Resurrection Novodevichy Convent in St. Petersburg. The bias in the educational institution was made towards religious and moral education. The students (they were called schoolgirls) were taught arithmetic, German and French, the Law of God, drawing, music, and “dancing.”

The institution, the period of study in which was 12 years, was designed for 200 pupils. Noble children from the age of six were accepted here. A year later, at the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, a school for girls of bourgeois origin was opened.

Lessons from loyalty and thrift

After the death of Catherine II, the patronage of the Smolny Institute was taken by Maria Fedorovna (1759–1828), the wife of Paul I. The Empress was immersed in all the details of the educational process – from cleaning the territory to the personal affairs of the pupils. Under Maria Feodorovna, several more institutes for noble maidens were opened in the Russian Empire, and a network of orphan schools (Mariinsky institutes) for girls from different classes appeared. The goals of education also changed – the education of good housewives, faithful wives and caring mothers came to the fore.

In the first half of the 19th century, female education developed rapidly – institutions for noble maidens were opened not only in capitals, but also in provinces. In addition, female gymnasiums and schools were created for different strata of the population, as well as state and private boarding schools. The achievement of the first half of the 19th century in the field of female education was the appearance of mentors. Graduates of special classes had the right to teach children, but only in the provinces. The history of female pedagogical work began from this period.

The abolition of serfdom and the free listener

After the abolition of serfdom in 1861, a global social revolution began in the Russian Empire, including in the education system. Nevertheless, the University Charter of 1863, which democratized high school, still prohibited women from listening to university lectures. The girls’ desire for higher education grew rapidly. Some wanted to get a profession and gain independence, others – to engage in science and benefit society.

The only place in the world where women could receive higher education on an equal basis with men was the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Those few residents of the Russian Empire, who had the financial ability, went to study abroad. Trying to gain the right to receive higher education at home, the girls began to attend lectures at St. Petersburg and Moscow universities as volunteers.

In 1868, on the initiative of the activists, a petition was submitted to the rector of St. Petersburg University, signed by more than 400 women, with a request to allow the girls to receive higher education. The initiative was supported by 43 professors, but the Ministry of Public Education, which at that time was headed by the conservative Count Dmitry Tolstoy, allowed only the opening of several courses in large Russian cities, after which students were given the right to teach in elementary schools.

Higher women’s courses Gerrier

At the beginning of 1871, one of the supporters of higher education for women in Russia, professor of Moscow University, Vladimir Ger’e, turned to the trustee of the Moscow educational district, Platon Shirinsky-Shakhmatov, with a memorandum on the advisability of opening higher women’s courses in Moscow and a regulation on higher women’s courses.

In the documents, Professor Ger’e outlined the main goal of the course work – to prepare women for pedagogical activity without repeating the elementary knowledge acquired by the students in secondary school. The training was paid, the program took two years. The leadership of the Moscow educational district supported Ger’e’s initiative with the expectation that higher women’s courses would become a good source of replenishment of teaching staff for women’s schools and gymnasiums.

In May 1872, Dmitry Tolstoy approved the regulations on the courses and authorized their opening by imposing a resolution: “I approve, in the form of experience, for four years.” He also emphasized: “… with the condition, however, that strict and active supervision by the district authorities was established over them, which, if necessary, could promptly prevent them from evading their direct appointment.”

Student unrest and course closings

Despite everything, the grand opening of the Moscow Higher Courses for Women, which laid the foundation for higher education for women in Russia, took place in November 1872 in the building of the 1st Male Gymnasium on Volkhonka (for a long time the courses did not have their own building). The first listeners were 59 people – they belonged to the nobility, bourgeoisie, clergy and merchants. The courses included lectures on Russian and general literature, general history and Russian history, art history and physics. A year after the opening of the courses, the training program was made three years old.

In 1884, student riots swept across the country, in which female students also took part. In 1886, the Ministry of Public Education decided, due to revolutionary sentiments, to stop recruiting female students and close the Moscow Higher Courses for Women. The last graduation took place in 1888.

But the training of the female students did not end there. After their closure, the professors of Moscow University continued to systematically lecture to all comers for a nominal fee. Classes were held in the building of the Polytechnic Museum.

Reopening and the world’s first campus

In March 1899, Vladimir Ger’e submitted a petition to the Ministry of Public Education for the renewal of the Moscow Higher Courses for Women, and in April 1900, Nicholas II approved the opening of an educational institution, only now as a state one, not a private one.

In June of the same year, in the Moscow “Russkiye Vedomosti” and in the Petersburg “Novoye Vremya”, an advertisement was placed about the admission of students to the Higher Courses for Women in Moscow. The educational institution was opened in two departments: historical and philosophical (later – historical and philological) and physics and mathematics (with physical and mathematical and natural departments) – with a four-year term of study. In 1906, a medical department was opened.

The new course director Sergei Chaplygin managed to obtain permission to implement the world’s first project – the construction of buildings specifically for a women’s educational institution. The women’s campus on Devichye Pole consisted of three buildings (nowadays they house the Moscow State Pedagogical University, the Russian Technological University and the Pirogov Russian State Medical University).

The courses were lectured by the best professors of Moscow University, among whom were natural scientists Ivan Sechenov and Vladimir Vernadsky, chemist Alexander Reformatsky, physicist Vasily Davydovsky, biologist Nikolai Koltsov, linguist Philip Fortunatov, art critic Ivan Tsvetaev. By 1913, the number of listeners since the reopening had increased 32 times – from 223 to 7155 people.

Diploma of Higher Education

The law of December 19, 1911 “On the tests of women in the knowledge of the course of higher educational institutions and on the procedure for acquiring academic degrees and the title of teacher of secondary educational institutions” … This meant that the graduates of the courses could teach in their chosen specialty in lower and secondary, male and female educational institutions, and also receive a salary and a seniority pension on an equal basis with men.

The Moscow Higher Women’s Courses were granted the right to issue diplomas of higher education in 1915, when they were officially assigned the status of a higher educational institution. This did not last long: after the 1917 revolution, the courses were closed.

Only the Soviet regime gave women independence in education. In 1918, on the site of the courses, the Second Moscow State University was opened; it accepted both boys and girls as students. Now it is the Moscow State Pedagogical University.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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