An Improper Profession: Women, Gender and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia

Article excerpt

An Improper Profession: Women, Gender and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia. Barbara T. Norton and Jehanne M. Gheith, eds. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 2001. 321 pp. $59.95 hbk. $19.95 pbk.

This book opens up an entirely new line of research on the history of journalism in Russia. It builds on previous scholarship in English (amounting to only a few specialized works), Russian, and other European languages.

Until this volume, scholars have paid little attention to women's work in journalism in Russia. With the exception of dissertations by Rhonda Lebedev Clark and Jehanne M. Gheith and an article by Louise McReynolds, the major English-language studies barely touch on women's participation in the field. Thus, the authors of the nine essays included in this collection have spent years in Russian archives unearthing the infrastructure of women's professional work in the periodical press in pre-revolutionary Russia.

The volume follows a roughly chronological organization, opening with consideration of the size of the female reading public in the early nineteenth century. While small at the beginning of the century, the circle of women readers widened exponentially by the fall of the tsarist regime.

The range of topics open to women journalists also broadened tremendously by the beginning of the twentieth century. Women's magazines and journals covered fashion, the home, the women's movement, and public health, among other subjects. Russian women also covered war and international affairs as foreign correspondents in this turbulent era in European history.

The volume succeeds in giving serious consideration to publications that have not been taken seriously by scholars in the past. Several essays consider daily newspapers, but the majority of attention falls on journals and magazines. The "thick journal," a combination of literary, political, and philosophical writings, plays a predictably large role in many studies. The studies also consider fashion magazines, feminist journals, and underground political journals.

The book deals with some well-known issues for the periodical press in pre-revolutionary Russia: censorship and illegal, revolutionary publications in particular. Several of the journalists featured in this collection of essays, in particular Ekaterina Kuskova, published, edited, or wrote for underground publications. Others, such as Mariia Pokrovskaia, founded and sustained women's political journals. Although these were few in number, they were an essential element of women's political activity at the turn of the century.

The collection opens new lines of inquiry into seemingly less political periodicals, such as fashion magazines and homemaking journals. …