A History of Women in Russia: From Earliest Times to the Present

A History of Women in Russia: From Earliest Times to the Present

A History of Women in Russia: From Earliest Times to the Present

A History of Women in Russia: From Earliest Times to the Present


Synthesizing several decades of scholarship by historians East and West, Barbara Evans Clements traces the major developments in the history of women in Russia and their impact on the history of the nation. Sketching lived experiences across the centuries, she demonstrates the key roles that women played in shaping Russia's political, economic, social, and cultural development for over a millennium. The story Clements tells is one of hardship and endurance, but also one of achievement by women who, for example, promoted the conversion to Christianity, governed estates, created great art, rebelled against the government, established charities, built the tanks that rolled into Berlin in 1945, and flew the planes that strafed the retreating Wehrmacht. This daunting and complex history is presented in an engaging survey that integrates this scholarship into the field of Russian and post-Soviet history.


This book is a brief history of all the women in all the Russias that existed on the far-eastern European plain during the past millennium. That history includes more than one hundred ethnic groups inhabiting what had become by 1800 the geographically largest country on Earth. Their lives across the centuries deserve telling, from the earliest times to the most recent, so this book begins with the Rus of the tenth century and ends in the present day. It concentrates on the Russians, Ukrainians,Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, and Jews who made up the great majority of the population. It also attempts to bring into view the histories of women of smaller ethnic groups, particularly those who lived in the vast territories of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus that were annexed by the spreading Russian Empire.

Susan Armitage, a historian of women in the western United States, has written, “We do not wish to create a sweet little cameo version of western history that will slip right into the Hisland story. We want to change the way the story is written.” Historians who study women in Russia have the same goal. Over the last forty years, they have done much to uncover the realities of women’s lives in the Russian past, and thereby challenge the Hisland story. And yet, through no fault of their own, their scholarship remains somewhat ghettoized, resisted or overlooked by many who consider women’s history a lesser, didactic, even outdated endeavor. We who write the general histories seek to undermine that resistance by demonstrating that putting women into the history of Russia changes the way we understand the past of all the people of that great nation, women as well as men. Two historians, Barbara Alpern Engel and Natalia Pushkareva, have already done much in their surveys of the history of women in Russia to advance this enlightenment. I hope to add to what they have accomplished.

The Focus of the Study

To that end, each chapter begins with a survey of the political and economic history of the period under examination. Each then poses two ques-

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