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Equality and Revolution

Equality and Revolution: Women’s Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905–1917

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild
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    Equality and Revolution
    Book Description:

    On July 20, 1917, Russia became the world's first major power to grant women the right to vote and hold public office. Yet in the wake of the October Revolution later that year, the foundational organizations and individuals who pioneered the suffragist cause were all but erased from Russian history. The women's movement, when mentioned at all, is portrayed as meaningless to proletariat and peasant women, based in elitist and bourgeoisie culture of the tsarist era, and counter to socialist ideology. In this groundbreaking book, Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild reveals that Russian feminists in fact appealed to all classes and were an integral force for revolution and social change, particularly during the monumental uprisings of 1905-1917.Ruthchild offers a telling examination of the dynamics present in imperialist Russia that fostered a growing feminist movement. Based upon extensive archival research in six countries, she analyzes the backgrounds, motivations, methods, activism, and organizational networks of early Russian feminists, revealing the foundations of a powerful feminist intelligentsia that came to challenge, and eventually bring down, the patriarchal tsarist regime.Ruthchild profiles the individual women (and a few men) who were vital to the feminist struggle, as well as the major conferences, publications, and organizations that promoted the cause. She documents political party debates on the acceptance of women's suffrage and rights, and follows each party's attempt to woo feminist constituencies despite their fear of women gaining too much political power. Ruthchild also compares and contrasts the Russian movement to those in Britain, China, Germany, France, and the United States.Equality and Revolutionoffers an original and revisionist study of the struggle for women's political rights in late imperial Russia, and presents a significant reinterpretation of a decisive period of Russian-and world-history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7375-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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    (pp. XV-XVI)
    (pp. XVII-XIX)
  3. 1 The Meaning of Equality
    (pp. 1-10)

    March 19, 1917, was a pleasant late-winter day in Petrograd.¹ The writer Zinaida Gippius looked out from her apartment in the center of revolutionary Petrograd, watching thousands of women march below, “a countless number; an unprecedented procession (never before in history … ). Three [women], very beautiful, rode by on horseback.”² The journalist Liubov Gurevich similarly described “an endless orderly column, with red banners unfurled and placards: thousands, tens of thousands of women, … factory workers and women doctors, medics and writers, maids and students, telegraph operators and nurses.” At the head, in an open car, rode the revolutionary heroine...

  4. 2 Consciousness Raised
    (pp. 11-40)

    At the dawn of a new century, Russia was at a crossroads. Any hopes for substantive change with the death of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III in 1894 were quickly dashed. Under Alexander the famine of 1891 and 1892 had revealed the inefficiency of the government and its inability to cope with the most basic of natural disasters. Alexander’s son Nicholas II soon denounced “senseless dreams” and reaffirmed the principle of autocracy. But clinging to the past could not stop change within Nicholas’s empire. The pace of industrialization intensified, migration to the cities increased, along with the accompanying problems of...

  5. 3 The Limits of Liberation
    (pp. 41-71)

    In turn-of-the-century Russia, political rights was not specifically a woman’s issue. The meager amount of political participation possible depended as much on class as on sex. Both female and male property owners could vote in rural and municipal government elections, although the women balloted only through a male proxy.¹ The Russian intelligentsia’s commitment to egalitarianism raised expectations that both women and men would equally benefit from democratic reforms. In almost every aspect of the great social struggles convulsing Russia in the last third of the nineteenth century, women were active. They went to the people, plotted against the tsar, were...

  6. 4 The Fight for Equal Rights in the Russian Dumas and Finland
    (pp. 72-101)

    The first modern Russian parliament, the “Duma of popular hopes,” opened on April 27, 1906. Kadet leader Paul Miliukov called it the “first day of Russian political freedom!”¹ As the newly elected deputies headed toward the capital, they were met at each station by crowds, handed handwritten instructions, and urged to “give us land and liberty!”² Although almost invisible in most accounts of this Duma, the popular notion of liberty often included women. Initially, feminist activists were far from united about the Duma and its potential usefulness. While they saw political rights as the key to the attainment of equality...

  7. 5 The First All-Russian Women’s Congress: THE WOMEN’S PARLIAMENT (ZHENSKII PARLAMENT)
    (pp. 102-145)

    Thousands of small electric lamps illuminated the spacious Alexander Hall (Aleksandrovskii zal) in the St. Petersburg City Hall on the night of December 10, 1908. A substantial crowd had gathered by eight o’clock, filling the hall to overflowing. The City Hall had been the scene of many other meetings and conferences, but this was the first time that the participants, numbering more than a thousand, were almost entirely female. They had gathered to attend the First All-Russian Women’s Congress (Pervyi Vserossiiskii zhenskii s”ezd), held from December 10 through 16.¹ The Kadet Ariadna Tyrkova, a Women’s Congress organizer, considered it an...

  8. 6 “And Who Will Tend the Geese?”
    (pp. 146-194)

    The period from 1909 until the outbreak of World War I became, for Russia’s nascent political movements, largely a time of malaise and decline. After the tsar’s dismissal of the First and Second Dumas, the electoral law of June 3, 1907, ensured conservative majorities in the Third Duma. The Trudoviks, the staunchest feminist allies, were the largest losers. Their 104-member delegation in the Second Duma shrank to 13 in the Third Duma. The conservative Octobrist delegation in the Third Duma gained the most, increasing from 54 to 154. Kadet representation declined from 98 delegates in the Second Duma to 54...

  9. 7 War, Revolution, Victory?
    (pp. 211-238)

    Thursday, February 23, 1917, was International Women’s Day in Russia. For February in Petrograd it was unusually warm, the temperatures reaching 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Centigrade). The weather brought people out of their houses to bask in the sun. The Petrograd governor, A. P. Balk, received reports about several lively gatherings of “many ladies, and even more poor women, students, and fewer workers compared to previous demonstrations.” These were not spontaneous gatherings; they were planned. Crowds formed in the center of the city, on Znamenskaia Square, near the headquarters of the League for Women’s Equal Rights, on Nevskii Prospekt,...

  10. 8 Twelve Years of Struggle
    (pp. 239-247)

    The achievement of women’s suffrage is one of the most significant democratic reforms of the twentieth century and represents an advance in the ongoing feminist struggle for equal rights. Female suffrage is now a fact in almost all countries in the world, save for a few holdouts among the absolute monarchies of the Middle East. The Russian case is thus part of a larger discussion about the significance of the women’s suffrage reform in any society.

    Women’s suffrage had its opponents on the right and on the left. And they have been strange bedfellows—rightists who feared that women’s suffrage...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 248-254)

    In the summer of 1921, Anna Backer, the corresponding secretary of the International Council of Women (ICW), received a letter from Dr. Anna Shabanova, addressed from St. Petersburg and written in French. Shabanova had been the head of one of Russia’s most prominent women’s rights organizations, the Russian Women’s Mutual Philanthropic Society. She had replaced Anna Filosofova as a vice president of the ICW after Filosofova’s death in 1912. With the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent civil war, Shabanova decried “the misery of the famine in Russia [that] menaces the life of millions.” She as a “shepherd without a flock is...