Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

earliest productions, Tourguineff, Goneharoff, Herzen, Madame Hahn, and several others, already gave a beautiful type of woman, well educated and taking to heart all the great questions which impassion mankind. In its leading men Russian society was thus won long ago for the women's cause.

The caste-system in the girls' schools was only maintained by the firm will of Nicholas the First, who persistently imposed it upon his collaborators, while his wife, the Empress Alexandra, saw the beau idéal of education in good manners only in cette noble tenue, apanage exclusif des personnes bien élevées, as she wrote in a letter; and as she was the head of all the girls' schools she imposed her views. Happily she soon ceased to take interest in these matters, and the instituts fell under the patronage of the Prince of Oldenburg, who had received a good education from his mother, Hélène Pavlovna, and especially at the University of Stuttgart, where he was in contact with several leading spirits of 'Young Germany.' Consequently, a scheme for a thorough reform of girls' schools-very much on the lines of the gymnasia— had been worked out, with his sanction, as early as 1847. It fell through on account of Nicholas the First's opposition; but then an attempt was made at least to introduce into the instituts, such as they were, a better element. Some of the best men were invited as teachers. The great Gogol lectured for years in succession in a St. Petersburg institut upon the Earth and Man.' The historians Stassulevich and V. Shulgin taught history, and in most instituts the chair of Russian literature was given to some gifted man who did his best to inspire his pupils with higher conceptions of life. These attempts only proved, however, that no partial improvements would do so long as the secluded monastic atmosphere was maintained.

"

The result was that when the new plan for the education of girls was brought forward, it found support in Literature, in the Administration, and at the Court, in the persons of the young Empress Marie and her aunt, the Grand Duchess Hélène Pavlovna-two remarkable ladies, who strongly supported Alexander the Second in the liberal reforms of the first years of his reign. And then there were all over the country plenty of mothers who knew what the 'sweet Arcadian education' of the instituts is worth, and, without being properly educated themselves, ardently wished something better for their daughters.

II

The girls' gymnasia opened a new era for the Russian woman. The subjects were taught there in a serious and attractive way by University men; the girl's brain was really working. The contact between the different classes made a democratic spirit prevail in the schools; even the modest uniform-a brown woollen frock and a little black alpaca apron-had its significance. A quite new sort of girl,

who longed for a higher education, and often for an independent life, made its appearance. To obtain access to the University now became the watchword of this young generation.

The public at large was bewildered by the new movement. The reactionary press met the claims of the young women with great hostility; but the best men of the time, both in literature and in science, greeted in them a new era for Russia. Much paper and ink was wasted to prove, from the reactionary side, that a woman need not know more than to be a good housewife and a good mother; or that a woman's brain differs from a man's brain, and that, therefore, women must not be allowed to study what men study. The girl in a black dress, with short hair, dirty nails, and a volume of Buckle under her arm,' became the favourite theme of sarcasm in that part of the press. Parodies were written, representing a girl who studies medicine, and sleeps with an anatomical preparation instead of a pillow; or a young mother who tries to find out by means of chemical analysis what is the matter with her baby, which cries day and night, instead of calling in a doctor.

On the other side, our best writers-much under the influence of the promoters of equality of human beings-John Stuart Mill, Buckle, Herbert Spencer, and many French and German writers, had an easy task to prove that the child, the husband, the home, and the community at large, can only gain from women being well educated. Their writings inspired the young generation and gave them new forces for the struggle.

No great movement is due to one single cause, and so it was in this case. Three different sets of women, moved by different impulses, came to the conclusion that they must get access to higher education before any further steps could be taken. There were, first, those who wanted knowledge for knowledge's sake. The dull life of the genteel, ignorant woman, her mean ideals, her incapacity of educating her own children and of being her husband's friend and comrade, are so often the cause of unhappy homes, and this cause was so often indicated in Russian novels and our critical literature, that high-spirited girls made up their minds not to repeat, so far as it depended upon themselves, the unhappy lives of their mothers and grandmothers. There was not one young girl who had not read Pissareff's Muslin Young Lady and who was not ready to struggle not to be such a one herself. The Muslin Young Lady was not represented by Pissareff as a mean character; she was simply a gentle young person, brought up as thousands of her sex were, ignorant and helpless, irresponsible for her actions-and therefrom came all the misfortunes of her life. The new girls determined to do better; and if they could not persuade their parents to let them have the benefits of a better education, they left their homes-often after a long and heartbreaking struggle-and they went to the

University towns. Very often the parents were too poor to support their daughters away from home, while others would be angry with their girls, and, to punish them, would leave them without any support. Then the girls saw themselves penniless in a big city, unable to earn their living-but that did not frighten them. They were prepared to endure any amount of misery so long as they could study.

A great deal of credit must be given to men students, who usually met such young pioneers of intellectual life as friends and comrades, sharing with them money, work, and knowledge. One would often hear in the University hall some student asking another student, 'Ivanoff, or Vasilieff, could you give lessons to a young lady who has just come from Penza and wants to be prepared for the Zürich Polytechnic ?' And Vasilieff or Ivanoff, no matter how busy he was himself, would walk two miles every evening, after his own day's work, to share his knowledge with a girl about whom he knew only that she needed coaching. He or another comrade would even give up to her some easy lesson, for which he was paid, and of which he really was in great need himself. Such comradelike relations were the normal state of things.

Another category of women were those who had been brought up for the idle life of a country squire's daughter or wife, but now had to earn their living themselves. A large proportion of them were daughters of small serf-owners who formerly lived a more or less comfortable life on their small estates, no matter how limited the number of their serfs was. With the liberation of the serfs in 1861, that idle and easy life was no longer possible, and the change was especially felt by the young unmarried women. Many of them had to leave their country houses and to look for some work in a big city. There they soon realised how terribly hard it is for an uneducated woman to struggle for life, and most of them joined the ranks of those who struggled for a higher education.

To the same category belonged those who had left their homes in order to escape from the despotism and immorality which stifled them. Formerly, a young woman who saw no issue whatever in such case, would have simply bent down before a despotic, and often corrupted, husband; she would have slowly died from consumption, looking with a broken heart upon her children being brought up in that poisonous atmosphere. This was the situation which our great poet Nekrasoff described in one of his finest poems dedicated to the memory of his mother. But now the conscious and the more energetic woman protested; she took her children and left her home, and she found support. I even knew elderly ladies who, after a long succession of years of such a sad life, found in themselves enough of energy to abandon their rich homes and to go without any means of existence to a University town, for the sake of bringing up their

children in better surroundings. A dear friend of mine was forty years old when she left her husband, taking with her her two youngest daughters. She was married to a rich and even brilliant, but most corrupted, lawyer, and for more than twenty years she had led a miserable life. One of her elder daughters was married by force by her father to an habitual drunkard; another daughter shot herself to escape the same fate. . . . Now that a new spirit was in the air, this sufferer, a wife and mother, had the courage to flee from that house with the other two children; and while one could see her husband driving in a fine carriage and pair in the streets, she lived in an underground room, making artificial flowers for her living, and at the same time attending lectures in a hospital so as to pass a midwife's examination, with the hope that her earnings would permit her later on to send her daughters to a University. She did not live long enough to see them both at their happiest time, when one of them was married to an excellent man, and the other became a doctor; but she lived long enough to see that she had brought them into the right path. I could mention scores of similar instances. It was also frequent that girls left their parents to escape a forced marriage. Hundreds of young Jewish girls fled from their ignorant and fanatic little towns for that cause, and streamed into the big cities in search of work and knowledge.

The most energetic fighters for higher education were, however, those women who came to the conclusion that the greatest happiness in life is to procure happiness and relief from sorrow for others. One of these, N. V. Stasoff, who will stand high in our modern history for the struggle which she carried on unremittingly for thirty-seven years for other people's rights, wrote truly in her memoirs: My own sorrow became the source of my happiness. I looked round and put all my soul and love into mankind—and there happiness was.' The space of this article would appear much too small if I tried to give even short biographies of some of these women; but I must mention at least a few of them: namely, Miss N. V. Stasoff, who died in 1895 at the age of seventy, literally at the work of her life; Madame M. V. Troubnikoff, who died the same year at the age of sixty, after a life given to the women's cause, and to whom J. S. Mill addressed in 1868 that letter 'to Russian women' which was read all over the civilised world; Madame V. P. Tarnovsky, Madame A. P. Philosophoff, and Madame E. I. Conrady, who stood foremost in all the struggles. Their struggles were not for education only, but for all that could alleviate the hard life of women. They grouped a mass of sympathisers and organised a society which assisted poor working women, supplied them with healthy lodgings, and procured better earnings, and took care of the children while the mothers were at work. They took the liveliest part in the Sunday Schools so long as they were tolerated by the Government. They founded a

society for translating and publishing good books, with the view of securing work to a number of women; 2 and so on. In reality there was not one single humanitarian enterprise in which these women, with many others, too numerous to be named here, would not have taken part, and when the time came for action in the domain of education, they put their hearts into it, and stood at the head of it for many years in succession.

III

The first and most natural step in that direction was to take advantage of every opportunity for getting admission to the male Universities. A few of the most energetic and promising young women were allowed, indeed, by some of the professors of the St. Petersburg University to attend their lectures as free-comers. One professor of chemistry (at the Forest Institute) allowed one lady to study in his laboratory; and the old venerated anatomist, Dr. Gruber, admitted a few ladies to work in his anatomical laboratory at the Military Medical Academy. He was held in too high esteem in the scientific world, and he was too independent in his manners, for any one to dare to interfere with him. These were the modest beginnings. Later on, one of the lady pupils of Dr. Gruber, Miss Sousloff, went to Zürich University, studied there, and passed so brilliantly the examinations as a Doctor of Medicine that when she returned to Russia, and applied to the Medical Department to be admitted to the Russian M.D. examinations, she was allowed to do so-but as an exception only, and as 'no precedent in ulterior applications;' she was the first lady doctor in Russia. Another young lady, Miss Kashevaroff, was even received at the Medical Academy as a regular student because she was the holder of a scholarship from the Bashkir Cossacks, who, like all Mussulmans, would never allow a man doctor to examine a woman patient.

About that time (in 1861) several professors of the St. Petersburg University, disagreeing with the measures taken by the Government against the students, opened a sort of Free University in the Municipal Hall of St. Petersburg, and their lectures were crowded by women. Great hopes were cherished at that time that an organised system of higher education for women would finally be obtained. But very soon all such hopes had to be abandoned. In 1862 the reactionary spirit gained the upper hand in the councils of the Emperor. It seemed that, as if by enchantment, all that was favoured and encouraged a few months before was now doomed to hatred.

The St. Petersburg University was closed for a year; the free

2 Andersen's Fairy Tales, G. W. Bates's Naturalist on the Amazon, and Augustin Thierry's Tales from the Merovingian Period, were the first three books which they published.

« AnteriorContinuar »