The exhibition is devoted to the first women in Russia to receive higher education. St. Petersburg Higher Women’s Courses, also known as the Bestuzhev Courses (after the name of the founder, K. N. Bestuzhev-Ryumin) were a notable phenomenon in the public life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the professors who taught at the Courses were such prominent Russian scientists as D. I. Mendeleyev, A. M. Butlerov, A. N. Beketov, and others.

Over the course of 40 years (1878–1918), more than 7 thousand women graduated the Bestuzhev Courses. It was the students and graduates thereof — bestuzhevki — who paved the way for a new woman, an educated and independent female citizen. 

The Courses were attended by St. Petersburg natives as well as by young women who moved to the capital from other parts of the country. Their everyday life, daily routines, classes and leisure time are represented in the original photographs from the Bestuzhev Courses Archive, held in St. Petersburg State University. Along with the photographs, the exhibition includes garments, accessories, and everyday items used by female city-dwellers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The exhibition project presents the history of women’s empowerment in Russia, their struggle for equality in education, private life, and civil status. Not only did bestuzhevki make up the core of Russian women’s movement, but they also played an important part in the entire student movement, which was a significant force in the country’s social and political life at that time. The history of the first women’s university in Russia is shown within the context of the First World War, the Revolution, and other events of 1914–1917.

The exhibition is a part of the event program celebrating the 140th anniversary of higher women’s education in Russia. The program also includes an exhibition at St. Petersburg State University devoted to the history of the Courses’ establishment and operation, as well as to their most prominent graduates. The B. Yeltsin Presidential Library opens access to the unique collections of the Bestuzhev Library, featuring rare editions, volumes signed by notable scientists, scholars, and writers, and 19th-century library equipment and supplies. The Bestuzhev Library, with its historical interior, will open its doors for visitors between 8 October and 15 December.

OrganizersState Museum and Exhibition Center ROSPHOTO, St. Petersburg State University, Memorial Museum “Raznochinny Petersburg”, Central State Film and Photo Archive of St. Petersburg

Free admission