Liubatovich, Olga (1853–1917)

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Liubatovich, Olga (1853–1917)

Russian revolutionary who was active in all phases of the Populist movement. Pronunciation: Lu-ba-TOE-vich. Born Olga Spiridonovna Liubatovich in 1853 in Moscow; committed suicide in Tbilisi, Georgia, on July 27, 1917; daughter of Spiridon Liubatovich (a wealthy factory owner); her mother was the daughter of a wealthy gold mine owner (name unknown); sister of Vera Liubatovich (1855–1907); attended Second Moscow Women's Gymnasium, c. 1866–71; Medical Faculty, University of Zurich, 1871–73; married I.S.Dzhabadari; children: (with Nikolai Morozov) a daughter.

Was a member of the Fritschi Circle in Zurich and Bern (1872–74); was a Populist propagandist in the All-Russian Social-Revolutionary Organization (1875); arrested (1875), tried (1877), sentenced to exile in Siberia, and escaped (1878); was a member of Land and Liberty (1878–79); was a member of the Executive Committee of Narodnaia Volia (1879–81); arrested and exiled to Siberia (1882–1905?); returned to Georgia but was apparently inactive in further revolutionary activity.


"Dalekoe i nedavnee" (Distant and Recent), in Byloe (Moscow, 1906, no. 5, pp. 208–241, no. 6, pp. 108–154).

On July 27, 1878, Olga Liubatovich "committed suicide." She wrote a note to her sister Vera Liubatovich saying she could no longer stand the life of an exiled revolutionary in Siberia, and she left some clothes scattered along the banks of the nearby rapidly flowing Tobol River. Suicide had been the fate of five well-bred young women of her generation who had gone abroad to get an education, been converted to socialism, and had returned to Russia to spread their message to the downtrodden masses. Inevitably, peasant apathy, police oppression, prison conditions and Siberian exile had produced disillusionment, resignation and despair. Olga was the exception. After leaving behind evidence of her "death," the 25-year-old woman spent a night wandering through a deserted forest where she realized she ran the risk of "meeting the beasts and brutalized vagrants of Siberia." Ultimately, a young peasant whom she had recruited to the socialist cause showed up, and with his help she managed to catch first a coach, then a boat, and finally a train to temporary freedom. "When I arrived in St. Petersburg," she recalled later, "I had the clothes on my back, a scant few kopecks in my pockets, and nowhere at all to go." In four days, she managed to re-establish contact with revolutionary colleagues in the Populist movement and soon was actively involved in the propaganda work of Land and Liberty. A year later, she joined the Executive Committee of Narodnaia Volia (The People's Will) and helped lay the groundwork for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881. For a few months thereafter, this indefatigable woman was "the sole remaining representative of systematic terror" in the Russian capital. In November, the police finally caught up with her and sent her back to Siberia.

As a child Olga Liubatovich knew nothing of the hardships of the Moscow workers or Siberian peasants she later was to proselytize. She was born in 1853 into a life of luxury and privilege. Her father, Spiridon Liubatovich, held the title of Collegiate Assessor and owned a profitable brick factory outside of Moscow. Her moth er was the well-edu cated daughter of a wealthy gold mine owner. Because of their "advanced" views—Spiridon Liubatovich had earlier fled Montenegro as a result of his own political activity—Olga and her four siblings received a good and a liberal education. After five years at the Second Moscow Women's Gymnasium, she left for Switzerland with her father's blessings to enter the Medical Faculty of the University of Zurich.

Suslova, Nadezhda (1845–1916)

Russian doctor. Born in Russia in 1845; died in 1916; daughter of a serf; attended Medical Faculty, University of Zurich, qualifying in 1867.

A Russian medical pioneer, Nadezhda Suslova was the daughter of a serf and a remarkable example of social mobility in tsarist Russia. She studied medicine at the University of Zurich and became the first Russian woman physician.

suggested reading:

Bonner, Thomas Neville. "Rendezvous in Zurich: Seven Who Made a Revolution in Women's Medical Education, 1864–1974," in Journal of the History of Medicine. Vol. 44, no. 1. January 1989, pp. 7–27.

——. To the Ends of the Earth: Women's Search for Education in Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Study abroad was in fact the only option for women of her generation who wanted a university education. Many were attracted to Zurich because of its practice of admitting women on the same basis as men. They were drawn to the study of medicine not only by its social utility but also by the well-publicized example of Nadezhda Suslova , who had received a doctorate from the Faculty of Medicine in 1867—the first Russian woman to be awarded a degree by a continental university. Olga was 18 when she enrolled on October 14, 1871. Like many of her fellow Russians, she felt emancipated just being away from the conservative conventions of her autocratic homeland. A Swiss student has left a bemused picture of Liubatovich at this time:

Behind the table was sitting an enigmatic being, whose biological character was at first all but clear to me: a roundish, boyish face, short-cut hair, parted askew, enormous blue glasses, a quite youthful, tender-colored face, a course jacket, a burning cigarette in its mouth—everything about it was boylike, and yet there was something which belied this desired impression. I looked stealthily under the table—and discovered a bright-coloured, somewhat faded cotton skirt. The being took no notice at all of my presence and remained absorbed in a large book, every now and then rolling a cigarette which was finished in a few droughts.

The focal point of emigré activity in Zurich was the Russian Library. Around it clustered numerous student circles devoted to self-education and to the discussion of social issues. One of these, to which Olga and later her younger sister Vera belonged, was the Fritschi Circle. Named after the owner of the rooming house where many of the young Russian women lived, the Fritschi provided companionship and an introduction to the radical ideas of the French utopian socialists and contemporary Russian revolutionary theorists. In time, the women decided that their own personal liberation and their future practice of medicine in Russia were less important than participating in the destruction of the political and economic order.

In late 1874, Olga, her sister, and ten other Fritschi returned to Russia to put their ideas into practice. They chose to work in and around Moscow, where police conditions were purportedly less stringent and where there was a concentration of large textile factories employing Russian workers. Unlike other Populists, who had gone out into the villages of Russia and Ukraine in the summer of 1874 to propagandize the peasantry directly, the Fritschi sought to convert more advanced factory workers who would then spread these ideas when they returned periodically to their native villages. To coordinate this activity, the women, several male Georgian revolutionaries they had met in Switzerland, and a few worker-recruits established the All-Russian Social-Revolutionary Organization in February 1875. This body—the first formal Populist organization in Russia—was based on ethical, egalitarian, and very democratic principles. Olga, who according to Sergei Kravchinskii "rejected marriage and love as unsuitable for a revolutionary," proposed that its members adopt a policy of celibacy. This was opposed by the men, who also objected to their female colleagues going into the factories and worker dormitories to read revolutionary tracts to illiterate proletarians. With reason, they pointed out that upper-class women, even if they dressed in old clothes, would attract attention in these strange surroundings and would put themselves and others at risk. Olga persisted, first in Moscow and then in Tula, but had to admit that her results were meager. Sometime in the summer of 1875 her apartment in Tula was raided, and she was arrested when the jealous girlfriend of a local worker she had recruited denounced her supposed rival to the police.

Olga Liubatovich and the other members of the All-Russian Social-Revolutionary Organization spent over a year and a half in jail, often isolated from one another, awaiting trial. To protest prison conditions and just to get needle and thread, Liubatovich—who was known among the Fritschi as "Shark" because of her ravenous appetite—went on a seven-day hunger strike. The "Trial of the Fifty," held in St. Petersburg during late February and early March 1877, was the first time that leading Populists had appeared in open court. As Liubatovich later recalled, many came to see the unrepentant "'Moscow Amazons,' who had grown up in baronial mansions, sampled all the charms of free intellectual work in the universities of Europe, and then, with such courageous simplicity, entered the filthy factories of Moscow as ordinary workers." She was found guilty and sentenced to nine years of hard labor, which was later reduced to exile in Ialutorovsk in western Siberia.

Exile did not agree with Liubatovich any more than prison. For a while, she used her medical training to help the local population and also to gain access to peasants and workers she might propagandize. On one occasion, she barricaded herself in her house, claimed to be armed, and refused to allow the local authorities to search it for four days. The police probably welcomed her "suicide" and escape in July 1878.

For the next three years, she lived intermittently and illegally in St. Petersburg as a member of increasingly more radical Populist organizations. Initially she belonged to Land and Liberty and was invited to help edit its newspaper. The conviction had been growing in her, however, that propaganda was no longer productive and that the time had come to punish the oppressive government by assassinating its key officials. In 1879, when Land and Liberty split over this issue, she joined Narodnaia Volia and supported its program of political terror. She was a member of its Executive Committee and once again helped to edit the group's underground newspaper. In February 1880, police pressure and ill health forced her to flee abroad with Nikolai Morozov—a poet, a fellow revolutionary, and the great love of her life.

Liubatovich says little about the year they spent in Geneva except to note that in late 1880 she gave birth to their child. Four months later, Morozov returned to Russia and was soon arrested. Olga, in despair, left their baby girl in the care of an emigré family and hastened back to St. Petersburg to try to arrange his escape. She was engaged in this hopeless task when Narodnaia Volia successfully assassinated the tsar on March 1, 1881. The police quickly arrested the perpetrators and broke the back of the terrorist movement. For the next six months, Liubatovich tried to coordinate the remnants of Narodnaia Volia and to provide a revolutionary presence in St. Petersburg. She also learned during this time of her infant daughter's death in southern France as a result of contracting meningitis. "I sat over Kravchinskii's telegram for hours on end before it fully registered on me that my daughter was dead," she wrote in her memoirs.

I didn't cry; I was numb from grief. For some time thereafter, I suffered torments whenever I walked down the street or rode in a tram: the sweet, happy faces of small children tore at my heart, reminding me of my own child. Dulled by thoughts of her death, I temporarily lost my innate caution.

Liubatovich's personal loss was compounded by the failure of the cause to which she had devoted the last seven years of her life. "I agreed to go to Moscow," she wrote many years later, "without knowing what I would do there—almost certain, moreover, that there was nothing important that could be done. For me, there was no one and nothing to save my freedom for, anyway; the winning of Russia's freedom had been delayed, I felt, for a long, long time to come."

Discouraged and disillusioned, she almost welcomed her arrest on November 6, 1881. Without a trial, Liubatovich was banished to Irkutsk in eastern Siberia in November 1882 on the basis of her illegal flight four and half years earlier. Sometime in the next decade, she married Ivan Dzhabadari, a Georgian revolutionary she had met while studying in Switzerland and with whom she had served in the All-Russian Social-Revolutionary Organization. She was apparently freed by the general amnesty granted in 1905 and returned with her husband to Tbilisi (Tiflis), where she died in 1917. Other than completing her memoirs in 1906, little is known about her activities during the last years of her life in Georgia.


Engel, Barbara Alpern. Mothers and Daughters: Women of the Intelligentsia in Nineteenth-Century Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

——, and Clifford N. Rosenthal, eds. and trans. Five Sisters Against the Tsar. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975 (the quotations used above, most of which come from the translated excerpts of Liubatovich's memoirs, are found in this volume).

Knight, Amy. "The Fritschi: A Study of Female Radicals in the Russian Populist Movement," Canadian-American Slavic Studies. Vol. IX, no. 1. Spring 1975, pp. 1–17.

suggested reading:

Kravchinskii [Stepniak], Sergei. A Female Nihilist. Boston: B.R. Tucker, 1886.

Meijer, Jan Marinus. The Russian Colony in Zuerich (1870–1873): A Contribution to the Study of Russian Populism. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1955.

R. C. Elwood , Professor of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada