Trubnikova, Mariia (1835–1897)

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Trubnikova, Mariia (1835–1897)

Leading 19th-century Russian philanthropist and feminist. Pronunciation: Troob-nih-KO-vah. Name variations: Maria Trubnikova; Marya Trubnikova. Born Mariia Vasil'evna Ivasheva on January 6, 1835, in Chita, eastern Siberia; died on April 28, 1897, in Tambov, Russia; daughter of V.V. Ivashev (an exiled Decembrist) and Camille LeDantieux; educated at home until age 16; married K.V. Trubnikov, in 1854;children: seven, including daughter O.K. Bulanova-Trubnikova, and three who died in infancy.

Was active in Sunday School movement (1859–62); served as first chair of St. Petersburg's Society to Provide Cheap Lodgings for women (1861); co-founded women's Publishing Workshop (1863); was active in the establishment of the Vladimir Courses (1870) and Bestuzhev Courses (1878) for women.

During the winter of 1868–69, Mariia Trubnikova went out of her way to encounter Count Dmitrii Tolstoy at social gatherings in St. Petersburg. They made an odd pair—the reactionary, chauvinistic Minister of Education talking intimately with the much younger and progressive Russian feminist. Trubnikova, who for the past decade had been involved in various philanthropic activities, wanted to convince Tolstoy that women should be admitted to Russian universities. She hoped to impress upon him through her refined manner, proper dress and aristocratic background that women, especially educated ones such as herself, were not a threat to the social and male order of things and could even contribute to Russia's modernization. In an earlier visit to his office, however, she had sensed that he was more interested in her as a woman than in the ideas she was trying to advance. If a little flirting at balls and concerts would help the cause, then she was willing to play the role. This, plus her patience and tact, must have had the desired effect. In 1870, Tolstoy reluctantly agreed that professors could offer off-campus courses to prepare women for university-level work. Eight years later, women finally were given an opportunity to acquire a true higher education. This was probably the most important gain Russian women made in the 19th century.

In any place and under any circumstances, you need only two or three people of good will to accomplish something useful.

—Mariia Trubnikova

Mariia Trubnikova was born in the eastern Siberian city of Chita on January 6, 1835 (o.s.). Her father Vasilii Ivashev was of aristocratic origin and had been exiled to Siberia for his role in the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. Like many Decembrists, he was followed into exile by his wife, a Frenchwoman named Camille LeDantieux , who died during childbirth in 1839. A year later, after Ivashev himself had died of "grief and remorse," Mariia and her younger sister Vera Ivasheva moved to Samara where they were brought up by a wealthy aunt, Princess Ekaterina Khovanskaia . The home education Mariia received was much better than that normally accorded to aristocratic Russian women, and it was supplemented by travel and tutoring in Western Europe. By the time of her marriage in 1854 at age 19, she was attracted, according to her daughter O.K. Bulanova-Trubnikova , to a "vague evolutionary socialism." Her fiancé Konstantin Trubnikov fed this inclination and won her hand by reading passages to her from the forbidden works of Alexander Herzen. For a while she helped her husband edit his liberal newspaper Birzhevye vedomosti (The Stock Exchange News), and their St. Petersburg apartment soon became a meeting place for both men and women seeking change in Russian society. At the same time, she developed contacts with feminist groups in Western Europe and the United States as well as starting to write articles for various European journals.

The fact that in less than ten years she gave birth to seven children—only four of whom lived past infancy—took a physical toll on Trubnikova and may have stimulated her feminist thinking. Confined to her home, she spent much of the time reading and taking lessons in music and drawing. As Ariadna Tyrkova has surmised:

The awareness of the possibilities of her own mind, the awareness that many men, less talented than her and less devoted to ideas, could so easily apply their ideas while she, as a woman, condemned to social inactivity, could not realize any of her dreams, gave a special passion to her femininity.

Among those attracted the Trubnikovs' apartment were Nadezhda Stasova and Anna Filosofova . Led by Mariia, these three aristocratic women, who came to be known as the Triumvirate, sought ways of helping less fortunate women in the Russian capital. Out of their discussions emerged the Society to Provide Cheap Lodgings and Other Assistance to the Needy Population of St. Petersburg. This philanthropic enterprise, which Trubnikova chaired in 1861, bought a large house with a laundry and a communal kitchen. For 20 years, it offered clean accommodations at reasonable prices to impoverished middle-class women. As Trubnikova's daughter noted, it was "the only kind of social activity possible at that time." Trubnikova realized that, to be independent, women needed employment at a time when most respectable professions were closed to them. She was the driving force behind the Society for Women's Work which was to have provided both an employment exchange and a training center for women. Unfortunately, differences of opinion with more radical women never allowed this ambitious scheme to get off the ground. Trubnikova was more successful when she joined with Stasova to form a Publishing Workshop in 1863. This co-operative, which lasted until 1879, employed several dozen women as writers, translators, typesetters and binders.

These philanthropic activities and the government obstructionism which they encountered convinced the Triumvirate that lasting change could be achieved only if women were better educated. A petition was drawn up in Trubnikova's apartment, which was ultimately signed by 400 women, calling for the establishment of a women's university or at least the opening of courses at Russian universities to women. While Trubnikova was unable to convince the Minister of Education to go this far, Tolstoy did approve the offering of preparatory courses for women (the Vladimir Courses) in 1870 and then university-level instruction (the Bestuzhev Courses) in 1878. Trubnikova's moderation, her willingness to compromise, and her limited feminist agenda were all instrumental in achieving these advances.

These gains came at a high personal price. Trubnikova's husband resented her outside interests and perhaps her growing erudition. He became "a perfect despot at home" and at the same time managed to squander her considerable fortune through poor investments. Domestic troubles caused Trubnikova to have a nervous breakdown and in 1869 led to a separation from her husband. Several of her daughters, whose early education she had supervised and who would have benefited from the concessions she had won for all Russian women, felt that her objectives were too modest and joined the revolutionary movement over her protest. She nevertheless allowed her house to be used for illegal meetings and as a storage place for revolutionary literature. She also used her contacts in the government to work for the release of two of them after their arrests in 1881. In that same year Trubnikova's deteriorating mental health forced her to withdraw from further feminist activity. She died in a mental institution in Tambov at the age of 62 in 1897.


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

Goldberg (Ruthchild), Rochelle Lois. "The Russian Women's Movement, 1859–1917," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester, 1976.

Stites, Richard. The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

suggested reading:

Bulanova-Trubnikova, O.K. Tri pokoleniia (Three Generations). Moscow, 1928.

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