back to

Women in the Russian Revolution


At the Verso blog, Rochelle Ruthchild highlights the underappreciated role played by women in the 1917 Russian Revolution, which is celebrating its hundred-year anniversary this year. Ruthchild notes in particular that the February revolution began in Petrograd on International Women’s Day, which saw widespread participation by Russian women. Check out an excerpt from the piece:

Consciousness about women and gender is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of accuracy. A full picture of 1917 must include the role of members of the majority of Russia’s population as well as the gender assumptions operative in critical events of the year. Much progress has been made in researching and writing about women and gender in the early twentieth century, during the late Tsarist period and the early Soviet years. But this scholarship has not been integrated as deeply as it should into the dominant narratives and classroom teaching. While much about 1917 would benefit from a more thorough gender analysis, the outbreak of the February Revolution, the March 19th suffrage demonstration, the creation of the Women’s Battalion, and the Constituent Assembly elections, are especially significant occasions where women’s and gender scholarship illuminates the 1917 narrative.

Women’s suffrage is an important and understudied theme informing women’s activism in the revolutionary year. Attention to the relatively quick and successful achievement of suffrage in Russia in 1917 enriches discussions of citizenship and complicates notions of Russia’s backwardness. No account of 1917 in Russia can be complete without mention of the ways in which the fight for women’s suffrage, the most sweeping democratic reform of the twentieth century, was an important theme and rallying point in the revolutionary fervor of that year. The successful campaign in Russia for women’s suffrage is rooted in the nature of Russia’s opposition movements. From the mid-nineteenth century, Russian radicals and dissidents, unlike their counterparts in most other countries, made the “woman question” a major concern in their writings. Russia was not isolated from the west; Russian women participated fully in international women’s suffrage conferences and Russian female students enrolled in western European universities, often outnumbering local women students. Women were prominent in the revolutionary movement and their agency was critical in extending the vote and the right to run for office to women. Provisional Government and Soviet leaders did not simply grant suffrage to women. They responded to demonstrators’ demands. And they did so much more quickly and completely than leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere in the west.

Image: International Women’s Day, Petrograd, 1917. Via Verso blog.