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8 reasons why the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens was far from being as pleasant an institution as is commonly believed
8 reasons why the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens was far from being as pleasant an institution as is commonly believed

For a long time, the first women's educational institution in Russia was covered with an aura of romanticism. The Institute for Noble Maidens, created by the project of the President of the Academy of Arts Ivan Betsky and by order of Catherine II, was the beginning of reforms in the field of education. It was assumed that people of a new type would be brought up here, so the students had to adhere to certain and rather strict rules. Unfortunately, the graduates often retained far from the most pleasant memories of the years of study at Smolny.

12 years outside the family

Pupils of the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens at the skating rink. 1889 graduation album

Daughters of nobles and high officials were accepted into the institute. Some girls studied here at the expense of the departments where their fathers served, the stay of others was paid by philanthropists, the families of the third made annual tuition fees. The girl entered the institute at the age of 6 and until her 18th birthday was almost completely cut off from her family. According to the agreement signed by the parents, the pupil had no right to leave the walls of Smolny. Only those whose families lived in St. Petersburg had the opportunity to occasionally meet with relatives under the supervision of classy ladies. The rest were content with only censored letters. Homesickness of the girls became the object of ridicule.

Limiting communication

Gymnastics lesson at the Smolny Institute

The pupils were taken out for walks and social events, but this practice was discontinued in the 19th century. Since then, the lot of the students have been daily half-hour walks on the territory of the institute garden and the only summer walk in the Tavrichesky Garden in the year, during which visitors were not allowed into it. This isolation from the outside world led to the emergence of the term "schoolgirl", which later became a symbol of cutesy, excessive impressionability and isolation from life.

Hard mode

Pupils of the Smolny Institute for a walk in the garden playing tennis

The young ladies in Smolny lived in accordance with a strict schedule. We got up at six in the morning on the call, it was impossible to sleep for an extra couple of minutes, because the attendants immediately mercilessly tore the blankets off those who lingered. At seven in the morning, the general prayer began, after - a meager breakfast in the institute cafeteria. All movements took place exclusively in formation and without a single superfluous sound. The formation could take an hour and be repeated many times until the classy lady was satisfied with the speed of the formation and the harmony of the rows.

Poor food and cold

Canteen. 1889 graduation album

The girls in Smolny suffered, first of all, from poor nutrition, and secondly, from constant cold. Fights for the edge of bread were not uncommon, and in order to satisfy their hunger, the pupils gnawed chalk, slate and paper. Cold caused no less suffering. Sometimes the temperature in the bedrooms in the morning barely reached eight degrees, and the girls had to sleep in a simple shirt under two light sheets and a thin blanket, which did not save them from the cold at all. For some reason, the educators believed that hunger and low temperatures were good for the girls, in fact, many young ladies received chronic diseases, ugly posture and sparse dull hair.

No personality

Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens. Medical checkup. 1889 graduation album

All pupils were divided into four "ages" of three years each. Each had a uniform of a certain color that the girls had to wear.The younger pupils wore coffee-colored dresses, girls 9-12 years old - blue, 12-15 years old - blue, the older girls dressed in white. The six graduates who distinguished themselves in particular could expect to receive a distinctive sign - a gold monogram with the empress's initials. The girls had to do their hair in a certain way too, the hairstyles for the younger and older were different.

Humility and humility

Pupils of the Smolny Institute in the classroom for manual labor

The ban on corporal punishment forced class ladies to find many ways to influence students. Public humiliation was widely practiced following any offense. A badly darned sock was attached to the girl's dress and everyone could see how clumsy she was. A pinned piece of paper meant that the student was busy with it in class. For some offenses, the girls were forced to eat while standing, and some led to the deprivation of an apron for a while. The reason for the punishment was the nocturnal enuresis, which some girls suffered from. Pupils were not allowed to argue with mentors, be curious, ask questions, or show character in general. Modesty, submissiveness and complaisance were welcomed, which would make the graduates exemplary obedient wives.


Pupils of the Smolny Institute in the drawing room for embroidery and reading

The closed girls' collective gave rise to a special phenomenon of "adoration". The younger pupils were elevated to the cult of elders, teachers or even a priest, after which the adoring woman called herself someone's adoratrix and tried to render various small services to the subject of her passion, considering it an honor to suffer for him. For example, eat a bar of soap without displeasure. At the same time, the reciprocity of feelings did not matter. If, for example, a young teacher announced his upcoming marriage, adoratresses immediately began to adore his bride, whom they had never seen in her life. Members of the royal family were the subject of general worship.


Pupils of the Smolny Institute at a geography lesson

Under Catherine II, the level of education was very decent, the girls studied the humanities, exact and natural sciences, as well as music, drawing and handicrafts. But already in the 19th century, sciences receded into the background, and attention began to be paid to singing, dancing and playing music. However, even the home economics lessons could not be called useful, for the girls watched the cooking process only from the sidelines.

It is worth noting that after graduating from the Smolny Institute, its graduates took root very badly in society and had a reputation as young ladies completely cut off from real life. In terms of rigidity and the strictest discipline, the orders in this educational institution can be compared in part with choreographic schools, where the whole life of the pupils is subordinated to only one deity - dance.

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