Facilitators: Adele Lindenmeyr (Professor of History and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Villanova University) and Melissa Stockdale (Professor of History, University of Oklahoma)
A 3-day workshop organized by the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) will coordinate the research of up to 15 scholars across a variety of fields for a planned publication to examine women’s gains and losses in the period as well as the influence of war and revolution on gender identity and representation, cultural mores surrounding public and sexual behavior, and creative expression by men and women. Such a study can provide unique and valuable insights for comparative work on the all-too-frequent periods of violence and conflict that have continued to affect women around the world in the century since the Great War. The research program thus addresses an important area of international policy relevance. This workshop is made possible by funding from the Department of State’s Program for the Study of Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (Title VIII).
Historical Context and Significance
While agreeing on the unprecedented nature and extent of European and American women’s participation in the Great War, historians have disagreed about its effect on their economic, social and political status. Some insist that the war had a lasting transformative impact, symbolized by the enfranchisement of women in Russia, Britain, the US, Austria and Germany shortly after the war’s end. They point to the mass influx of women into public life, their new economic roles between 1914 and 1918, and their increased access to educational and professional opportunities. Others, however, see the war as reinforcing rather than permanently changing the patriarchal order and traditional gender ideologies. Women were expelled from the workplace once men returned from the front; their access to new kinds of jobs often proved to be a temporary concession to wartime emergencies. The war’s catastrophic mortality and declining birth rates resulted in renewed emphasis on women’s essential identity as mothers and caregivers.
There can be little argument about the extent or permanence of World War I’s impact on the women of the Russian Empire. There the war, which was prolonged by four more years of revolution and civil conflict, exerted its power to both liberate and destroy on a scale unsurpassed elsewhere in Europe. On the positive side, the war accelerated improvements in women’s status and opportunities that had begun to take place years before 1914, such as increased access to education and the professions, and the sporadic but inexorable expansion of their civil rights. It provided women with increased opportunities for public service and a channel to express their patriotism. The advancement of Russian women during the war reached a climax in July 1917, when a new law guaranteed them full political rights, ahead of women in all other nations involved in the war except New Zealand and Australia.
But Russian women’s gains in civil and political status must be measured against the demographic and economic catastrophes that befell their nation over the course of the Great War and its long revolutionary epilogue. The military and civil conflicts of those years turned millions of women into widows and refugees, orphaned their children, decimated their family networks, and ruined their household economies. As successive waves of revolution swept over the country, concepts of citizenship, patriotism, and gender were redefined in ways that benefited some women, but excluded others.
The task for historians of women and gender in Russia during this period extend far beyond drawing up a balance sheet, though assessing women’s short- and long-term gains and losses remains important. Also worthy of study is the influence of war and revolution on gender identity and representation, cultural mores surrounding public and sexual behavior, and creative expression by women and men. In-depth and comprehensive historical study of women and gender Russia from 1914 to 1922 can provide unique and valuable insights for comparative work on the all-too-frequent periods of violence and conflict that have continued to affect women around the world in the century since the Great War.
For more information, please see https://reeec.illinois.edu/programming-and-events/summer-research-laboratory/awss-workshop/