Nadezhda Vasilievna Stasova (1822-1895)

Nadezhda Vasilievna is the daughter of a court architect. She was born in the palace in Tsarsko village and her godmother is Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, wife of Alexander I. Since childhood, she is surrounded by books and works of art. According to her brother Vladimir, with whom she is very close, “his sisters considered it a great insult and a bloody injustice that their brothers were brought up and taught in a completely different way than they were, and thought that they too could learn everything, which their brothers were learning”[1]

Poliksena Stasova /1839 – 1918/, later married to her brother Vladimir /1828 – 1918/, also tells about her in her memoirs. “I met her in the autumn of 1859 in the Clark family, relatives of the wife of her eldest brother Nikolai Vasilievich, at the so-called Cast Iron Factory, where Clark lived in their old English home. I was looking forward to this acquaintance with such trepidation. I was a young, shy girl, and one of the Clark sisters had whispered to me about Nadezhda Vasilievna that she was an extraordinary person. And when I entered the living room, from the sofa stood up a slender, short girl, who was no longer young, in a black cotton dress with a white collar and cuffs, smoothly combed. This girl came to me and without further ado said to me: “Hello,” as if we had known each other for a long time, she held out to me a small, exquisitely beautiful white hand, and in the other, she held a binoculars on a gold chain. I was struck and interested in this peculiar, somewhat simple, and somewhat harsh manner. This time I did not happen to talk to Nadezhda Vasilievna, but she invited me to them and I was very happy – I was attracted to her, by an obscure even for me force[2] At the time, she lived with her four brothers and her eldest brother’s family in a large apartment, where there was a strict order and a serious artistic taste. On the wall hung a magnificent portrait of their father … At that moment in her life Nadezhda Vasilievna was completely devoted to her family: she ran a large, complex household, helped her daughter-in-law in raising children, raised another niece – an orphan, and cared for the children as a mother. More than once I found her in a history or geography lesson with the older children, in a music lesson, or just playing with her little nephews … In her free time, she painted a lot and painted amazingly fine. She continued to paint all her life. Among the most complex and important activities of her courses, she found time to paint … According to her, every work is useful and necessary – both small and large[3].

The Stas family is known for its education, intelligence, and liberal beliefs. All family members are public figures. Dimitar Stasov is a major lawyer, a defender of many political processes since 1870, for example in the case of Karakozov, one of the organizers of the Russian Music Society and founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The other brother, Vladimir Stasov, is a music and art critic, art historian, archivist, and collector[4]. “Nadezhda loved to play the piano on 4 hands in the evening. Her favorite work was Mozart’s Requiem. I went to them on those evenings when her brother, Dmitry Vasilievich, was gathering at the Legal Society they had founded to prepare young lawyers for judicial reform. While there were various debates in the office, she and I played the Requiem … She and I soon became friends, we read a lot together, she loved me because of the “hot stream” – as she said, and I became attached to her with all might of my soul. Despite the big difference in our ages, it was so good for me, as if I had lived with her for 100 years and as if there was no time when I didn’t know her… Sometimes she invited me with her to concerts at the Russian Musical Society and always made the invitation in the most sweetly and playful way. “I am honored, etc.” N. Stasova”[5].

            “At the end of the 1850s, new currents were everywhere and public and people’s life entered a new era. An unusual upsurge began in all intelligentsia and we women gained the consciousness that the family side of life alone is not enough, that something must be done for the public and the national good…”[6].

Nadezhda Stasova begins her active public work in adulthood. When she meets Maria Trubnikova, she is 36 years old and the year is 1858.

“Suddenly, in the autumn of 1860, came the news that Sunday schools are being opened. The burning spark ignited in the souls of many women and so was found the first way out of the desire to work for the benefit of society and rapprochement with the people. Sunday schools began to open in every corner of St. Petersburg. One of the first was the school on the corner of Gradinska and Inzhenerna streets, where the Red Cross building is now. At first, it was a men’s school, and then a women’s school was opened in the same building. There were workshops at this women’s Sunday school. Nadezhda Vasilievna and I took part in this school. The work was fascinating, wonderful. It was not literacy that was most important, but the communication of girls with girls – students in all kinds of workshops. We immediately established a warm, close relationship with the students. They looked at us as their friends and shared their sorrows and joys. But the joys were few. Their lives were full of all kinds of deprivation – material and moral.[7] All this poverty of the girls made Nadezhda Vasilievna plan a whole program for future activities and implement it in the “Society of Cheap Accommodation”. All our best collaborators grouped around her. On Sunday evening, many guests gathered in the cozy living room of the Stakhovs. Nadezhda always poured her tea on the long table, around which there was a lively and varied conversation… Along with the activity of preparing lessons and reading at school, appeared another duty: attending meetings at the Second High School, especially for the exchange of practical observations between teachers in different Sunday schools in order to develop a common program. A representative was nominated from each school and Nadezhda Stasova was elected from our school … In the summer of 186,  she lived at their villa in Peterhof. In the autumn of 1861, fate brought me even closer to Nadezhda Vasilievna – I joined her family. On the day of my wedding, she turned to me informally, and from that day on, she remained my selflessly devoted friend … From that fall, Nadezhda Vasilievna began her work in the Society of Cheap Accommodation, and when our dear school was closed in 1862, she devoted herself to the new work, as fervently and selflessly as she had previously devoted herself to the Sunday school[8].

In 1864 the first nursery schools for working-class children are opened, in the work of which Nadezhda Stasova takes a very active part almost until her death[9].

Here is what Nadezhda Vasilievna says about herself in this period: “I looked around and all my love, which I had brought first to my family, I have now transferred to society. Whatever happens, everything will go for the better. For me, the charm of my own family has disappeared. I have felt love for the whole world. This has become my job and I will die with it[10].

And that’s what happens. According to people close to her, she spares neither her strength nor her health for the common cause. And the cause – this is primarily the women’s issue, the women’s movement, one of the leaders of which is Nadezhda Vasilevna. The movement aims to help other women, to equalize with men in the right to study, work, receive education, including higher education, to find their place in life, to become useful for society, to gain independence in the family and beyond. Stasova also strives for this, but above all for self-education: books, lectures at the university, and after the ban, its opening in the form of Bestuzhev courses, for which Stasova is one of the initiators. She is also remembered by one of the participants in the society of translators. Oh, Nadezhda Vasilyevna? Ill with the flu, with red eyes, icy hands, very weak. It seems to you that she can barely move her legs, almost without a voice of weakness, and yet she works all day. There is a book on her desk that she reads or translates. She and Trubnikova publish books, encounter a million difficulties, failures, troubles, meet hundreds of people. I marvel at them, I envy them, but I can’t imitate them, I don’t have their faith[11].

In continuation of Poliksena Stasova’s memoirs, an article by Menzhinskaya on Stasova’s death is cited: “The two most prominent and energetic Russian women, because their work is so intertwined that it is impossible to separate. It is about Maria Trubnikona and Nadezhda Stasova. The memory of the two girlfriends about their social activities is important as an example to encourage young women, who on their turn strive to do something for society, to apply their knowledge and strength to raise the work of women’s education and work[12].

In 1861 Nadezhda Vasilievna joins the “Society of Cheap Accommodation”, chaired by Maria Trubnikova. Here is what the secretary of the committee at the time, Shakeev, Evgeniy Alexandrovich (1839-1899), who often accompanies her on her visits to the poor, says: “Nadezhda Vasilievna highly possessed this tact of the soul, which is so necessary for charity, so as not to turn into a soulless and insulting throwaway. Entering the poor, she carefully and at the same time wholeheartedly knew how to inquire about the situation of the family and harmlessly clarify the causes of poverty, so that after her first words the embarrassment in the interviewees disappears, which naturally overwhelms many intelligent people, but at the same time pressed by the circumstances[13].

Elena Stakenschneider, a memoirist, and landlady of a literary salon in St. Petersburg writes in her diary in October 1868: “When I met Nadezhda Vasilievna and again found myself in the world of work and labor, I became terribly sad and ashamed of the wasted summers and the missed winter … And Nadezhda Vasilievna? With angina, fever, teary eyes, hands like ice, so weak that she can barely move her legs, almost without a voice of weakness, she works and helps the whole day[14].

[1] Стасов, Владимир. Надежда Васильевна Стасова: Воспоминания и очерки. СПб., 1899. с. 21. [Stasov, Vladimir. Nadezhda Vasilyevna Stasova: Memories and essays. SPb., 1899. p. 21].

[2] Стасова, Поликсена. Памяти Надежды Васильивны Стасовой, Женское дело, 1900, январь, с. 16. [Stasova, Polyxena. In Memory of Nadezhda Vasilyevna Stasova, Women’s Affairs, 1900, January, p.16].

[3] Ibid., p. 17.


[5] Stasova, Polyxena. In Memory of…, p. 18.

[6] Ibid., p. 20.

[7] Ibid., p. 19.

[8] Ibid., p 26.

[9]Философова Анна Роль Женщины в деле общественной благотворительтокги в  России за последнея 50 лет, сп. Женское дело, 1900, август –септември, Санктпетербург,173–185. [Filosofova Anna The Role of Women in Public Charity in Russia for the Last 50 Years, Women’s Affairs Magazine, 1900, August-September, St. Petersburg, pp. 173–185].

[10] Stasov, Vladimir. Nadezhda Vasilyevna Stasova: Memories…, p. 29.

[11] Елена Андреевна Штакеншнейдер Дневник и записки (1854–1886), с. 141 [Elena Andreevna Shtakenshneider Diary and Notes (1854–1886), p. 141].

[12] Stasova, Polyxena. In Memory of, February, p.30.

[13] Ibid., с. 32.

[14] Shtakenshneider, Elena. Diary and Notes. Мoscow, 1934. p. 400.