On June 21, 1917, the citizens of revolutionary Petrograd witnessed a solemn public ceremony unique in modern history, the consecration of the standards of a battalion of women soldiers being sent as combatants to the front. Thousands flocked to watch the 300 women—their hair close-cropped, wearing regular army-issue trousers and boots, rifles gleaming—march from their barracks to the great St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Among the military and civilian notables waiting to greet the women were generals Lavr Kornilov and P. A. Polovtsev, Duma president Mikhail Rodzianko, and leaders of various political parties. Two bishops and twelve priests officiated, as the battalion was presented with two icons—gifts of the soldiers of the First and Third Armies—and a banner sent by Minister of War Alexander Kerensky. Afterwards, enthusiastic soldiers and sailors lifted commander Maria Bochkareva onto their shoulders, crowds cheered, and orators mounted improvised tribunes to hail the battalion and its head. To the strains of the Marseillaise, the battalion then marched to Mars Field, to honor the graves of those who had fallen in the first days of the February Revolution. 
The singularity of this event lay not so much in the appearance of women soldiers armed for combat, for individual women in Russia had been fighting as regular soldiers, with and without formal approval, since the very start of the war. Moreover, there had been instances of women in other times and places fighting alongside men in extraordinary circumstances, often as partisans or in civil wars. Rather, the event’s significance lay in its public celebration of a female combat unit formally sanctioned by the authorities—not only civil authorities but, as this ceremony demonstrated, military and religious as well. In the opinion of one American observer, these women marked the true debut of the woman soldier: “Not the isolated individual woman who has buckled on a sword and shouldered a gun through the pages of history, but the woman soldier banded and fighting en masse—gun companies of her, battalions of her, whole regiments of her.”
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The “Women’s Battalion of Death” (Zhenskii batal’on smerti), as it was called, inspired the formation of other companies and battalions of women volunteers in Russia in 1917. Yet, despite the scope of this unprecedented movement and the favorable press coverage it received in Russia, Western Europe, and the United States, the story of Russia’s women soldiers is today not widely known beyond the role they played in defense of the Winter Palace in October 1917. One reason for their historical obscurity is that they could not forestall the breakdown of the army and their country’s ultimate defeat. But heroic failures in war have been valorized by narratives as well as forgotten; understanding why the first modern women soldiers suffered the latter fate is one of the goals of this essay.
The story of these soldiers is in fact four stories. First, it is the story of the peasant soldier Maria Bochkareva, known as Yashka, a twentieth-century Joan of Arc who launched the movement with her vision of creating a small battalion of women to help save the motherland. Yashka’s story is in turn part of other, larger stories. One of these is the impact of the world’s first total war on European societies, resulting in the mobilization of women for the war effort and the transformation (however temporary) of traditional gender roles. Russia, like every other combatant, was mobilizing all its human resources, and Russian women were mobilizing themselves. Third, the story of Russia’s women soldiers is also one of patriotism, how it is configured and how it manifests itself, especially in moments of national emergency: acceptance of so radical a phenomenon as female soldiers had much to do with fears that the country was on the verge of calamitous defeat. And finally, it is the story of a democratizing revolution. The February 1917 revolution proclaimed the disparate subjects of the empire to be free and equal citizens, with the duties as well as rights that citizenship entails. Thousands of women interpreted this equality to mean that women could and should assume the citizen’s right to bear arms.
Precisely because the Russian Revolution took place during a titanic military conflict, the democratic and egalitarian forces it unleashed intersected with patriotic and martial sentiments. We are accustomed to considering mainly the collision of those forces, with the narrative of the revolution focusing on deepening class conflict against the backdrop of growing popular hostility to the war. Women soldiers would in fact suffer the tragic consequences of this hostility. But the very phenomenon of volunteer revolutionary battalions, which cut across class lines in attracting women of every social estate and educational level, reminds us that class conflict and war weariness are but two strands of the revolutionary narrative, and that liberationist forces unleashed by the revolution could merge as well as collide with the need to defend the country. The published and unpublished memoirs of participants, dozens of petitions from women who sought to become combatants, and contemporary press coverage of women and World War I make clear that the experience of war and revolution in Russia revolutionized conceptions of patriotism, citizenship, and gender, as well as class identity.
Close ties exist between citizenship and soldiering in Western culture, as Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias have noted. Historically, those ties did not work to women’s advantage, since their identities “as those who do not make war but mourn and support the men that do, had located them symbolically and politically as lesser civic beings.” What Elshtain calls the patriotic tradition of “armed civic virtue” has existed since at least the time of the Renaissance. Machiavelli identified the prince’s duty to create an army of citizens prepared to die for the republic, while Leonardo Bruni insisted that “it is the possession of arms that makes a man a full citizen.”  The French Revolution’s call of citizens to arms influentially set forth the idea of the citizen soldier, connecting performance of military service to the nation and enjoyment of all the rights of citizenship. During the nineteenth century, modern citizenship—understood as possession of rights of civil equality and political participation, guaranteed by law—was extended to more and more of Europe’s male population, concurrent with the extension of the principle of universal military service to all male citizens and abolition of exemptions to that duty. The belief that citizens should share an “equality of sacrifice,” on which universal conscription was premised, entailed a kind of sacrifice women were prohibited from making.  Despite the exertions of the women’s movement to gain suffrage, and efforts by a number of thinkers to uncouple civic virtue and the bearing of arms, on the eve of World War I it was still the case that good citizens were prepared to soldier and only men were full citizens.
A related process further consolidated the relationship of soldiering, citizenship, and gender. In late eighteenth-century Europe, during a period of war and revolution that informed its features, a new stereotype of modern masculinity was created and widely diffused. According to George Mosse, heroism, discipline, and sacrifice of one’s life on behalf of a higher purpose became the set attributes of ideal masculinity. Moreover, “the nation co-opted the ideal of manliness as its own”; the experience of serving one’s country as a soldier became doubly transformative, helping make men into citizens and males into men. From this time forward, “manliness and patriotism were closely associated.”
As the first total war in history, mobilizing populations and demanding their labor and sacrifices on an unprecedented scale, World War I revised or destabilized many prevailing conventions. For women and other individuals denied membership in the community of citizens, or for whom citizenship was only partially realized in law, the heavy burdens of the war could also appear an opportunity, by providing a new basis for winning citizenship claims. In Russia, where the very concept of modern citizenship was only imperfectly realized, liberals were certain that the example of every category of the population patriotically working and sacrificing for the war effort would confound the old justifications for unequal and limited rights: the empire’s passive subjects would be transformed into active citizens. Similarly, Russian feminists, like their counterparts in Europe, believed that women could demonstrate their readiness for full citizenship through patriotic self-sacrifice in support of the nation at war, and in doing so would ultimately receive the rights they had earned. “Woman, having proved again her social consciousness and maturity,” R. N. Shishkina-Iavein wrote in 1915, expects to be recognized as “a citizen of her fatherland.”
The mobilization of the home front during World War I began in earnest in 1915, as combatant countries recognized that every human resource would be needed to fight a long war to a successful conclusion. Experiences varied significantly by country, but in virtually all belligerent societies women increasingly engaged in work previously limited in scope or entirely prohibited for their sex, ranging from transportation and nursing to munitions work, where women participated in the killing end of war through the production of weapons. By 1917, the need for able-bodied fighting men was so pressing that Britain sanctioned the creation of auxiliary corps that put women in uniform at or near the front in capacities ranging from drivers and signalers to cooks and laundresses, thus freeing up men for combat. Similarly, in the spring of 1918, Germany organized the Woman’s Home Army, having women take over such duties as maintenance of public decorum on the streets.
Russia, too, experienced the mobilization and self-mobilization of the civilian population, which could open new spheres of activity to women as well as impose new burdens and privations. Female streetcar drivers, porters, and concierges became increasingly common urban sights. In the industrial sector, women moved into such male preserves as munitions, metalworking, and coal. By 1916, women made up 35 percent of all railroad employees. In addition to filling positions left open by men called to the war, Russian women engaged directly in war-related services and support. Whether as volunteers or paid employees, women could actively express social patriotism through the giant task of relief work for soldiers’ families, disabled soldiers, and millions of refugees. Those with the requisite level of education rushed to take nursing courses in order to serve as Sisters of Mercy. While complete numbers are lacking—the story of Russia’s women in the war has yet to be fully told—they were not small: by 1916, one of the largest national organizations in support of the war effort, the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos, employed more than 30,000 women, while the Russian Red Cross employed some 18,000 Sisters of Mercy.
From the outset of the war, a small number of Russian women made a still more radical break with their culture’s traditional gender roles than did their European contemporaries, by actually taking up arms.  Many of these soldiers were the daughters or wives of military men, perhaps because a military connection could more easily open doors for unconventional volunteers. One of the earliest volunteers was Apollovna Isoltsev, who entered the regiment commanded by her father. Alexandra Danilova, wife of a reservist from Baku, wrote in her successful petition to the local military authorities: “Having a strong, burning desire to enter as a volunteer into the army for the defense of the dear Tsar and Fatherland, I request my enrollment in the regular army.” Kuban Cossack Elena Chuba, who joined the army after her husband went off to war, was one of a number of Cossack women who gained permission to become soldiers. All these women took part in actual fighting or sorties; several received decorations for bravery. 
Many other women had to resort to subterfuge in order to become soldiers. Anna Alekseevna Krasil’nikova, the daughter of a mineworker from the Urals, disguised herself as a man and enlisted as Anatolii Krasil’nikov; she took part in nineteen battles and was awarded the St. George’s Cross for valor. Twelve Moscow gymnaziia students ran off together to the army, gaining support from soldiers who agreed to disguise them as boys, find them uniforms and rifles, and teach them to shoot. As one of them later told a reporter, “It was a bit terrible at first …, but the desire to see the war and ourselves kill the Germans overcame all other sentiments.” By the time the authorities realized their deception, outside Lemberg (L’vov) in Galicia, it was agreed they could continue to serve. A number of women disguised themselves so successfully that their sex long remained secret, as was the case with Marfa Malko, a junior officer’s wife whose real identity was not discovered until she was imprisoned in a German POW camp.
All told, the number of women who served in the Russian army as combatants from 1914 to 1916 was, at a minimum, forty-nine, but probably closer to several hundred, individuals. As insignificant as these figures are when compared with the legions of women working for Russia’s war effort in other capacities, the appearance of armed female soldiers in the regular army was nonetheless remarkable: with the exception of several women who fought with the Serbs and the Austrians, this phenomenon in World War I was confined to Russia. And it was by no means a Russian tradition, since the imperial Russian army was as exclusively a masculine preserve as were the armies of every other belligerent, and one in which misogyny was strong.
The notable exception in Russia to the exclusion of women from the regular army dated to the Napoleonic Wars. The noblewoman Natalia Durova disguised herself as a man, successfully served as a cavalry officer, and was decorated; in recognition of her patriotism, Tsar Aleksandr I granted her permission to continue serving even after her true sex was revealed. Durova’s stirring memoirs were well known to educated Russians, and a number of the young women who petitioned to be allowed to fight invoked her example, as did Elena Iost: “I will be so bold as to remind your Imperial Highness that already a hundred years ago a certain young woman, officer N. Durova, served in the ranks of our glorious army and participated in the battles of the campaigns of 1812.” What should be noted here is that the example of Durova had previously not inspired women to become soldiers, for only four women are known to have entered the Russian army in the hundred years after Durova did so.
The Great War therefore represented a genuine departure, for now hundreds of women sought to fight, and the authorities, including that most conventional of men, Nicholas II, allowed some of them to do so. Women’s petitions for permission to enlist became sufficiently numerous to prompt formulation of a policy on this question. On June 10, 1915, on the recommendation of the minister of war, military authorities decided that during the present conflict exceptions could be made to the law barring women from the army, provided the emperor ultimately approved each petition. A memo evaluating one individual’s petition explained that, while allowing women into the army “is, as a general rule, undesirable,” it was deemed possible in certain unique circumstances to admit them “in the role of regular troops.”
This surprising departure can in part be explained by the wartime changes in gender roles, which made more thinkable the request and grant of exceptions to the exclusively masculine nature of combatants. The reality of who waged war, and how, was visibly changing. While most war posters continued to present women as healers, mourners, or victims, a poster titled “All for the War!” captured women’s direct participation in making war by depicting an attractive, serious female worker producing armaments. As A. K. Iakovleva in 1915 reminded readers of her new magazine, Zhenshchina i voina (Woman and war), this conflict had moved women into the “front lines of life” and turned “everyone into fighters.”
Another factor underlying changing attitudes toward women combatants can be found in the perceived parallels with Napoleon’s invasion, a conflict known to Russians as the “Patriotic” or “Fatherland” (otechestvennaia) War. The ordeals and ultimate triumph over the invader symbolized in the 1812 war were part of the national myth and of popular consciousness, celebrated in folk songs and tales as well as in the symphonic music and literary works of high culture. As recently as 1912, government and society had lavishly commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Patriotic War; and in the fall of 1914, when Russia again faced enemy armies on its soil, the new conflict was frequently referred to as the “Second Patriotic War.” Thus the 1812 Patriotic War furnished a framework within which it was possible for women to conceive of acting in similarly patriotic and heroic fashion, and for the authorities to conceive of permitting these extreme expressions of female patriotism.
A national emergency deepened such inclinations. In April 1915, the Austro-German breakthrough at Gorlice, in Galicia, initiated the start of a devastating Russian retreat that would last almost five months, ultimately costing some 2 million casualties and thousands of miles of territory. From late May, the public was increasingly aware that a military disaster was unfolding: all manner of public and private organizations, institutions, and societies appealed to love of country, urged further mobilization of the home front, and insisted that “to save the Fatherland we cannot stop at any sacrifice.” It was in this crisis atmosphere, in June, as enemy armies drove deep into the empire’s western reaches, that the policy allowing some women into the regular army on a case-by-case basis was quietly, ambivalently adopted.
In 1917, revolution dramatically deepened the transformations in women’s wartime roles already effected by the demands of total war. Because it expanded rights and democratized institutions, the revolution created the grounds on which women could elect to fight. Because the revolution helped accelerate the regular army’s breakdown, it created the perceived need to allow women to take up arms during a national emergency. And, finally, the revolution could lay claim to a historical precedent that suggested both the utility and legitimacy of mobilizing a new sort of army to defend the motherland, the precedent of the French Revolution and its calling of citizens to arms.
With the February Revolution, Russia’s women received in principle many of the political and legal rights they had hoped to gain eventually through their wartime work and sacrifices. In early March, the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet proclaimed their adherence to universal suffrage. Russian feminists immediately exerted pressure to ensure that this would include women, who were formally granted the franchise on July 20, 1917. Other decrees issued over the summer enabled women to serve as trial attorneys and as jurors, and extended to women equal opportunity and pay in the civil service. Russia became not only “the freest country in the world,” as its proud citizens constantly proclaimed, Russia’s women were now more fully citizens of their country than the women of any other belligerent state.
The revolution also broke down barriers to women’s fuller, direct participation in the war effort. On April 30, Minister of War Aleksandr Guchkov signed an order instructing all women doctors under forty-five years of age to report for military service. On June 13, new Minister of War Kerensky announced formation of a special commission to look into the feasibility of instituting a military labor obligation for women that would free up men for combat. The commission included representatives from the Union of Women’s Democratic Organizations and the All-Russian Union of Women. Significantly, it was these women’s organizations that had first raised the question of conscripting women’s labor, and they did so by linking service with gender equality:
The great Russian revolution has realized women’s boldest dreams. The first Provisional Government has acknowledged the civil and political equality of the women of Russia. This equality, which as yet has been realized nowhere in the world on such a scale, lays upon the Russian woman a huge responsibility. Corresponding to equal rights with men there must be equal obligations. Recognizing this, the Union of Women’s Democratic Organizations and the All-Russian Union of Women have introduced for review by the Provisional Government a bill on drafting women for obligatory service.
Women’s new identity as full citizens was part of larger egalitarian processes unleashed by the revolution. A most immediate effect was the proclamation of equality before the law of all citizens of the empire, regardless of religion or nationality, which in the army meant the repeal of discriminatory or preferential rules regarding service for various national groups. And accompanying new laws were concerted efforts to school new citizens in the meaning and vocabulary of citizenship: a population already bombarded by patriotic exhortations for some two and a half years was now the object of an unprecedented, if uncoordinated, campaign of civic instruction. Emphases on rights versus duties, freedom versus obligation, and social versus civic entitlements might vary according to the political orientation of any given speaker or writer, but in the first months of the revolution, at least, there was a common rhetoric of human rights and an insistence that citizenship was active and participatory.
Supporters of Russia’s war effort, even those who did not welcome revolution, hoped that a new, democratic government, presumably better able to conduct the war, would boost the country’s flagging spirits. After two and a half years of fighting, during which time Russia’s armies had experienced more defeats than victories, acute shortages of food and materiel, and perhaps as many as 9 million casualties, discipline and morale were breaking down. Instead, the abrupt removal of the tsar, to whom Russian soldiers swore their oath of loyalty, and the consequent collapse of the old structure of power, accelerated the decline in fighting capacity apparent since the fall of 1916. Order No. 1, issued by the Petrograd Soviet at the outset of the revolution, followed by the “Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights,” played a part in this process. According to their provisions, every military unit was to elect a soldiers’ committee that would take charge of all weaponry; soldiers, when off duty, were to enjoy all the rights and freedoms of the citizen. The consequences of these democratizing orders, coupled with the abolition of courts-martial and the death penalty, were disastrous: desertions mounted, many officers were forcibly removed by their men, and it became increasingly difficult to enforce orders. By mid-April, both military and civilian authorities were profoundly concerned about the fighting capacity of Russia’s troops. In May, mass mutinies began to occur at the front.
This new national emergency required action, and as so frequently happened in revolutionary Russia, many educated individuals looked to the French Revolution for guidance. Leaders of the Petrograd Soviet compared Russia’s situation with that of France on the eve of war against Austria in 1792: many believed that a revolutionary war would help create a new civic patriotism in Russia just as the defense of la patrie had summoned the French citizenry to arms. They were therefore receptive to the proposal that revolutionary Russia should honor the old regime’s commitment to the allies to open an offensive in 1917. By this reasoning, a campaign that would push the enemy off Russia’s soil and be animated by lofty ideals—territorial acquisition and indemnities having been foresworn as goals—might very well inspire the troops and halt the disintegration of the army. Explicitly invoking the example of the revolutionary, militia-style army created by the French Revolution, a number of moderate socialists also proposed creation of a volunteer, revolutionary army to bolster—not replace—the existing forces. “New, free Russia” provided a new object of patriotism to replace the discarded object of the tsar. Revolutionary enthusiasm could be used to rekindle the army’s resolve to defend both freedom and the fatherland.
Officers and soldiers independently generated a proposal for forming revolutionary shock units, at the Congress of Delegates of the South-Western Front held May 16, 1917. General Aleksei Brusilov, who became commander-in-chief on May 27, enthusiastically endorsed the creation of revolutionary units. He also championed extending the original idea to the rear as well as the front; whereas shock (or “storm”) battalions formed at the front would be composed of active troops volunteering from various units, those at the rear would be made up of reservists, officer trainees, and civilian volunteers. As Brusilov explained it, he supported anything that tended to elevate the mood and create the best feelings in the troops at the rear and at the front in “the present decisive hour.”
The war and revolution, combined, thus supplied the necessary elements for creation and acceptance of the modern world’s first female combat units. However, it was not feminists, students of the French Revolution, or desperate politicians and generals who first conceived of fielding a unit of women soldiers. The women’s battalion was the brainchild of one of Russia’s women soldiers, Maria Leontevna Bochkareva, a semi-literate peasant from Siberia. Born to poverty in 1889, she had worked for wages since the age of eight, fleeing a drunkard, abusive peasant husband only to wind up sharing the Siberian political exile of her lover, a member of the intelligentsia, who also beat and abused her. News of the great war stirred her patriotic feelings, and she was seized with the idea of running away to fight for Russia: “Day and night my imagination carried me to the fields of battle, and my ears rang with the groans of my wounded brethren … The spirit of sacrifice took possession of me. My country called me. An irresistible force from within pulled me.” Steeling herself to the ridicule heaped on her from all sides for entertaining such an ambition, she persevered, successfully petitioning the tsar to join the regular army in 1915. She served with distinction, being twice wounded and winning a St. George’s Cross for valor. She also gradually gained acceptance from her fellow soldiers, who called her by the nickname “Yashka.” When the revolution came in 1917, Yashka greeted it joyously, equating it with freedom for the common people, but, as the fighting capacity of the army broke down, she grew alarmed and then indignant. On a furlough to Petrograd in early May, an idea for reversing this disintegration suddenly came to her. She proposed forming a unit of some 300 women and taking them into combat to “serve as an example to the army and lead the men into battle.”
Thus the purpose of the women’s battalion, as was the case with all volunteer revolutionary units, was to raise the morale of the regular army through heroic, self-disciplined example. Additionally, the first women’s battalion, as proposed by Yashka, was explicitly intended to embarrass Russian soldiers into doing their duty. She considered the number of female recruits rather immaterial: “What was important was to shame the men, and … a few women at one place could serve as an example to the entire front.” Her proposal caught the imagination of a number of people, including Duma president Mikhail Rodzianko, who arranged for her to outline her idea to General Brusilov. He, too, liked her idea, which more or less agreed with his thinking on volunteer battalions; several days later, after meetings with the new Minister of War Kerensky, the first “Russian Women’s Battalion of Death” was formally approved.
The formidable, even vaguely ridiculous title “Battalion of Death” was not unique to the women’s unit. The appellation became popular in May 1917, when the Supreme Command first bestowed it on a unit that had solemnly resolved “to defend, to the last drop of blood, young, free Russia,” requesting immediate posting to the front wherever the “onslaught of the forces of the revolutionary army might be needed.” A month later, on June 17, the eve of the opening of the so-called Kerensky offensive, the military authorities formally approved the proposal of the All-Russian Military Union that any unit passing such a resolution could be granted the epithet “of death”; members of such a unit could sew a special red-and-black chevron to their sleeves and add the skull-and-crossbones to their banner. A battalion of death was therefore not only intended to be death-dealing on the field of battle but willing to fight unto death. Its volunteers pledged never to surrender, declaring: “my death for the Motherland and for the freedom of Russia is happiness and the discharge of my oath.” By October, a total of 106 such units were in existence.
On May 21, 1917, Yashka publicly appealed for women volunteers at a benefit for wounded soldiers. Abashed at finding herself addressing a packed auditorium, she spoke briefly and simply, calling on women “whose hearts are crystal, whose souls are pure” to set an example of self-sacrifice and save Mother Russia. Newspapers carried accounts of the appeal, announcing the creation in Petrograd of Bochkareva’s Women’s Battalion of Death and the address where volunteers could sign up. Several days later, the All-Russian Women’s Congress issued a general appeal to women to enlist, making explicit the connection between citizenship and the duty to serve the country in whatever capacity possible:
In this terrible hour, when the dark storm clouds of anarchy, defeat and economic collapse are gathering over our motherland, when death is foretold for her, we, women citizens with equal rights, are obliged to raise our voices, are obliged to unite and strain every nerve to come forward …
Imperative responsibility and civic duty call upon the Russian woman to support our army’s unity of will, to strengthen the falling spirit of our troops [and], having entered into their ranks as volunteers, to transform the passive, standing front into an active, aggressive one.
More than 2,000 women responded to these public appeals, a number far exceeding expectations. Requests to join Bochkareva’s Women’s Battalion of Death continued to pour in from all over the country but were refused, since the battalion was to be trained as speedily as possible for the planned offensive. Not to be deterred, women resolved to organize additional battalions. On June 16, a group of women in Moscow received permission to organize the Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death. A committee called “Women for the Fatherland” took charge of this effort; its members included Princess Kropotkina, a relative of the famous anarchist. On July 2, in Petrograd, the newly formed Women’s Volunteer Committee, under the auspices of the Military Union, announced it was enlisting women volunteers for combat and labor units. Thus was born the “First Petrograd Women’s Battalion”—an entity distinct from Yashka’s battalion, which was also based in Petrograd.
Yashka Bochkareva’s inspiration was not confined to the two capitals. Another seasoned woman soldier and recipient of the St. George’s Cross, Antonina Tupitso, asked the Supreme Command in June for authorization to outfit a women’s combat legion in Mogilev province. “I wanted at first to sign up for Bochkareva’s battalion,” she wrote, “until letters reached me at the front from women-volunteers in cities in the rear who asked me to organize them into a legion. I already have nearly 300 desirous people.” Valentina Petrova, of the Twenty-first Siberian Rifle Regiment and also winner of a St. George, identified herself as “already an old soldier” in her letter to Kerensky seeking approval to organize another women’s battalion. She proposed calling her group the “Black Hussars of Death,” confidently predicting, “then we’ll show our enemies just what Hussars of Death are.” Other women requested permission to organize female combat units in their hometowns of Tomsk and Perm.
The scale of the response and the military authorities’ surprising willingness to make use of this outpouring of female patriotism are illustrated by a confidential memo by the Chief Administration of the General Staff (GUGSh) of July 14: “Lately there have appeared at General Staff women’s delegations from many cities in Russia, proposing their services for formation of military units made up of women volunteers, with the request that they be sent to the front as quickly as possible for direct participation in battle. In addition to these delegations we have received and continue to receive many such petitions in written form, both from individuals and from every conceivable organization.” The memo continued, “At present, women volunteers desiring to enter the regular army are appearing in ever greater numbers. In view of this, it appears necessary to undertake further formation [of units].”
Not all the military high command shared such views. Several generals, most notably M. A. Alekseev and Anton Denikin, opposed creating special shock or revolutionary battalions of any description. As they saw it, civilian volunteers would receive too little training to be of real use, while taking good soldiers out of existing frontline units would only hasten the demise of those units’ fighting capacity. One might suspect that a great many generals harbored even deeper reservations about creating battalions of women soldiers, so the lack of explicit objections to doing so is remarkable.
On June 29, military authorities submitted plans for forming a separate women’s infantry battalion in Ekaterinodar in addition to battalions in Moscow and Petrograd. On July 14, the General Staff authorized the creation of five women’s liaison detachments in Kiev and two in Saratov; eventually, a total of eleven were created. In August, rules were drawn up for organization of a separate guards unit (karaulnaia druzhina) in Minsk, composed of women volunteers, to free up able-bodied men for the front. This unit was explicitly a non-combat one but still part of the army. A women’s naval detachment was also organized. Additionally, groups in a number of other cities locally organized women’s combat units without even bothering to secure official permission, a form of revolutionary spontaneity the high command found extremely trying.
The combination of national emergency and democratizing revolution made for a new martial inclusiveness as well as a new locus of patriotism. Both are illustrated in the enlistment appeal issued in June, on the eve of the Kerensky offensive, by the newly formed All-Russian Central Committee for Organization of a Volunteer Revolutionary Army. The appeal explained that, in the name of defending freedom and the gains of the revolution, “on which depends not only Russia’s freedom of democracy but that of the whole world,” the army was embarking on formation of a revolutionary volunteer army whose battalions would fight alongside the regular troops. “CITIZENS!” it urged, “the hour for saving the fatherland has arrived.” “All to whom the fate of the Motherland is dear, to whom the ideal of the brotherhood of peoples is dear—workers, soldiers, women, cadets, students, officers, civil servants—come to us under the red banner of the volunteer battalions!”
Some proponents of the revolutionary army invoked the example of the French Revolution specifically as it pertained to women. In the pamphlet “Women, War and Revolution,” socialist Tatiana Aleksinskaia celebrated the myriad ways in which female citizens of revolutionary France helped defend their country and the revolution, despite not receiving the right to vote or legislate: “never was the mass of women as a whole so warlike in temper as in the era of the Great French Revolution. The participation of women in the wars of this era remains an example of great courage, revolutionary patriotism, and readiness to sacrifice. Russian women, follow these noble examples!” This appeal to join the fight to save the nation and freedom thus situated women’s martial ardor within the legitimizing tradition of the French Revolution. And, by speaking of these women’s active participation in war, not simply their support for the war or aid to those who fight, it underlined the direct, unmediated nature of their patriotism.
These various appeals to women—as full citizens, as daughters of the fatherland, as supporters of the revolution—found an audience. Although the total number of women who signed up for combat duty is impossible to determine, even the partial figures available are surprisingly high. Yashka’s battalion, after its initial subscription of 2,000, was speedily whittled down to 300 by its demanding leader. Figures contained in the archives for the Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death are incomplete, but they show that between June 28 and August 11 it built up to a force of more than 1,000 women. The First Petrograd Women’s Battalion had approximately 1,050 soldiers organized into four companies. It would therefore seem that the very lowest total figure for women enlisting in combat units was 4,000. Given the absence of numbers for the Ekaterinodar battalion, eleven liaison detachments (projected to number 100 individuals each), small units of women attached to men’s shock units, and various local women’s units organized without formal military approval, the actual figure was probably between 5,500 and 6,500 women, for a period lasting less than four months (new enrollments were halted in September). These figures do not include women who signed up for non-combat military service.
In the two capitals of Petrograd and Moscow, at least, women soldiers were a common sight. According to American journalist Bessie Beatty, “The making of women soldiers became a business. People no longer followed the uniformed woman about the streets of Petrograd. They became a matter of course.” The military attaché to the American embassy, General William Judson, conveyed a similar impression, though not approvingly. In a letter of September 24, 1917, to his wife he wrote, “I enclose a picture of a Woman’s battalion. The Russians have a lot of them—and they are very useless and absurd.”
Exactly who joined the women’s battalions is a fascinating question. Several contemporary sources depict the battalions as composed primarily of upper-class and educated women, perhaps including a smattering of peasants, the implication being that urban women of the less privileged classes did not volunteer. Such a depiction would conform to the usual representations of the connection between class identity and patriotism in the Russian Revolution. The standard narrative of class suggests that by the summer of 1917, as class consciousness and class antagonism grew, support for the war effort was increasingly confined to the upper classes and the bourgeoisie, and that the failure of the summer Kerensky offensive marked the end of the bourgeois-led, patriotic outpouring. In Steve Smith’s nuanced formulation, although class and national identities in revolutionary Russia were not mutually exclusive, they were highly conflictual; by summer 1917, “the extent to which the political language of nation became utterly discredited in the eyes of workers, soldiers, peasants is still striking.” Another scholar more flatly asserts, the “new civic patriotism did not extend beyond the urban middle classes.”
However, the majority of sources show that the women who responded to patriotic appeals to fight represented a wide variety of social backgrounds, classes, and occupations. This evidence demonstrates that, as important as the language and politics of class identity became over the course of 1917, commitment to the country’s defense did not always follow class lines. The files on the Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death include ten petitions from would-be volunteers or their relatives, some of which indicate occupation or social estate (soslovie). Two came from provincial schoolteachers. One elegantly written petition regarded the enlistment of the underage niece of a high-ranking civil servant, while a scarcely literate petition to the Sevastopol Soviet asked its help in securing the return of a daughter who had run off to enlist. Yet another came from an outraged husband serving in a machine-gun detachment. A set of forms filled out by twenty-two women desiring to join the women’s unit in Kiev provides material about age, faith, and level of education. Almost all were ages eighteen to twenty-two, with two women in their mid-twenties and two in their thirties. Most were Orthodox, although the group included four Roman Catholics and one Protestant (meaning five of the twenty-two were probably not ethnically Great Russian). Education levels show that the group was by no means exclusively “bourgeois.” Six had a secondary school education, five more had attended at least several years of secondary school, and one woman was taking college-level courses. However, six identified themselves simply as literate (gramotnaia), and two as illiterate (negramotnaia); that is, eight out of twenty-two apparently had no education beyond the elementary level. That a fair number of volunteers could not read or write is also clear from soldier Mariia Bocharnikova’s unpublished memoir: the first task of the Petrograd Battalion’s Soldiers’ Committee, she wrote, was organizing classes for the illiterate members of the battalion.
The variety of social classes represented is captured in Bocharnikova’s recollection of her first glimpse of new volunteers, still dressed in civilian garb: “Who was not here! The bright sarafans of peasant women, the head scarves of Sisters of Mercy, factory workers in multicolored print dresses, the elegant gowns of young ladies from society, the humble attire of city workers, maids, nannies.” Rheta Childe Dorr, an American war correspondent who traveled with Yashka’s Battalion of Death, said that women in the battalion whom she met included six nurses and a female doctor who had seen service in base hospitals, ten women who had fought in men’s regiments, clerks and office workers, domestic servants, and girls from factories and farms, as well as middle-class and aristocratic women who had never worked for wages, adding, “If the working women predominated I believe it was because they were stronger physically. Bochkareva would accept only the sturdiest.” Louise Bryant and Bessie Beatty, both of whom interviewed a number of soldiers, convey the impression that the majority of women in the Petrograd Women’s Battalion were not from the privileged classes.
Data on the nationality and geographic distribution of volunteers is fragmentary. It is clear that they did not come exclusively from the heartland or the borderlands along which the fighting occurred. Petitions in the files on the Moscow battalion are from Astrakhan, Belgorod, Kursk, Tashkent, Sevastopol, Podolsk, and Mogilev provinces. In her account of the Petrograd battalion, Mariia Bocharnikova mentions a Siberian, a Don Cossack girl, an Estonian, and a Gypsy; Bocharnikova, herself from Tbilisi, had been a Sister of Mercy on the Caucasian front when she enlisted. In June, Major Generals Romanovskii and Kamenskii informed the General Staff that the “female part of the population of the Caucasus, and especially Cossack girls and soldiers’ wives of Kuban oblast” were keen to fight and petitioning to form a separate infantry battalion in the city of Ekaterinodar. Overall, the evidence suggests that the phenomenon of women volunteering for combat was fairly widespread across European Russia and in the Caucasus, with volunteers also hailing from Siberia. More women came from cities and towns than from villages.
The sources also reveal an unexpected gender parity: once the military authorities decided to form more women’s combat units, they put women on an equal footing with male volunteers. The women’s battalions were organized according to rules drawn up in 1916 for volunteer units. Following a period of instruction, the women would take a formal oath of service, after which they were subject to full military discipline and could not quit. Their rates of pay appear to be the same as those set for male volunteers; similarly, all volunteer soldiers were to enjoy veterans’ rights after the war. Of necessity, officers for women’s units would initially have to be men, but it was stipulated that they would be replaced by female officers as soon as qualified women became available; to this end, women were sent to the military academies for officers’ training. NCOs, medical personnel, and all other staff were exclusively female. Finally, the women’s battalions enjoyed the same democratization of rights as regular soldiers and elected their own soldiers’ committees. The only exception on this point was Yashka’s battalion, thanks to her view that soldiers’ committees destroyed discipline. Her stubborn insistence on kicking out of her battalion some 600 women who favored forming a committee involved her in shouting matches with Kerensky and her superior officers and almost wrecked the project at its start.
The quality of preparation must have varied from unit to unit, but in the First Petrograd Battalion, at any rate, male officers were required to have had frontline experience, which suggests a commitment to meaningful training. Besides parade drill, the Petrograd battalion had riflery practice and carried out night maneuvers. One of the male officers drilling this battalion insisted that “there was not a better disciplined or more thoroughly prepared unit in the Russian Army.” The regular training schedule for the Moscow battalion has been preserved, outlining a day that began with a 6:30 wake-up, followed by barracks cleaning and common prayers, two three-hour sessions of lessons and exercises, and lights-out at 10 p.m. Yashka’s Battalion of Death, since it was wanted for the big summer offensive, was rushed to the front after just five weeks’ training. In contrast, both the Moscow and Petrograd battalions received at least three months’ formal instruction before being deemed ready for frontline duty.
Women, like men, volunteered to fight for different reasons, and combinations of reasons. Petitions, memoirs, and newspaper accounts show that love of and loyalty to the patria, or patriotism in its most conventional sense, might be joined with a desire for adventure, for glory and honor, or the thirst to be free of the confines and burdens of a woman’s wartime life. Volunteers of diverse social origins told Bessie Beatty that they joined “because they believed that the honor and even the existence of Russia were at stake and nothing but a great human sacrifice could save her,” while others said they came because “anything was better than the dreary drudgery and the drearier waiting of life as they lived it.”  Some women spoke of compassion for their “brothers,” the soldiers who had already suffered for years and needed their help. The American journalist Rheta Dorr interviewed several women intent on avenging personal losses. The way a variety of motives could animate any given individual is illustrated in the petition to volunteer from twenty-four-year-old Kseniia Otto of Kiev, submitted several days before the creation of the first women’s battalion. Kseniia wrote that she thirsted to avenge the death of her soldier brother, that she was sure that she was “capable of serving the dear Motherland,” and that “Nothing interests me in life. I would go off to the war with pleasure.” 
Clearly, some women were motivated by allegiance to the new order as well as by love of country. The revolution created the opportunity for these women to fight en masse, which makes it likely that many volunteers shared the sentiments of the two young women who wrote to the Moscow Women’s Battalion expressing “a passionate desire to serve under the banners of free Russia.” The women soldiers in Petrograd interviewed by Louise Bryant—most of whom came from poor or working-class families—told her, “We were all moved by a high resolve to die for the revolution.” But Mariia Bocharnikova’s memoir shows that there were monarchists as well as supporters of the revolution in the Petrograd Women’s Battalion. When several women said they were disappointed to make their service oath to the Provisional Government instead of the tsar, others abused them. But most insisted that one’s convictions were one’s own concern, that “our business isn’t politics, but the front.” Bocharnikova depicts one volunteer recounting her monarchist father’s fury when she told him she had enlisted. “‘Who are you going off to defend,’ he shouts, ‘that riff-raff that threw the tsar off the throne?’ ‘No, Dad,’ I say, ‘I’m going to defend Russia!'”
It is difficult to gauge the degree to which these women soldiers believed they were demonstrating women’s fitness in principle to be combatants, as opposed to acting on the belief that in a moment of national peril women were able to fight. Certainly, many prominent feminists and women radicals welcomed the women’s battalions on the former grounds. The British suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst, on a semi-official visit to Russia in the summer of 1917, made a point of watching Yashka’s battalion on parade and expressing her admiration. On August 2, 1917, at the opening of the All-Russian Women’s Military Congress, the “grandmother of the revolution,” Socialist-Revolutionary Ekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaia, approvingly linked these armed women with Russia’s female revolutionary tradition. Greeting the women soldiers as “granddaughters,” she declared, “We [women revolutionaries], too, in our own day, fought not only with words but with weapons in hand.” Publicist Sofia Zarechnaia also celebrated the heroic voluntarism of “Russia’s newest citizens,” seeing in the Battalions of Death proof that women were more than ready for equal rights. Writing two decades after the event, Nina Krylova, a junior officer in Yashka’s Battalion of Death, insisted on the women soldiers’ feminist orientation: “Each of us felt ourselves not just a Russian woman defending her own country (as every she-wolf defends her den) but also a representative of half the population of the whole planet, going into an examination, to prove that even in military matters a woman can be a worthy soldier.”
Elena Iost’s 1916 petition to be accepted into the army in effect argued that what mattered was the individual’s character, not his or her sex: “I know some men who upon being called to military service cried like children from fear and grief, even becoming sick, and you will not believe, Your Imperial Highness, how ashamed I was, ashamed and hurt at their poor-spiritedness, their weakness. I despised them. They were taken and did not go willingly, while I am prepared to give my whole soul and to spill my blood for the Motherland without fear or regret and [the authorities] will not take me. Why should this be so?”
Not all Russian women supported the women’s battalions. Some undoubtedly felt that women engaging in organized violence, even for a noble cause, was unseemly or contrary to the essential feminine nature, following the view that woman’s role is to create life, not take it. Such sentiments were commonplace prior to 1917 but rarely voiced after formation of the first women’s battalion, most likely for patriotic reasons. As Richard Stites notes, explicit condemnation of the women’s battalions typically stemmed from opposition to the war in general or to the battalions’ role in continuing the hostilities. Among the former was the prominent Bolshevik feminist Aleksandra Kollontai, who denounced the imperialist government’s exploitation of these misguided women. Less ideologically inspired were many soldiers’ wives and urban working-class women who had simply had enough of grueling work schedules, material hardships, and personal loss. They wanted an end to the war and were angry with anyone or anything that seemed to prolong it.
Paradoxically, while the revolution had transformed women’s citizenship in Russia by allowing them to become soldiers, the very act of becoming soldiers seemed to make them cease to be women. The most graphic change involved appearance: the new recruits were marched off to barbershops to have their hair closely cropped, then put on men’s uniforms. To further aid in establishing this new identity, Yashka forbade giggling and flirting, encouraged smoking, and swore at her recruits “like a cabdriver.” On their first day, she told them that from the moment they entered upon their duties “they were no longer women, but soldiers.” Similarly, Mariia Bocharnikova says that after her unit’s solemn taking of the military oath, she exclaimed, “Well, comrades, we’ve done it! We’re no longer Fekla, Mariia and Lukeriia, but soldiers of the Russian army!” Rheta Dorr recounts that the first night Yashka’s battalion spent near the front, when rowdy soldiers pounded on their barracks demanding to see the girls, the sentry responded, “There are no girls here. Only soldiers are here.”
All armies, of course, must transform their civilian recruits into soldiers, in the process ironing out markers of their individuality. But in the case of the Russian female recruits, their femaleness was also being intentionally erased. A central motive for characterizing women soldiers as not being women stemmed from anxiety about illicit, sexual relationships that might result from putting them alongside men. As one soldier bluntly put it when Yashka first proposed forming a female combat unit, “Who will guarantee that the presence of women soldiers at the front will not yield there little soldiers?” For women soldiers to succeed in inspiring—or shaming—the men by their example, their personal conduct had to be above reproach: on this issue, Yashka and the authorities were in total agreement. She constantly reminded her soldiers that they were to be a moral force within the army, which meant they must uphold their honor and that of the whole battalion. Nina Krylova recalled that Yashka advised taking a strong stand with men who insisted on seeing them as female: “Whoever looks at you like a baba or treats you like a baba—pop him in the snout without any conversation. I myself know from experience, this is the best way to show you are not a baba. Otherwise, many of these guys won’t understand.”
Most of the women soldiers appear to have accepted these norms, and to have succeeded in making the men “understand.” The majority of contemporary accounts maintain that, while male soldiers often jeered or leered at the women upon their arrival at the front, they soon accepted their seriousness of purpose—even if most did not welcome their presence—and ceased trying to treat them as women. (Similarly, the accounts concerning women soldiers in the period 1914–1916 stress that, once they had proven themselves, relations within their units were comradely, those of soldier to soldier, not male to female.) Such acceptance was critical to the women’s military mission. It also meant they did not have to endure the humiliation of seeing their service popularly perceived as more licentious and self-seeking than patriotic and self-sacrificing, a fate that has befallen women in uniform in other conflicts. Concerns about competence, acceptance, and the ability to serve as patriotic exemplars thus gave women soldiers and the men who sponsored and supported them ample reason for both insisting on the feminine virtue of women soldiers and denying their femininity.
The most remarkable testament to the degree that these women felt they had switched roles with men is provided by Mariia Bocharnikova, who reproduces a letter that women of her unit wrote in response to a patronizing letter sent to them from a soldier of the Petrograd garrison. Although her text of the letter must be treated with caution, since she wrote her memoirs in the 1950s, there is no reason to doubt the basic accuracy of the sentiments. After complimenting the women on their bravery (khrabrost’), the male soldier advised them nonetheless to stick to their huts and not eat up all the soldiers’ rations. The women replied:
Dear comrade! We were very pleased by your flattering reference to our bravery. But your last bit of advice we cannot carry out. There was a time when our valiant soldiers, not sparing their lives, defended the fatherland with their bosom, while we, simple women [babas] … baked them biscuits for the front. Now, when you have shamelessly fled the front, betraying your duty and forgetting your conscience, we have come to stand in your place and hope with honor to fulfill the obligations we’ve taken on ourselves. So allow us to give you some advice: dress yourself up in our sarafans, tie a kerchief on your head, cook the borshch, do the washing up … and wag your tongues.
[Signed] The women volunteers of the Second Company, fourth platoon.
In one respect, this letter suggests adherence to traditional gender norms, since the women soldiers still regarded fighting as properly a male role, and sought to shame the men by saying that in refusing to fight they had surrendered their masculinity and made themselves into women. At the same time, the women’s confident appropriation of the role of fighter and the honor accruing to it suggests a consciousness that, in discharging men’s obligations, they were themselves transformed.
The inspirational role of the women’s battalions worked better among enthusiastic civilians at the rear than it did at the front. The first Women’s Battalion of Death was heavily publicized, as were warm endorsements of the various battalions made by prominent individuals, both Russian and foreign. Women soldiers were referred to in newspapers as “valiant heroines” (doblestnye geroiny), and the public responded generously to calls for donations on their behalf.  A letter of June 23 to the Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death from the conservative patriotic society “For Russia” (Za Rossiiu) extended enthusiastic greetings to these “sister-citizens” (sestry grazhdanki), declaring, “Heroic epochs in the life of peoples create heroic hearts … Let your example and your sacred, noble resolve inspire the cowardly, fortify the wavering, and create a common, irreversible upsurge for the struggle with our immemorial enemy until final victory.” Fundraisers for the battalions and solemn public rituals, such as the July 2 blessing of a banner given the Moscow Women’s Battalion by the Union of St. George’s Cavaliers, were made the basis for giant patriotic rallies. 
A number of observers believed that women volunteering to fight for their country helped inspire Russia’s men. Some 50,000 civilian men did join the revolutionary army, but there is no way of determining how many were influenced by the women’s example. Of the numerous petitions preserved in the archives from men desiring to volunteer after the revolution, only one explicitly refers to women volunteers, and then on a distinctly personal level: seventeen-year-old Nikolai Beliaev of Penza wrote that his mother had enrolled in the Women’s Battalion of Death and that he had both his parents’ blessing “to fight for the Motherland and freedom” by signing up for a storm battalion. In at least one instance, the women’s example prompted reservists to request frontline duty: in their petition to be moved as quickly as possible to the front, the soldiers of the Sixth Company of the Thirty-third Mounted Reserve Regiment, Simferopol, wrote that they did not like sitting in the rear “at a time when even women are being mobilized.”
Unfortunately, among regular soldiers, these women in uniform were more likely to be objects of ridicule, resentment, or outright hostility. When they arrived to join the 172nd Division of the Tenth Army at the front in early July, their unit now approximately three hundred strong, Yashka’s women soldiers were booed and harassed. “Why did you come here?” they were asked. “You want to fight? We want peace! We have had enough fighting!” The response to women soldiers appears in some ways analogous to the resentment British WAACs could encounter upon taking up their duties in 1917 and 1918 in France: just as the arrival of women put some male soldiers in danger by displacing them from non-combat duties, women soldiers in Russia were understood to be at the front to compel men to participate in the offensive. The effort to shame the troops could also provoke them: writer and officer Viktor Shklovsky, a supporter of the Kerensky offensive, disagreed with the whole idea of “storm battalions” and especially the women’s battalions, which he considered “thought up expressly as an insult to the front.” Given the misogynistic streak in Russian military culture, and the larger cultural association of active courage with masculinity and cowardice and weakness with the feminine, such reactions could not have been wholly surprising.
The Tenth Army, to which Yashka’s battalion was assigned, was one of three armies comprising Russia’s rebellious Western front. The initial attacks of the Kerensky offensive, launched June 18, were concentrated on the South-Western front, but on July 7 a supporting offensive was launched along the Western front, despite clear warnings from commanders about the unreliability of troops. The Russians successfully breached the enemy’s front line on the first day of this offensive; a shock battalion, some three hundred regular soldiers, and seventy-five officers joined with the three hundred members of the Women’s Battalion of Death in an engagement that day in the Smorgon-Krevo sector near Molodechno. This advance in which the women played a central part prompted several thousand reluctant regular soldiers to follow; some two hundred prisoners were taken, and the operation was deemed a success. The gains were short-lived, however, for the refusal of other units to relieve them at the appointed time meant the women and their fellow volunteers were forced to retreat. By the end of the operation, on July 11, the women’s battalion had suffered approximately thirty-six casualties, at least two of them fatal, with Yashka among the injured.
Contemporary accounts report the women’s discipline and courage, but the example of women fighting and dying failed to inspire most of their fellow soldiers. As Novoe Vremia reported briefly, “The battalion suffered some losses, but has won historic fame for the name of women. The best soldiers looked with consideration and esteem on their new fighting comrades, but the deserters were not touched by their example, and in this respect the aim was not reached.” In the opinion of one woman journalist, the experiment’s failure stemmed in part from its anachronistic belief in the power of personal example: “The time of Joan of Arc has passed. Nowadays in war one practically never sees the enemy face to face … Iron discipline and weapons of iron are the contemporary motors of military success.” Women could not bring these things to the army.
Thereafter, as the Kerensky offensive turned into a rout, the women’s determination to keep fighting provoked more and more hostility among men consumed by the desire for peace. Several weeks after the action at Smorgon, Yashka was severely beaten by an angry mob of soldiers demanding that the women cease fighting. Her battalion’s reputation among rank-and-file soldiers was further compromised by her well-known association with General Lavr Kornilov, who became commander-in-chief on July 29, 1917, and shared her desire to reimpose strict discipline on the army. After Kornilov’s abortive, late August attempt to suppress the Petrograd Soviet, the soldiers of Yashka’s battalion, despite their proud membership in the revolutionary army, were regarded as counter-revolutionary “kornilovites,” actively persecuted, and threatened with death by their fellow soldiers. Its position having become untenable, the battalion was moved to an inactive sector where hostility toward it would not be so intense; some of its members apparently transferred to other women’s units.
Remarkably, women continued to volunteer despite the collapse of the offensive and the mounting wave of desertions. The impetus from above for recruiting civilian volunteers had already declined sharply after Kornilov replaced General Brusilov as commander-in-chief. Kornilov never shared his predecessor’s belief that patriotic enthusiasm could make up for a lack of military training, but the failure of the volunteers (both male and female) to inspire a victory no doubt convinced most observers that the miracle of the French revolutionary armies was not going to be repeated after all. In September 1917, the high command halted enlistment of women and made tentative moves toward disbanding female units, although most remained intact until after the Bolshevik assumption of power.
Meanwhile, women continued to see active duty. On September 30, two companies of the Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death, numbering 420 individuals in all, arrived at the front. It has been impossible to determine how many units were sent to the front, since the military histories of Russia’s war effort are silent on the subject of female combat participation, but other units did go. The First Petrograd Women’s Battalion would itself have seen frontline duty had political events not intervened, for in mid-October the General Headquarters (Stavka) ordered that it be sent to the Romanian front on October 25. Accordingly, on the morning of October 24, the battalion traveled from its training camp in Levashovo to Petrograd for a grand review before the Winter Palace. General Sir Alfred Knox, British military liaison to the Russian army, recorded the event in his diary: “About one thousand women marched past the Embassy this morning on their way to be inspected by Kerensky on the Palace Square. They made the best show of any soldiers I have seen since the Revolution, but it gave me a lump in the throat to see them, and the utter swine of ‘men’ soldiers jeering at them.” After the review, the Second Company was unexpectedly told to stay while the remainder of the battalion returned to camp.
It was this unit of approximately 139 women that took part in the ill-organized defense of the Winter Palace, the best-known effort of a women’s battalion. John Reed alleges that these would-be defenders of the Provisional Government, whose members had gathered for a final meeting in the palace, huddled in a back room and succumbed to hysterics, while Cossacks and officer trainees did the real defending. Nikolai Sukhanov, indefatigable diarist of the revolution, reported that the women and Cossacks simply went home early. However, accounts by Mariia Bocharnikova and other participants and eyewitnesses do not bear out these allegations. Apparently, the women were among the last to give up on the evening of October 25, most of the other defenders having melted away due to the lack of leadership, the failure of promised reinforcements to materialize, and sheer hunger. According to initial Bolshevik accounts, General Knox reported, “the company of women offered the most serious resistance.” In the early hours of the morning, the women soldiers were arrested and marched to the barracks of the Pavlovskii regiment. Two of the battalion’s male officers, fearful about the women’s fate, went to the British Embassy to ask for help on their behalf. Knox agreed to go to Bolshevik headquarters and with some difficulty secured the women’s immediate release. Widespread rumors to the effect that the women soldiers had been raped and tortured were incorrect; most of the women returned the next day to their camp at Levashovo.
Then, women soldiers faced the same difficulties confronting all Russia’s soldiers during the chaotic demobilization process that began November 10, 1917. There were no formal provisions for these suddenly unemployed soldiers, no apparatus to ease the transition to civilian life amid conditions of economic collapse. In some instances, women fared better than their male counterparts—in Petrograd, at least, the patriotic organizations that had supported female units turned to finding them temporary lodging, food, and civilian clothes. For others, being a woman soldier became a distinct liability: although the women had been proudly linked with the revolution from the very taking of their military oath, their well-publicized presence among the defenders of the Winter Palace, and Yashka’s association with Kornilov, seemed to locate them in popular perception in the “counter-revolutionary” camp. Even out of uniform, the shaven-headed women were easy targets; Mariia Bocharnikova gathered eyewitness accounts of women soldiers who were beaten, sexually assaulted, thrown off moving trains, or killed outright in the anarchic months after the Bolsheviks took power.
The Women’s Battalions of Death fascinated the publics of Russia’s American and European allies. Many saw in the battalions a phenomenon not simply unique to Russia but somehow characteristically Russian, whether interpreted as a heroic legacy of Russia’s female revolutionary tradition or, less admiringly, as the sort of anomaly produced by a not fully “civilized” culture.  In fact, the appearance of women soldiers as a mass phenomenon was not in some way inherently Russian but rather the product of the powerful conjuncture of total war, democratizing revolution, and national emergency that occurred in Russia alone.
The phenomenon of thousands of women volunteering for combat in 1917 can be understood in part as an extension of the massive mobilization of the entire population, and the breakdown in traditional gender roles which that mobilization had already wrought. Tens of thousands of women in Russia took on jobs previously restricted to men, providing labor and services indispensable to the war effort. And even prior to the revolution, dozens, or perhaps hundreds, became “fighters” not metaphorically but literally, with weapons in hand at the front. Clearly, the cataclysm of war was changing how gender was constructed in Russia, and many contemporaries believed that these changes might outlast the conflict that created them.
The February Revolution combined powerfully with the mobilizing, transformative effects of the war. Radically democratizing Russia, beginning the process of extending to women full political rights and equality before the law, and espousing an active, conscious, inclusive notion of citizenship, the revolution further eroded pre-war social and gender boundaries. It created the legal, symbolic, and moral grounds on which newly minted women citizens could become citizen soldiers. The revolution also contributed to the creation of the national emergency that made thinkable the large-scale use of women in combat, by accelerating the army’s disintegration and thus raising the specter of defeat.
The way some of Russia’s women responded to the new national emergency was to take up arms, on a scale that surprised the country and the world. Their self-mobilization for combat was not solely or even primarily a “bourgeois” or intelligentsia outpouring, although it appears to have been more urban than rural. The movement’s transcendence of class and social status reminds us that class conflict and class identity, as important as they became, existed alongside and sometimes yielded to other, powerful loyalties. The patriotism of women soldiers also cut across political boundaries. Most were democratically inclined, but monarchists as well as republicans, liberals, socialists, and the politically undefined were prepared to shoulder a rifle and swear an oath that proclaimed, “my death for the Motherland and for the freedom of Russia is happiness.”
The appearance of the first modern, governmentally sanctioned female combat units also reminds us about the genuinely revolutionary nature of the Russian Provisional Government—at least from the May 5 establishment of the First Coalition—a quality long denied it in both Soviet and Western historiography. The regime approved formation of women’s battalions, organized around them public, revolutionary rituals, and incorporated the women soldiers in articulation of a broader, revolutionary-civic patriotism directed at all citizens. Placed in the context of the more limited military mobilization of women into auxiliary services engaged in by several other belligerents, Russia’s willingness to extend to women full combat experience, as well as the same pay and privileges as male volunteers, is striking. While the Provisional Government’s object in making women into soldiers was clearly an instrumental one—generals and political leaders were arming women for national rather than liberationist goals—its break with the millennia-old tradition of excluding women from armed defense of their country was nonetheless a revolutionary precedent.
These women soldiers were too diverse to allow for broad generalizations about the nature of their patriotism and the meanings they assigned to their bearing of arms, but certain common themes emerge. Motives for fighting could vary dramatically, from disinterested love of the motherland, hatred of the enemy, or concern for “brothers” at the front to more personal desires for glory, escape, or adventure. But whatever the motives or combination thereof, these individuals believed women were capable of physically fighting for their country, or even for “the freedom of the whole world,” at least in exceptional circumstances, and they were proud to do so. Having enlisted, they were determined to prove that they were genuine soldiers, not simply babas in uniforms, thereby earning honor for themselves and their units. Some expressed compassion and others scorn for the incapacity of male soldiers to continue fighting, but few challenged the traditional gender norm that soldiering is a male duty. However, some saw more permanent role changes, explicitly expressing their belief that, since the revolution had transformed women into full citizens of a democracy, they had a right—or could share in the general obligation—to bear arms for their country.
Unfortunately, we cannot know the degree to which these women’s understandings of gender, patriotism, and citizenship were permanently altered by their experience of soldiering. Nor is there any way of determining the eventual fate of most of the 5,000 or more women who entered combat units. Some joined the anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian civil war, usually as Sisters of Mercy rather than as soldiers. Others joined the Red Army, which explicitly allowed women to enlist during the civil war period. Despite more egalitarian language, however, the Bolsheviks were generally as uncomfortable with the idea of women as potential killers as were their opponents: most women soldiers of the Red Army filled non-combat roles, and no regular women’s units were formed.
A little more is known about those who left memoirs. Yashka claimed that V. I. Lenin tried to recruit her to the Red side; she instead went to the United States in an effort to muster support for the anti-Bolshevik cause, even meeting with President Woodrow Wilson. She made her way back to Russia in 1919, organizing a women’s paramedic unit in Siberia under White leader Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, then returned home to her parents in Tomsk when Kolchak’s movement was defeated. She was arrested on Christmas Day by agents of the cheka (special police), tried as an enemy of the workers’ regime, and shot on May 16, 1920. She was thirty years old. Mariia Bocharnikova, of the First Petrograd Women’s Battalion and a defender at the Winter Palace, joined the anti-Bolshevik cause as a medical worker and was wounded; she emigrated after the war, working as a lady’s companion and dying in France in the early 1960s. Nina Krylova, a junior officer in Yashka’s battalion, married a volunteer and subsequently emigrated with him to Belgium: she proudly told her son to tell his schoolmates that he was the son of two Russian officers. Deported by the Nazis during the occupation, Krylova apparently died during an Allied bombardment.
In the postwar years, as hundreds of books by scholars and participants began to appear on the Great War, the recently celebrated Russian women soldiers were conspicuous by their absence. In Soviet Russia, the omission of the women soldiers was partly a function of a larger omission, that of the “Great War” itself. For obvious reasons, the war occupied a limited and negative place in the Soviet foundation myth. Bolshevik denunciation of the imperialist war in 1917 had been critical to the party’s political success, while the need to deliver the promised peace impelled Lenin’s fledgling government to conclude a disastrous treaty in March 1918, galvanizing civil war. During its first decade, the Soviet regime derived its legitimacy from the revolution and civil war victory; the imperialist debacle that preceded them, along with its soldiers, was not an appropriate object of national commemoration. In marked contrast to the practices of the other belligerents, Soviet Russia held no annual observances in connection with the war, and erected in its name no public monuments as sites of memory or mourning.
Even the record of popular patriotism would be mostly expunged by the (initially) internationalist regime, being characterized as a brief, misguided outpouring that was soon confined to the capitalist classes and a few social elements too backward to know better. Alive to the potency of names, the Soviets changed the appellation of the conflict itself, from the “Great War” or “Second Patriotic War” to the “First Imperialist War,” further emptying its memory of national content. The term “patriotic” would be appropriated for the Soviet experience of World War II, and victory in that struggle—called the “Great Patriotic War” (velikaia otechestvennaia voina)—provided the regime a powerful new source of legitimacy.
Clearly, then, there was no place in early Soviet narratives of the Imperialist War for patriotic citizen soldiers of either sex. But the women’s effacement was more complete. In the late 1930s, when the leadership openly shifted to nationalist perspectives and began girding the country for the confrontation with fascism, Soviet history books featured positive treatment of Russia’s soldiers of World War I; the women soldiers, however, were left out. This circumstance, along with their omission from Russian émigré and Western narratives of the war, suggests that gender indeed partially explains the memory hole. So, too, does a similar neglect, at least until relatively recently, of Soviet and American women military pilots in histories of World War II. When the women soldiers did rate inclusion in historical narratives, it was more likely to be those of revolution rather than of war. There they figured not in an offensive capacity, at the front, but defensively, at the Winter Palace; not as fighters for the motherland but as participants, or pawns, in a partisan struggle; and not as thousands taking up arms at a critical martial juncture but as a small, armed unit in the final act of a political drama. Their very presence could appear emblematic of the feebleness of the Provisional Government, an entity ultimately able to command the support of only women and boys.
The volunteer soldiers’ inability to save their country from defeat helps explain why their story was forgotten but also why the appearance of women’s combat units did not prove a harbinger of things to come. Although Yashka’s sketchily trained Women’s Battalion of Death acquitted itself commendably in battle, Russia’s exhausted and demoralized army was already beyond either inspiration or threats. Had the outcome of the summer 1917 Russian offensive been different, American and European women’s experience of war in the twentieth century might also have been different. Perhaps Western societies would have resolved decades earlier upon the efficacy and propriety of extending to women the citizen’s right to bear arms in defense of one’s country, thereby including them in the tradition of “armed civic virtue.” Instead, at the conclusion of World War I, the societies of most of the combatant countries largely restored pre-war gender roles and occupations. The extension of full civic and political citizenship to women was uneven or belated. And when total war again devastated Europe, the overwhelming majority of women would experience war, as always, unarmed.
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One of the greatest pleasures of scholarship is being part of a scholarly community: many individuals and institutions in that community have contributed to the writing of this article. An earlier version was presented at the annual national convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, St. Louis (November 1999), and it has profited from audience suggestions. I have been enormously helped by Cathy A. Frierson, Sandie Holguin, Catherine Kelly, Laurie Burnham, Judith Lewis, and the anonymous readers of the AHR, for their close readings of various drafts, as well as by long conversations in Moscow with Eric Lohr on the subject of World War I Russia. Joshua Sanborn and Elise K. Wirtschafter answered questions on the workings of the Russian military; William Allison and Slava Katamidze provided help on photos. I am especially grateful to Pavel Shcherbinin for his generosity in sharing numerous sources. My research and writing have been supported by the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, the Fulbright-Hayes Faculty Research Abroad Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Research Council of the University of Oklahoma.
Melissa K. Stockdale is an associate professor of history and coordinator of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where she has taught since receiving her doctorate from Harvard University in 1989. She has written on Russian political and intellectual history of the revolutionary period, including articles on liberalism and terror and the book Paul Miliukov and the Quest for a Liberal Russia, 1880–1918 (1996). Her study of Russia’s women soldiers is an offshoot of her current book project, A Hard Country to Love, which explores Russian patriotism and national identity in the crucible of the Great War.
1.� Descriptions come from Bessie Beatty, The Red Heart of Russia (New York, 1919), 94–95; Maria Botchkareva [sic], Yashka, My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile, as set down by Isaac Don Levine (New York, 1919), 189–92; Nina Krylova in Boris Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi: Istoricheskii roman (Buenos Aires, 1955), 84–87; and Rech’ (June 22, 1917): 4.
2.� There is a diffuse and uneven literature on the history of women as fighters and in the military. Among the works I have found most helpful are Nancy Loring Goldman, ed., Female Soldiers—Combatants or Noncombatants? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Westport, Conn., 1982); Cynthia Enloe, Does Khaki Become You? The Militarisation of Women’s Lives (London, 1983); Linda Grant de Pauw, Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present (Norman, Okla., 1998); Gerard J. DeGroot and Corinna Peniston-Bird, eds., A Soldier and a Woman: Sexual Integration in the Military (Harlow, England, 2000). A different perspective is military historian Martin van Creveld, Men, Women and War (London, 2001), who presents a historical argument on women’s unsuitability for combat.
3.� Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 91.
4.� The first scholarly examination of the women’s battalions is by Richard Stites in his seminal work The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton, N.J., 1978), 295–300. See also the insightful piece by Richard Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons of 1917,” in Linda Edmondson, ed., Women and Society in Russia and the Soviet Union: Selected Papers from the Fourth World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies (Cambridge, 1992), 124–44; neither of these scholars had access to relevant Russian archives for their accounts. Treatments drawing on archives are by Laurie Stoff, “They Fought for Russia: Female Soldiers of the First World War,” in DeGroot and Peniston-Bird, Soldier and a Woman, 66–82; and A. S. Senin, “Zhenskie batal’ony i voennye komandy v 1917 godu,” Voprosy istorii, no. 10 (1987): 176–82; see also Iu. N. Ivanova, Khrabreishie iz prekrasnykh: Zhenshchiny Rossii v voinakh (Moscow, 2002), 107–18.
5.� I use the phrase “Russian women” in the broad meaning of women who were subjects of the Russian Empire—rossiiskie zhenshchiny—as opposed to the more narrow term russkie zhenshchiny, which would refer only to women who were ethnically Great Russian. The non-Russian national groups constituted nearly 50 percent of the empire’s population.
6.� Here, I employ the term patriotism in its most traditional way, as love of and loyalty to one’s country, or what Eric Hobsbawm refers to as state patriotism; such a definition does not determine or rank specific focuses of love and loyalty within the abstraction “country”—ruler, institutions, compatriots, native land—or preclude a critical attitude toward the existing status quo. On patriotism, see E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge, 1990), 86–93; Eugene Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen (Stanford, Calif., 1976), 95–114; and Hugh Cunningham, “The Language of Patriotism, 1750–1914,” History Workshop Journal, no. 12 (1981): 8–33. On the practice of such patriotism, see Earle L. Hunter, A Sociological Analysis of Certain Types of Patriotism (New York, 1932), 18–19, who writes that a signal manifestation of patriotism is “the support which national states expect from their citizenry in times of defense or offense against external enemies. It is also evident that to the citizens themselves activity matching this expectation is the outstanding service which patriotism denotes.”
7.� Full-length published memoirs are those by Maria (“Yashka”) Bochkareva and Nina Krylova (see note 1); shorter published recollections are referenced elsewhere. Bochkareva dictated her account to a Russian émigré in New York while events were still fresh in her mind. More problematic is Krylova’s text, written some twenty years after the war and posthumously published in novelized form by her friend Boris Solonevich as Woman with a Bayonet: An Historical Novel. Although some episodes appear to have been reworked for dramatic effect (particularly the chapter on defending the Winter Palace), most of the account seems plausible. A third full-length memoir is by Mariia Bocharnikova, “V zhenskom batal’one smerti,” in the Bakhmeteff Archive (hereafter, BAR), General Manuscript Collection, Columbia University, New York. In the fall of 1918, Bocharnikova (whose name is confusingly similar to that of battalion founder Maria Bochkareva) wrote down her experiences as a soldier. She used these notes to write a memoir in the 1950s but was able to publish only the section relating to defense of the Winter Palace: Mariia Bocharnikova, “Boi v zimnem dvortse,” Novyi zhurnal (New York, 1962): 216–27. It is impossible to tell how much Bocharnikova reworked her original notes, which have not been preserved, but her account of the battalion appears careful and eschews sensationalism.
8.� “Preface,” Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias, eds., Women, Militarism, and War: Essays in History, Politics and Social Theory (Savage, Md., 1990), xi; J. G. A. Pocock on Bruni quoted in Linda K. Kerber, “May All Our Citizens Be Soldiers and All Our Soldiers Citizens: The Ambiguities of Female Citizenship in the New Nation,” in Women, Militarism, and War, 91–92; Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War (New York, 1987), 49–60. An excellent short discussion of the concept of civic virtue is Richard Dagger, “Republican Citizenship,” in Engin F. Isin and Bryan S. Turner, eds., Handbook of Citizenship Studies (London, 2002), 145–58. A stimulating collection of essays exploring the intersections between war and gender is Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott, eds., Gendering War Talk (Princeton, N.J., 1993).
9.� The nature and attributes of citizenship are, of course, highly contested. The definition I use here is based on Rogers Brubaker’s discussion of the French Revolution and the origins of the modern institution of national citizenship, but it does not take up the distinction he draws between citizenries defined as a territorial community and those defined as a community of descent; Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), x, 39–49. The classic formulation of citizenship understood as encompassing social rights no less than civil and political rights is T. H. Marshall, “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Marshall, Class, Citizenship, and Social Development (Westport, Conn., 1973). Conscription, citizenship, and the notion of “equality of sacrifice” are discussed in Margaret Levi, Consent, Dissent, and Patriotism (Cambridge, 1997), esp. 80–130; see also Alan Forrest, “La Patrie en Danger: The French Revolution and the First Levée en Masse,” in Daniel Moran and Arthur Waldron, eds., The People in Arms: Military Myth and National Mobilization since the French Revolution (Cambridge, 2003), 8–32; and Bertrand Taithe, Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870–1871 (London, 2001), 1–20. A different perspective on gender in modern traditions of thinking on citizenship is Ursula Vogel, “Is Citizenship Gender-Specific?” in Vogel and Michael Moran, eds., The Frontiers of Citizenship (New York, 1991), 58–85, which identifies the institution of marriage as the original terrain on which was worked out women’s exclusion from direct membership in the community of citizens.
10.� George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Oxford, 1996), esp. 50–55, 107–11; and Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York, 1990), 15–33, 65–69; Mosse notes challenges to this normative ideal of masculinity by century’s end but contends that it was still dominant on the eve of World War I. See also Joshua S. Goldstein, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (Cambridge, 2001), 251–321; and, for the American tradition, R. Claire Snyder, Citizen-Soldiers and Manly Warriors: Military Service and Gender in the Civic Republic Tradition (Lanham, Md., 1999), 85–91.
11.� Noting that the subjects of the Russian Empire still did not enjoy full, modern citizenship in 1914 is not to say that a dynamic civil society was not developing in tsarist Russia or that the incomplete revolution of 1905 did not give impetus to the development of citizenship rights. See particularly Joseph Bradley, “Subjects into Citizens: Societies, Civil Society, and Autocracy in Tsarist Russia,” AHR 107 (October 2002): 1094–1123; and Edith W. Clowes, Samuel D. Kassow, and James L. West, eds., Between Tsar and People: Educated Society and the Quest for Public Identity in Late Imperial Russia (Princeton, N.J., 1991). An analysis of the 1905 rhetoric of citizenship as it applied to women is Linda Edmondson, “Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and the Debate over Citizenship in the 1905 Revolution,” in Edmondson, Women and Society in Russia, 77–100. On reform and citizenship expectations for the war, see Melissa K. Stockdale, “Russian Liberals and the Contours of Patriotism in the Great War,” Russkii liberalizm: Istoricheskie sud’by i perspektivy (Moscow, 1999), 283–92; and V. Iu. Cherniaev, in “Pervaia mirovaia voina i perspektivy demokraticheskogo preobrazovaniia rossiiskoi imperii,” in Rossiia i pervaia mirovaia voina: Materialy mezhdunarodnogo nauchnogo kollokviuma (St. Petersburg, 1999), 189–99.
12.� R. N. Shishkina-Iavein, “Voina i zhenshchina,” in Chego zhdet Rossiia ot voiny: Sbornik statei (Moscow, 1915), 210–16; on Russian feminists in the war, see Linda Harriet Edmondson, Feminism in Russia, 1900–17 (Stanford, Calif., 1984), 158–65. A thoughtful discussion of women’s wartime service as a basis for gaining full citizenship is Susan R. Grayzel, Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1999), esp. chap. 6.
13.� There is a rich literature on women’s experience of World War I; among the many works that have informed my discussion are Gail Braybon, Women Workers in the First World War (London, 1981); Margaret H. Darrow, French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front (Oxford, 2000); Nicoletta Gullace, “White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War,” Journal of British Studies 36, no. 2 (April 1997): 178–206; Krisztina Roberts, “Gender, Class and Patriotism: Women’s Paramilitary Units in First World War Britain,” International History Review 19, no. 1 (February 1997): 52–65; Margaret Higonnet, Jane Jensen, et al., Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars (New Haven, Conn., 1987); and Angela Woollacott, On Her Their Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War (Berkeley, Calif., 1994).
14.� The women’s services in Britain enrolled more than 90,000 women; on women’s auxiliaries, see David Mitchell, Women on the Warpath: The Story of the Women of the First World War (London, 1966), 222–28. For the German experience, see Ute Daniel, The War from Within: German Working-Class Women in the First World War, Margaret Ries, trans. (Oxford, 1997), esp. 65–86; and Robert Asprey, The German High Command at War (New York, 1991), 403; by war’s end, the German military employed some 17,000 women. The American military, not having comparable manpower shortages, made limited use of women’s auxiliaries: the navy and marines enlisted a total of 12,185, while the army accepted no women outside the Army Nurse Corps.
15.� The fullest overview of Russian women in the war is Alfred G. Meyer, “The Impact of World War I on Russian Women’s Lives,” in Barbara Evans Clements, et al., Russia’s Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation (Berkeley, Calif., 1991), 208–24; see also Barbara A. Engel, “Not by Bread Alone: Subsistence Riots in Russia during World War One,” Journal of Modern History 69 (1997): 696–721; and Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of the Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and Women Workers in 1917 (Athens, Ohio, 1999), chap. 5. On women in refugee work, see Peter Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during World War I (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 125–27. The figure for Red Cross nurses is given by V. S. Krivenko in Russkii invalid (May 25, 1917): 4. The term social patriotism, understood as an expression of loyalty to the people of one’s country rather than to a ruler or ideology, comes from Hubertus F. Jahn, Patriotic Culture in Russia during World War I (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995), 90.
16.� The gendering of work roles is not identical from culture to culture, or even from class to class, and the expected behaviors and activities of Russian women could differ from those of women in other countries of Europe in the pre-war period. On women’s work in Russian peasant society, see, for instance, Christine Worobec, “Victims or Actors? Russian Peasant Women and Patriarchy,” in Esther Kingston-Mann and Timothy Mixter, eds., Peasant Economy, Culture, and Politics of European Russia, 1800–1921 (Princeton, N.J., 1991), 177–206; on factory workers, see Rose L. Glickman, Russian Factory Women: Workplace and Society, 1880–1914 (Berkeley, Calif., 1984); a case study for a profession is Christine Ruane, Gender, Class, and the Professionalization of Russian City Teachers, 1860–1914 (Pittsburgh, 1994); an overview of changes affecting women’s work for the period 1861–1917 is Barbara Alpern Engel, “Transformation versus Tradition,” in Clements, Russia’s Women, 135–47. My point here is that Russians were highly conscious of the way the war had introduced women into many kinds of waged labor and spheres of activity from which they had previously been excluded.
17.� “Russia’s Women Soldiers,” Literary Digest (August 25, 1917): 20, V. V. Brusianin, Voina, zhenshchiny i deti (Moscow, 1917), 63; “Warrior Women,” Literary Digest (June 19, 1915): 1460; and “Zhenshchiny-geroi,” Voina, no. 24 (1915): 6. It is worth noting that the terms fatherland (otechestvo) and motherland (rodina) were used more or less interchangeably in both printed texts and petitions.
18.�Zhenshchina i voina (March 1915): 11; “Young Girls Fighting at the Russian Front,” New York Times Current History of the European War (May 1916): 367; “Those Russian Women,” Literary Digest (September 29, 1917): 53; and Brusianin, Voina, 62–63, 105–06. The sensationalized autobiography of a girl who joined a Cossack unit is Marina Yurlova, Cossack Girl (New York, 1934).
19.� The London Graphic did not give a source for its figure of 400 women in the Russian army, quoted in Literary Digest (June 19, 1915): 1460; Florence Farmborough, an Englishwoman who nursed with the Russian Red Cross at the front, maintained that “A woman soldier, or boy soldier, was no unusual sight in the Russian Army.” Farmborough, With the Armies of the Tsar: A Nurse at the Russian Front in War and Revolution, 1914–1918 (New York, 1974), 300.
20.� According to Joshua Sanborn, the tsarist military’s ideals were both explicitly and implicitly masculine, and the authorities struggled to “insulate the army from feminine contamination”; Sanborn, Drafting the Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905–1925 (DeKalb, Ill., 2003), esp. 132–33, 146–54, 160. See also two essays by Karen Petrone exploring the gendering of heroism and cowardice, “Masculinity and Heroism in Imperial and Soviet Military-Patriotic Cultures,” in Barbara Evans Clements, Rebecca Friedman, and Dan Healy, eds., Russian Masculinities in History and Culture (Basingstoke, England, 2002), 172–93, and “Family, Masculinity, and Heroism in Russian War Posters,” in Billie Melman, ed., Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace, 1870–1930 (New York, 1998), 95–119. An earlier exception to the prohibition on women bearing arms comes from the distinct martial culture of the Don Cossacks, which during the pre-modern period countenanced women fighting: Shane O’Rourke, “Women in a Warrior Society: Don Cossack Women, 1860–1914,” in Rosalind Marsh, ed., Women in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge, 1996), 46.
21.� Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Voenno-Istoricheskii Arkhiv (Russian State Military Historical Archive, hereafter RGVIA), Moscow, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, l. 69, petition of Elena Iost, May 28, 1916. Nina Krylova says many of her fellow women soldiers mentioned Durova; Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 91. Brusianin, Voina, 63, gives other examples of girls pointing to Durova. An English translation of the memoirs is Nadezhda Durova, The Cavalry Maiden, Mary Fleming Zirin, trans. (Bloomington, Ind., 1989).
22.� A few women also fought as partisans in 1812 but were never incorporated into the war myth in the way Durova was; see L. Bychkova, Partizanskoe dvizhenie v otechestvennoi voine 1812 goda (Moscow, 1941). Additionally, as was the case in virtually every Western society into the nineteenth century, there were women associated with the army in non-combat capacities: Russia permitted soldiers’ wives to follow the army, since they provided essential services such as sewing and laundering. A law of 1821 banned wives from joining the army in the field; the military reforms of 1874 and 1912 seem to have further distanced women from the army in any capacity but nursing. On soldiers’ wives, see Elise Kimmerling Wirtschafter, From Serf to Russian Soldier (Princeton, N.J., 1990), 34–40. On women in the Russian army prior to 1914, see Iu. V. Ivanova, “Zhenshchiny v istorii rossiiskoi armii,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, no. 3 (1992): 86–89. On the marginalization of camp followers in histories of the military, see Enloe, Does Khaki Become You? 1–17; and Scott N. Hendrix, “In the Army: Women, Camp Followers and Gender Roles in the British Army in the French and Indian Wars, 1755–1765,” in DeGroot and Peniston-Bird, Soldier and a Woman, 33–48.
23.� Response of the duty general for the Supreme Command to the petition of Anastasia Kovalenka, February 21, 1916, RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, ll. 23, 45, 71–72, 131. Of the seventeen petitions in this file requesting admittance into the regular army in 1916, only two or three were granted (the final outcome is not always clear).
24.� The poster is reproduced in Russkii plakat pervoi mirovoi voiny (Moscow, 1992), 75; A. K. Iakovleva, “Prizyv k zhenshchinam,” Zhenshchina i voina (March 1915): 2.
25.� The dynastic use of the Borodino centennial is discussed in Richard Wortmann, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in the Russian Monarchy, vol. 2 (Princeton, N.J., 2000), 428–38. An edition of Durova’s memoirs was among the many works published in 1912 concerning the Patriotic War: N. A. Durova, Zapiski kavalerist-devitsy Durovoi (St. Petersburg, 1912).
26.� An early example of references to the “Second Patriotic War” is the lead article in the government-subsidized peasant newspaper Sel’skii vestnik (July 23, 1914): 1, declaring that, “Entering into a second patriotic war, Russia will meet it exactly as she did the first”; other examples include the Petrograd daily Istoriia vtoroi otechestvennoi voiny (founded September 3, 1914); G. Anofiev, ed., Vtoraia otechestvennaia voina: Sbornik statei, stikhotvorenii i rasskazov (Kaluga, 1915); Vtoraia otechestvennaia voina: Po rasskazam ee geroev (Petrograd, n.d.); and such entities as the “Society for Care for Orphans of Soldiers of the Second Patriotic War.” Liberals and moderate socialists were more likely to speak of the “great war” or “great world war” (velikaia vsemirnaia voina).
27.� On Russia’s great retreat, see Norman Stone, The Eastern Front, 1914–1917 (London, 1975), 128–43, 165–91. Examples of patriotic appeals are in Kievlianin (June 12, 1915): 3; and especially “Otechestvo v opasnosti” (The Fatherland is in danger) (July 23, 1915): 3.
28.� Stites, Women’s Liberation Movement, 291–95; and Edmondson, Feminism in Russia, 165–68.
29.�Vestnik vremennogo pravitel’stva (June 14, 1917): 1; six weeks elapsed between the order’s signing and its publication.
30.� Statement of commission chair O. A. Nekrasova, Russkii invalid (June 16, 1917): 1, and (June 17, 1917): 3. While no obligatory military service for women was instituted, an order of August 22 tried to attract women volunteers for non-combat railroad security, to replace male soldiers; RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, l. 28.
31.� Sanborn, Drafting the Russian Nation, 80–82. Typically, pamphlets aimed at a popular audience identified freedom and equality as the true hallmarks of the citizen. Liberals and moderate socialists were also likely to remind readers that even members of unpopular groups and privileged classes enjoyed these rights, that freedom was not license, and that citizens were “responsible people”; see, for example, N. S. Arsen’ev, “O svobodakh i obiazannostiakh grazhdanina” (Moscow, 1917), 4–6; N. N. Pchelin, “Grazhdanin i ego obiazannosti” (Moscow, 1917), 8–9, 11, 14–15; and P. V. Gerasimov, “Novyi stroi i prava svobodnykh grazhdan” (Petrograd, 1917), 3, 9. The ways different groups understood and employed the languages of citizenship are explored by Orlando Figes and Boris Kolonitskii, Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (New Haven, Conn., 1999), 104–26.
32.� This figure is a rough extrapolation, since figures for Russian military casualties in the war are disputed and are not broken down for the period ending in 1916; see A. E. Stepanov, “Obshchie demograficheskie poteri naseleniia Rossii v period pervoi mirovoi voiny,” Pervaia mirovaia voina: Prolog XX veka (Moscow, 1998), 474–84, who estimates 10.7 million military casualties (3 million of which were deaths) by the end of 1917, for approximate losses of 60 percent in the armed forces. On the army’s troubled state by the fall of 1916, see Allan K. Wildman’s magisterial study, The End of the Russian Imperial Army: The Old Army and the Soldier’s Revolt (March–April 1917) (Princeton, N.J., 1980), 107–15.
33.� The notorious Order No. 1 was addressed only to soldiers of the Petrograd Military District, but its speedy dissemination at the front effectively made it applicable to the armed forces as a whole. On the impact of these orders, see Wildman, End of the Russian Imperial Army, 182–90, 332–48, 362–72; and W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage through Armageddon: The Russians in War and Revolution (New York, 1986), 349–50, 404.
34.� On the model of the French Revolution for creation of revolutionary units, see N. G. Ross, “Popytka sozdaniia russkoi revoliutsionnoi armii (mai-iiun’ 1917 g.),” rpt. in Novyi chasovoi, no. 1 (1994): 76; the connection between revolutionary war and efforts to cultivate a new civic patriotism is discussed by Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution (New York, 1996), 408–12. Complexities inherent in summoning “the people” to arms in a multinational polity are explored in Mark von Hagen, “The Levée en Masse from Russian Empire to Soviet Union, 1874–1938,” in Moran and Waldron, People in Arms, 159–88. On misuse of the lessons of the French Revolution in Russia, see John Keep, “1917: The Tyranny of Paris over Petrograd,” Soviet Studies 20 (July 1968): 22–45.
35.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 347, “Formation of Volunteer Battalions, 1917,” ll. 2, 17; Brusilov’s telegrams of May 16 and May 20, to the Petrograd Soviet and General Staff.
36.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 56, 72–76, 139–53; and S. V. Drokov, “Organizator Zhenskogo batal’ona smerti,” in Voprosy istorii, no. 7 (1993): 164–65.
37.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 157–59.
38.�Russkii invalid (June 24, 1917): 5. The text of the ten-point oath taken by the “revolutionary-citizen” volunteer is reproduced in Razlozhenie armii v 1917 godu (Moscow, 1923), 69–70. I have assembled figures for the number of such units from data in the file “Correspondence on Forming Shock Battalions and Battalions of Death,” RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 352, ll. 65–69.
39.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 161–62; the government-sponsored military newspaper Russkii invalid (May 26, 1917): 4, announced the organization of women’s “marching companies” under Bochkareva, with an address for those wishing to enlist. The text of the appeal from the Women’s Congress is in Rech’ (May 28, 1917): 6, emphasis added.
40.�Moskovskie vedomosti (June 17, 1917): 1; Russkie vedomosti (July 6, 1917): 4; and Rheta Childe Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution (New York, 1917), 82. Dorr, a war correspondent for the Evening Mail, spent several weeks with Bochkareva’s battalion; she and Beatty provide the most detailed descriptions of the battalions by outsiders. Russkii invalid (July 2, 1917): 3.
41.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, ch. 2, ll. 60–63; the authorities checked into Tupitso’s claims about her service, which were confirmed; there are no records as to whether she formed her legion. Petrova’s letter is reproduced in Razlozhenie armii, 70. Tatiana Aleksinskaia, Zhenshchina v voine i revoliutsii (Petrograd, 1917), 15, mentions local initiatives in Tambov, Mariupol’, Baku, Ekaterinburg, Tashkent, Odessa, Pskov, Minsk, Riga, and Ufa. References to units in Tomsk and Perm, respectively, come from Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 82; and Stites, Women’s Liberation Movement, 299, n. 18.
42.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 347, l. 19.
43.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 347, ll. 11–12, telegram from General Denikin to General Brusilov, May 18, 1917, and l. 18, telegram from Alekseev to Brusilov, May 21, 1917; see also Ross, “Popytka sozdaniia russkoi revoliutsionnoi armii,” 77–78.
44.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 10–11, 19–20, 23, 42, 47, and f. 29, op. 3, d. 1603, “On Forming Units of Women-Volunteers, 21 June–24 December, 1917,” ll. 21–22. The popular illustrated magazine Niva featured photographs of women sailors (zhenshchiny-matrosy), October 7, 1917. By early August, the military authorities had transferred responsibility for organizing female units to the Women’s Military Union in Petrograd.
45.�Rech’ (June 18, 1917): 5.
46.� Aleksinskaia, Zhenshchina v voine i revoliutsii, 11–12, 14; she also proposed formation of “one mighty, all-Russian Union of Daughters of the Fatherland” to save the country. Concerning women’s rights in the French Revolution, it is worth noting that women were not empowered to bear arms, despite requests to do so; see Darlene Gay Levy and Harriet B. Applewhite, “Women and Militant Citizenship in Revolutionary Paris,” in Sara E. Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine, eds., Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution (New York, 1992), 79–101; and Olwen H. Hufton, Women and Citizenship in the French Revolution (Toronto, 1992), esp. 3–50.
47.� Margaret Darrow notes the difficulty French public opinion had envisioning the relationship between women and the masculine project of war: the French war myth could accommodate women around war but not directly “in” it, which helps explain why women’s participation in the war was so quickly forgotten; Darrow, French Women and the First World War, 1–20.
48.� The initial subscription for the Moscow Battalion was 371; large groups of women continued to join up even after the summer offensive collapsed, as smaller groups of volunteers dropped out on an equally steady basis; RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 1, ll. 1–5, 11–31, “Lists of Volunteers.” Figures for the Petrograd Battalion come from the captain of its Third Company: Kapitan Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” Voennaia byl’, no. 95 (January 1969), Paris, 6. In a report to the British War Office, Bernard Pares said that, as of early August, the All-Russian Central Volunteer Committee knew of some 4,000 female volunteers; cited in Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons,” 131; Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 112, gives the figure of 5,000 women in combat units. Official sources do not give figures, but the preliminary order of November 19, 1917, dissolving women’s combat units lists three battalions (Petrograd, Moscow, Ekaterinodar) and eleven liaison detachments as still in existence, which would represent about 4,300 individuals; Yashka’s battalion was by then defunct, and no mention was made of the naval unit; RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 3, d. 1603, l. 24. Military records contain no figures for unauthorized women’s units, although they complain about their proliferation.
49.� Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 112; General William V. Judson, Russia in War and Revolution, Neil V. Salzman, ed. (Kent, Ohio, 1998), 89.
50.� See, for example, “Those Russian Women,” 51.
51.� S. A. Smith, “Citizenship and the Russian Nation during World War I: A Comment,” Slavic Review 59, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 329; Figes, People’s Tragedy, 412. See also David Mandel, The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power (New York, 1984), 228–29, 239; and Wildman, End of the Russian Imperial Army, 1: 374, who asserts that, “the patriotic outpourings of cultured society notwithstanding,” peasant soldiers had regarded the war as an alien enterprise from the start.
52.� RGVIA, f. 3474, “Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death,” op. 2, d. 11. Dmitrii Stoliarov complained that his wife was supposed to be home caring for their elderly parents; he considered her enlistment “a blow worse than any the enemy has dealt me” and asked for her release.
53.� RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 16, ll. 34–56; and BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 11. Bocharnikova, unsuccessful in her pre-1917 efforts to enlist, became a Sister of Mercy; a friend telegraphed her about formation of women’s battalions, and she received her superior’s permission to volunteer.
54.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 2.
55.� Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 56–58, also mentions several ethnically non-Russian members of the battalion, including an Estonian, a Jewish woman from Poland, and, surprisingly, a Japanese woman; Louise Bryant, Six Red Months in Russia (1918; New York, 1970), 211–19. See also Botchkareva, Yashka, 164; and Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 48–55, 64–66.
56.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 10, 18, 44. Another account is by a volunteer from a group of sixty women from Viatka accepted into the Petrograd battalion: E. Piatunin, “Russkie Zhanny d’Ark (vospominaniia udarnitsy zhenskogo batal’ona smerti),” Nezavisimaia gazeta (March 4, 2000): 10. On August 23, 1917, the General Staff approved creation of a women’s battalion and liaison detachment in Ekaterinodar; RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 10, 27.
57.� The Department on Service and Pensions, General Staff, set the basic frontline pay for a rank-and-file soldier (riadovyi) in the revolutionary army at 60 rubles a year; RGVIA, f. 29, op. 3, d. 1613, l. 12. Rates of pay for women were given as 60 rubles a year in the June 29, 1917, order establishing the women’s liaison detachments; the same rates were listed on August 16 for the Minsk non-combat guard units. RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 8–9, 37, 46.
58.� Thirty women finished officers’ training and received the rank of ensign (praporshchik); reported in Russkie vedomosti (October 4, 1917): 5. Information on soldiers’ committees is in RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 1, l. 8; and Botchkareva, Yashka, 172–83. Yashka entitles an entire chapter of her memoirs “My Fight against Committee Rule.”
59.� Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 113; RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 1, l. 7.
60.� Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 101; and RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 11, ll. 12, 36, 39, 59. An analysis of the phenomenon of mass volunteering in Britain in World War I is W. J. Reader, At Duty’s Call: A Study in Obsolete Patriotism (Manchester, 1988).
61.� Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 56–57, 71; Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 67; petition from K. M. Otto, in RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, ch. 2, l. 28.
62.� RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 11, l. 36; Bryant, Six Red Months, 217.
63.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 19.
64.� On feminist attitudes toward the women soldiers, see Stites, Women’s Liberation, 298–99; and Edmondson, Feminism in Russia, 167–68. Pankhurst’s opinion is mentioned in Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons,” 128–29. On Breshko-Breshkovskaia, see Moskovskie vedomosti (August 2, 1917): 2; Rech’ (August 3, 1917): 4; and BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 7.
65.� Sofiia Zarechnaia, “Amazonki velikoi voiny,” Zhenskoe delo (July 15, 1917): 16; and Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 90–94.
66.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, l. 70.
67.� See, for example, Brusianin, Voina, 110. An argument that sees the putative incompatibility between dealing death and giving life as one common to Western culture is Nancy Huston, “The Matrix of War: Mothers and Heroes,” in Susan Rubin Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 119–36, which also touches on the deeply rooted belief that “contact with the female world inhibits men’s capacity to fight.”
68.� Stites, Women’s Liberation Movement, 297–98; for pacifist and socialist criticism, see Michael Melancon, The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Russian Anti-War Movement, 1914–1917 (Columbus, Ohio, 1990). Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” 7–8, suggests a generational factor in public attitudes: “old women cried and blessed us; others, primarily workers, cursed us and spat in our direction.”
69.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 165; and Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 50–51; BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 20; Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 68.
70.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 157–58, 160, 164, 174, 157; Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 57, 69–70.
71.� On women soldiers’ acceptance by their male comrades, see Yurlova, Cossack Girl, 49–53; Botchkareva, Yashka, 78–80, 95–96, 193–96, 208–18, 252–53; “Young Girls Fighting on the Russian Front,” 366; and Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 79–82. On allegations of loose sexual conduct directed against milicianas in the Spanish civil war and American women auxiliaries in World War II, respectively, see Mary Nash, Defying Male Civilization: Women in the Spanish Civil War (Denver, Colo., 1995), 109–12; and D’Ann Campbell, “The Regimented Women of World War II,” in Elshtain and Tobias, Women, Militarism, and War, 115–16.
72.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 15; the temporary nature of the transformation for Bocharnikova herself is suggested by her emphasis, elsewhere in the memoir, on her essential femininity both before and after military service.
73.�Russkii invalid (July 2, 1917): 3.
74.� RGVIA, f. 3474, op. 2, d. 11, l. 4; Russkie vedomosti (July 3, 1917): 6. Niva, no. 26 (1917): 895, linked patriotism, citizenship, and manly courage in its salute to the Battalion of Death’s participation in battle: “In a terrible, troubled hour Russian woman manfully [muzhestvenno] raised her head and entered the ranks of the frontline soldiers. Let this be an example, a high example of patriotism, a persuasive example of civic spirit.”
75.� Bernard Pares, cited in Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons,” 131; and RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 28, ch. 2, ll. 30–31. The text of the Sixth Company’s petition is printed in Russkie vedomosti (June 6, 1917): 3.
76.� Botchkareva, Yashka, 193–95; and Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 95–101.
77.� Viktor Shklovsky, A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917–1922, Richard Sheldon, trans. (Ithaca, N.Y., 1970), 23, 30. Sanborn, Drafting the Russian Nation, 160–61; and Petrone, “Family, Masculinity, and Heroism,” 104–10; women could also show courage but of a passive kind.
78.� Botchkareva, Yashka, estimates losses of fifty women dead or wounded, 209–19; Senin, on the basis of archival material, estimates two dead, thirty-three wounded, and two lost in action; “Zhenskie batal’ony,” 180; Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 73–75, names two women killed and reports speaking with thirty-one wounded after the engagement, saying she did not speak with the more seriously injured; Bryant, Six Red Months, 212, says six women were killed, thirty wounded. A history of the offensive is Louise Erwin Heenan, Russian Democracy’s Fatal Blunder: The Summer Offensive of 1917 (New York, 1987).
79.� Quoted in Dorr, Inside the Russian Revolution, 75. General Denikin put the blame squarely on the regular, male soldiers: Ocherki russkoi smuti, vol. 1 (Paris, 1922), vyp. 1, 136; one Siberian commander’s favorable appraisal of the battalion’s performance is reported in Rech’ (August 2, 1917): 3. See also “Russia’s Women Soldiers,” 20; “Those Russian Women,” 48; and Novoe vremia (July 11, 1917): 2. Farmborough, With the Armies of the Tsar, 304–05, wrote of hearing mixed stories, according to which some women bravely attacked while others became hysterical or fainted.
80.� Mariia Ancharova, “Batal’on smerti,” Zhenskoe delo, no. 15 (August 1, 1917): 2.
81.� Regular soldiers also beat or killed men who wanted to keep fighting; Botchkareva, Yashka, 230–36, 240–42; and Heenan, Russian Democracy’s Fatal Blunder, 118–19.
82.� There are discrepancies in the sources concerning the battalion’s fate. Botchkareva, Yashka, 242–43, 254–57, says the battalion was still functioning when the Bolsheviks seized power; Krylova, in Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 148–50, says the battalion broke itself up before that date, with some of its members joining other women’s battalions.
83.� A September 7 memo from the Stavka Committee on Formation of Revolutionary Battalions to the General Staff stated that women were still coming by frequently to volunteer for battalions and asked where to direct them; RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, l. 32. The Military Council’s decision of November 30, 1917, to disband women’s combat units was promulgated January 10, 1918, as Order No. 22 of GUGSh: RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 66–67.
84.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 54–55. The companies were assigned to the Twenty-seventh Infantry Division of the Tenth Army, on Russia’s Western front; in late October, a report to the Supreme Command asked that no more women’s units be sent to this front, noting their usefulness was “highly problematic.” Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” 10, recounts speaking in early November with the male commander of a women’s company at the front attached to one of the Turkestan divisions.
85.� RGVIA, f. 2003, op. 2, d. 349, ll. 40 and 50; Sir Alfred Knox, With the Russian Army, 1914–1917, vol. 2 (New York, 1921), 705.
86.� On John Reed, see Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons,” 124, 130–31; N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record, Joel Carmichael, ed. and trans. (Princeton, N.J., 1984), 641. Accounts by defenders include BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 23–27; Piatunin, “Russkie Zhanny d’Ark,” 10; and Aleksandr Sinegub, “Zashchita Zimnego dvortsa,” Arkhiv russkoi revoliutsii, no. 4 (Berlin, 1922): 121–97, who refers to the women as “heroine-shock fighters.”
87.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 26–30, says that after several hours the women were transferred from the hostile Pavlovskii barracks to the Grenaderskii barracks, where the soldiers treated them as comrades; see also Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” 9; Meriel Buchanan, Petrograd: The City of Trouble, 1914–1918 (London, 1918), 196–97; and Knox, With the Russian Army, 711–14. On allegations of mistreatment of the women being largely incorrect, see Bryant, Six Red Months, 212; and Beatty, Red Heart of Russia, 216.
88.� The demobilization process began with the decree of November 10 releasing soldiers of the 1899 call-up into the reserves; a more general demobilization was worked out in an order of December 21; S. N. Bazarov, “Demobilizatsiia russkoi armii,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, no. 2 (1998): 27–37. On aid given to the women soldiers, see Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” 10, who mentions receiving help from the Petrograd Committee of Public Safety and the Red Cross; and BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 42–45. Bryant, Six Red Months, 215–19, interviewed women soldiers in Petrograd who did not even own shoes.
89.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 36–42.
90.� For example, Michael Posner, “The Battalion of Death,” The Touchstone 1, no. 5 (September 1917): 431–35, portrays women soldiers defending the revolution as a natural outgrowth of Russian women revolutionaries’ long fight for freedom.
91.� Kerensky was the sole socialist in the original Provisional Government; six socialists joined him in the First Coalition, including Socialist-Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov and the prominent Menshevik Irakli Tsereteli.
92.� Bocharnikova provides information on the fate of twelve members of the First Petrograd Battalion. The six male officers for whom she has data all joined the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army; three of these were killed. Five of six women for whom she has data served with the Volunteer Army, two as soldiers; one nurse was wounded and one soldier, a Princess Cherkasskaia, was killed in battle. A male officer, Captain Shagal, later married former junior officer Natalia A. Stebel-Kamenskaia; they raised a family in Paris; BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 57–58; and Shagal, “Zhenskii batal’on,” 6.
93.� On women in the Soviet military during the civil war, see Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington, Ind., 1997), 52–57; and Sanborn, Drafting the Russian Nation, 153–58. Bryant, Six Red Months, 212, interviewed several women soldiers planning to join the Red Army.
94.� Drokov, “Organizator Zhenskogo batal’ona smerti,” 167–68; and the published transcript of Bochkareva’s final interrogation, “‘Moi batal’on neostramit Rossii … ‘ Okonchatel’nyi protokol doprosa Marii Bochkarevoi,” Rodina, nos. 8–9 (1993): 78–81. Maria “Yashka” Bochkareva was posthumously rehabilitated by the procurator of Omsk oblast, January 9, 1992.
95.� BAR, Bocharnikova Papers, “V zhenskom batal’one,” 5, 45; Solonevich, Zhenshchina s vintovkoi, 12, 150.
96.� The phrase “sites of memory” is from the influential work by Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge, 1995); for Germany’s shaping of war memory, see also Mosse, Fallen Soldiers, esp. chap. 5; and Holger H. Herwig, “Of Men and Myths: The Use and Abuse of History and the Great War,” in Jay Winter, Geoffrey Parker, and Mary R. Habeck, eds., The Great War and the Twentieth Century (New Haven, Conn., 2000), 299–330. On memory and Russia’s experience of the war, see Aaron J. Cohen, “Oh, That! Myth, Memory, and World War I in the Russian Emigration and the Soviet Union,” Slavic Review 62, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 69–86; Catherine Merridale, Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia (New York, 2001), 96–100; and the fine essay by Daniel Orlovsky, “Velikaia voina i rossiiskaia pamiat’,” in Rossiia i pervaia mirovaia voina, 49–57.
97.� For instance, M. I. Akhun and V. A. Petrov, Tsarskaia armiia v gody imperialisticheskoi voine (Moscow, 1929), 13–17. A good later example is S. V. Tiutiukin, Voina, mir, revoliutsiia: Ideinaia bor’ba v rabochem dvizhenii Rossii 1914–1917 gg. (Moscow, 1972), 77–90. Many Western scholars would not share the view that there was a great deal of popular patriotism to overlook, but Russia’s experience of World War I has only recently begun to attract much scholarly attention. Treatment of the war has largely represented the 1914 popular patriotism in Russia as short-lived, suggesting that patriotism was not well developed in the Russian Empire, or at least not widely diffused among the masses. On the brief life of patriotic enthusiasm, see Richard Stites, “Days and Nights in Wartime Russia: Cultural Life, 1914–1917,” in Aviel Roschwald and Stites, eds., European Culture in the Great War: The Arts, Entertainment, and Propaganda, 1914–1918 (Cambridge, 1999), 31 and note 51 above. Hubertus Jahn, author of the only full-length study of wartime patriotism in Russia, believes that Russians lacked a unified national identity and a clear idea of what they were fighting for, and sees patriotic culture as mainly an urban phenomenon; Jahn, Patriotic Culture, 172–75, 208. However, several studies suggest that Russian peasants and peasant-soldiers might have been better able to imagine themselves part of a national community than has been assumed, a capacity that would provide a foundation for patriotism; see Josh Sanborn, “The Mobilization of 1914 and the Question of the Russian Nation,” and Scott J. Seregny, “Zemstvos, Peasants, and Citizenship: The Russian Adult Education Movement and World War I,” both in Slavic Review 59, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 267–89, 290–315. Concerning urban workers, Eric Lohr concludes from his study of wartime anti-German riots that they “expressed powerful patriotic sentiments that were not simply incoherent xenophobia”; Lohr, “Patriotic Violence and the State: The Moscow Riots of May 1915,” Kritika 4, no. 3 (Summer 2003): 624.
98.� On Soviet memorialization of the war as a legitimating myth, see Nina Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia (New York, 1994), esp. chap. 6. For Russian revisionist scholarship on World War II, including the “politics of memory,” see Iu. N. Afanas’ev, ed., Drugaia voina, 1939–1945 (Moscow, 1995).
99.� The sole exception would appear to be Antonina Tikhonovna Palshina, a peasant girl who fought from 1914 in the tsarist army and was decorated for bravery, then married a commissar and worked for the cheka during the civil war. Her story—with emphasis on her work for Soviet power—was featured in several books and a film; see I. Kobzev, “‘Kavalerist-devitsa’ iz chekha,” Rodina, nos. 8–9 (1993): 75–77.
100.� Kerensky and Rodzianko, for example, both closely associated with forming the women’s battalions, fail to discuss them in their postwar writings; see Abraham, “Mariia L. Bochkareva and the Russian Amazons,” 149. Even Wildman’s lengthy volume on the Russian army in this period makes no mention of the existence of women soldiers: End of the Russian Imperial Army. On women as the “invisible combatants” of World War II, see D’Ann Campbell, “Women in Combat: The World War II Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union,” Journal of Military History 57, no. 2 (1993); Raina Pennington, Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat (Lawrence, Kan., 2001), esp. 155–60; and Barbara Alpern Engel, “The Womanly Face of War: Soviet Women Remember World War II,” in Nicole Ann Dombrowski, ed., Women and War in the Twentieth Century: Enlisted with or without Consent (New York, 1999), 138–61. Similarly, several scholars suggest women’s part in making the February Revolution has been unduly minimized in histories; see McDermid and Hillyar, Midwives of the Revolution, 143–62.
101.� A representative Soviet example is A. M. Astrakhan, “O zhenskom batal’one, zashchishchavshem Zimnii dvorets,” Istoriia SSSR, no. 5 (1965), who states that the “isolation of the bourgeois Provisional Government in October 1917 is clearly manifested in the bankruptcy of all its attempts to organize any sort of serious defense of the Winter Palace”; he also contends that the women soldiers had only the “foggiest notion” of current developments in the country.
102.� For the historiography of the war’s long-term impact on gender roles and relations, see Billie Melman, “Introduction,” in Melman, Borderlines, 1–25.
BY: MELISSA K. STOCKDALE