Russia's Sisters of Mercy and the Great War

More Than Binding Men's Wounds

Laurie S. Stoff

Southern Historical Association Smith Award for Best Book in European History

Southern Conference on Slavic Studies Book Award

“A welcome addition to the field. . . . offers a lively, original account of how Russian nurses fit into wider discussions of wartime politics, culture, and society, but crucially Stoff assigns them agency.

—Slavic Review

“Examines the role and position of female nurses in Russia during the Great War, drawing on personal stories to explore the ways that gender shaped the experience of war on the front lines. . . . The nurses’ experiences at the front, she emphasizes, often paralleled those of male combatants, suggesting a more fluid understanding of gender during during wartime that belies traditional conceptions of social spheres, and of war as a purely masculine endeavor defined by combat.

—Journal of Military History

See all reviews...

They are war stories, filled with danger and deprivation, excitement and opportunity, sorrow and trauma, scandal and controversy—and because they are the war stories of nurses, they remain largely untold. Laurie Stoff's pioneering work brings the wartime experiences of Russia's "Sisters of Mercy" out of the shadows to show how these nurses of the Great War, far from merely binding wounds, provided vital services that put them squarely in traditionally "masculine" territory, both literally and figuratively.

While Russian nursing shared many features of women's medical service in other nations, it was in some ways profoundly different. Like soldiers and doctors, the nurses, especially those at the frontlines, experienced extreme cold, constant fatigue, infectious diseases, deadly artillery fire, and aerial bombardment. They also assumed public leadership roles and were often in command of men. The nurses operated in a sphere traditionally considered exclusively masculine and challenged social conventions surrounding gender and war by engaging in activities considered inappropriate for women.

Filled with compelling eyewitness accounts of women who stepped outside their assigned roles in Russian society, this book gives us our first clear view of what wartime service was like for these nurses in the Great War. We learn firsthand—from memoirs and diaries, contemporary periodicals and reminiscences—about these women's motivations, the nature and specifics of their work, the cultural stereotypes and conventions that shaped their experiences, and their interactions with the men they cared for and served with. Stoff also explores the cultural and social implications of the Sisters' service—in relation to the government, the military, and the church—both immediate and long-term. The first up-close and in-depth study of Russia's nurses in the Great War, Stoffs work restores a critical chapter to the historical narrative of the war, and to the larger history of gender and culture in early twentieth-century Russia.

About the Author

Laurie S. Stoff is Senior Lecturer and Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, the Honors College, at Arizona State University and the author of They Fought for the Motherland: Russia's Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series