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
“This work contributes greatly to the understanding of Russian nursing—especially in the years of World War I—and adds both evidence and questions for those wishing to better understand the changing experiences of women both in war and in Russian society.”
—Association for Women in Slavic Studies
“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.”
“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
“Stoff’s latest work significantly advances our knowledge of the evolution of Russian nursing and its long-ignored place in the history of the tsarist empire’s healing professions in the early twentieth century. This book, written in clear, jargon-free prose, greatly enhances our understanding of an important aspect Russia’s military history. The author is to be commended for delving so thoroughly and engagingly into this subject.”
“Stoff has produced a significant work in undertaking the scholarly study of nursing on the Russian front in WWI.”
“Stoff’s work is path-breaking in telling a story that's never been told before. She has gathered a host of scattered sources and produced a compelling account of how women caught up in Russia's Great War understood themselves and their place in Russian society.”
—David R. Stone, author of The Russian Army in the Great War: The Eastern Front, 1914–1917
“Laurie Stoff’s long-awaited study of Russian sisters of mercy does not disappoint. Based on ground-breaking research, the book challenges myths of war-experience which have, for a century, hidden from view the realities of nurses’ contributions to the Russian military medical effort of the First World War. Stoff’s book combines meticulous research with incisive analysis; it is also a real pleasure to read. Russia’s Sisters of Mercy and the Great War makes a very significant contribution to the literature on women’s work during the First World War.”
—Christine Hallett, author of Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War
“Laurie Stoff’s new book challenges the “historical repression” of both the Eastern Front in the history of World War One and—even more ambitiously—the male-centered narrative of war. With this rich study of Russian nurses that focuses on their front-line experiences, she demonstrates powerfully how those experiences were shaped by a very mobile form of total war—and not the stalemated trench warfare of the Western Front—and how the rapidly transforming political and social structures of late Russian autocracy structured the limits and opportunities for nurses and women as professionals, citizens, and members of a wartime idea of the nation.”
—Mark von Hagen, author of War in a European Borderland: Occupations and Occupation Plans in Galicia and Ukraine, 1914–1918See fewer 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.