Honoring the International Women’s Day

Last week, my friend posted about the 150th anniversary of the first women college in Cambridge, and I could not resist commenting that Knox college accepted female students from the day it was founded. 

My daughter Anna graduated from Knox, and I firmly believe the Knox was one of the best things that happened in her life. And one of the best things about Knox and its history is the fact that it would accept females and blacks from the very beginning, and never rejected any student based on lack of funds.  The college founders stated:

It is beginning to be believed, and not without good reason, that females are to act a much more important part in the conversion of the world than has been generally supposed; not as preachers of the gospel, but as help-meets of those who are, and as instructors and guides of the rising generations, not only in the nursery, but in the public school. It should therefore be an object of special aim with all who pray and labor for the conversion of the world, to provide for the thorough and well-directed education of females.

George Washington Gale

However, the history of women’s education at Knox was not so straightforward. First of all, the college founders belonged to their times, and although they believed the women should have access to education, they thought it should differ from what men were offered:

Under the influence of the Gospel a different station is allotted to her, she is regarded man’s equal in worth; and although her cares, labors and responsibilities, to a considerable extent, be in a different direction, yet they are no less honorable, and require no less of intellectual and moral culture than his

Hiram Kellogg

It took several years to come up with courses designed for women.

…fiscal restrictions delayed plans for an advanced female course of study at the College’s outset. When the means for a women’s course were finally realized, seven years after the College’s first class of men had entered, courses were initially held in the new Academy building that had been built for the College’s preparatory students (due to a lack of sufficient public education, the College maintained a preparatory school for younger students, male and female, seeking admission to the College courses).

It was not until 1856 that the College’s finances finally allowed for the construction of separate housing for the seminary students. 

Knox college

Separate social standards for men and women contributed to the perception that men’s and women’s education had separate purposes. When Knox College incorporated a college program for women in 1848, it was based upon the programs of other female seminaries and therein upon a tradition of separate education.

In 1860 – 70s then Board of Trustees President Howard Curtis was strongly supporting separation of men and women education, while Miss Lydia Howard, a principle of the Seminary worked on expanded curriculum

Here is what happened next:

On Friday, March 20, 1867, the debate came to a head. President Curtis and Principal Howard were engaged in an argument over the programming for the next year’s catalogue for the Seminary when President Curtis forcibly took the catalogue from Miss Howard’s hands in an act of physical violence. When word of Curtis’ behavior reached the students the fallout was immediate. The following Saturday morning the students, who largely disliked President Curtis but admired Principal Howard, turned out in numbers on the lawn of Old Main, ringing the building’s bell and causing a commotion. From one eyewitness account, “20 or 30 of the College and Academy students … had cut the rope of the bell [in Old Main] and were turning it over and over,” in protest. The students organized a sit-down strike on the lawn, staying away from classes that following Monday and Tuesday, and demanding President Curtis’s resignation. Late on Tuesday, the Board of Trustees acquiesced to the students’ demands, and asked for Curtis’s recognition.

As part of the controversy, Howard tendered her resignation as well, leaving the Board of Trustees with questions about the future of the Female Seminary at Knox. A Trustee “Committee on Seminary” reported that their actions in hiring Miss Howard to revamp the Seminary’s curricula had been “a new and somewhat hazardous experiment.” The Committee recommended changes in the oversight of the Seminary, saying that the interests of the Seminary should be decided upon by the Seminary faculty.

The actions of President Curtis and Principal Howard had focused attention on the Female Seminary, and in the 1869 catalogue it was reported that growing interest in women’s education had prompted the Board of Trustees to consider a plan of co-education. The catalogue further called it “a happy day … when the brief, irregular, superficial, and too often contemptible style of female education shall give way to a culture which shall furnish the same facilities for success in life … now accorded to men.” By the next year, 1870, the Board of Trustees took the final step of merging the men’s and women’s courses and awarding women Bachelor’s degrees for the first time. Although the Female Seminary would remain open to accommodate women who did not desire a degree, women who were adequately prepared could follow the same coursework as their male counterparts.

I think it’s a great story, and it is very appropriate to remember on the International Women’s Day. Nowadays, when you visit Knox college and look at the graduation pictures of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century, you can see approximately the same number of male and female graduates.

Still earlier than Cambridge 🙂

Getting the First Job After College in the Soviet Union

This is the last post related to the story of higher education in the Soviet Union: how graduates would land on their first jobs.

Since it was happening in the Soviet Union, all colleges and universities were state schools, and there was no concept of the private educational establishment. I’ve already mentioned that the cost of education was zero, which did not mean that students’ life was easy. But there was still a price student had to pay upon graduation. This price was called “a distribution of specialists” or simply “a distribution.”

The Soviet Union had a “planned economy.” That meant that the government planned ahead how much of everything had to be produced in any given year, including the number of graduates of all educational establishments. And all employers: manufacturing plants, research institutions, Department of Defence, schools, hospitals, etc. had to plan how many graduates they need to fill in their positions. Since the Soviet Union did not follow the same educational standards as the rest of the world, we did not have Bachelors’s and Masters’s; everybody had to study for five years (some professions – longer). And everybody would graduate as “specialist,” not B.S. or B.A. or M.S.

The graduates were called “young specialists,” and a couple of months before graduation, they had to be “distributed.” The organizations which wanted to hire somebody had to place their requests with an educational institution. In my case, it was the Leningrad State University. There were about 300 students who would graduate the same year as me from the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics. The University would accept about 300 requests for young specialists, including those who could continue their studies as post-grad students, and including those who will become TAs in the University. 

All students were ordered by class rank, and on the day when the distribution commission was held, they were called into the room in their rank order. 

Continue reading “Getting the First Job After College in the Soviet Union”

Psychology Studies and Women’s Issues in the Soviet Union

Last week, I was interviewed for a project, and one of the questions they asked me was whether I consider myself a feminist and whether I was always that way. And I had to admit that it was not always the case. I started to tell them how I thought about women’s issues when I was still in college, and then remembered that I wanted to write a post about it for quite a while. Here it comes.

During our eighth semester at the University, we had a psychology class. At that time, psychology was all but a forbidden subject in the Soviet Union. There were close to zero books on psychology and close to zero number of specialists. And for all of us, having a psychology class felt a little bit like taking a peek behind the Iron Curtain.
We adored our professor. In our often-not-heated department building, she always came to her lectures in a light-blue suit, somehow not getting frozen to death. She changed into dress shoes before coming to class, while everybody else was walking around in the winter boots. Her lectures were captivating. But the highlights of this class were two lectures on family psychology.

These lectures were not in the curriculum, but professor G. understood that all these young people, married at twenty, were desperate for any information about how to stay together and not to get divorced before graduation.
So she had these two lectures — one for boys and one for girls. I only heard rumors about what she was talking about at the “boys” lecture, but I know what she told the girls. In fact, I attended this lecture twice: the first time a year prematurely, skipping one of my classes, and sneaking in with my older friends.
That’s what she told us. All men say they want smart wives. But what they do not say is that it means “but not smarter than me, of cause!” Thereby, girls, she would continue, when your husband comes home, put your books away immediately, put on a pretty apron, and head to the kitchen!

You don’t believe she could say this? She could, and she did! And even more surprisingly, we all thought: oh, that’s so clever! She is so right! If we want to keep our husbands/boyfriends – that’s what we should do!
She also told us: if you want to have a strong man by you, you need to be a delicate woman! You should be unable to carry anything heavy so that he won’t have any choice but to help you. You should be afraid to enter a dark hallway. You should always how, how helpless you are without his support. There was no question that a wife should always be ready to answer her husband’s sexual needs, and should always say that that’s the best she ever had. And once again, we all thought that this is incredibly smart, and never thought that all she was saying was quite discriminatory toward women.

Why did I think it was alright, I do not know.

I was always taking pride in being able to compete professionally “at men’s level.” When I learned that people were saying I am the smartest female in our class, I thought it was OK. When I was officially ranked five in my class, and officially ranked “the second female,” I also thought it was OK. I knew that in order to compete with men for a position I have to be not just better, but ten times better than men with whom I was competing,

And why I thought it was perfectly fine, I do not know…

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Student’s Life: Financials

The economic situation of a student in the Soviet Union was very different from the one of the nowadays US college student. Even then, different people had different experiences, and I am going to describe how it looked for me.

We didn’t have to pay anything for our education, and most of us didn’t work, especially during the first two years. As I’ve mentioned previously, most of the college students lived with their parents, so technically speaking, you didn’t have any significant expenses. Most of the college students had government stipends. You would get 40 rubles a month if you didn’t fail any exams in the previous semester, 46 rubles if you got all B and A, and 50 rubles if you got all A.

Different families decided differently on how their college-age children would spend their stipends. Some would request to contribute all the money to the “family fund,” some would say: whatever you want to do with this money, up to you. But most families presumed that their college-age child would start covering some of their expenses. Most often, it would be public transportation, lunches at the University, school supplies, and some of the clothing.

That was doable, but you needed to plan carefully, which not that many of the students could do. Although my Mom taught me to record expenses since I was twelve, it was challenging for me to stay on the budget, when I had my own money for the first time. I guess money management is something you have to figure out from your personal experience.

The most substantial expense was food, lunches in the University, and whenever in the city I would end up wondering after classes were over. We didn’t have a concept of a brown-bag lunch, neither in grade school nor in the University or later at work.

The University cafeterias had commercial espresso machines, although we had no idea back then, that’s what it was :). The “small regular” meant one expresso shot, the “large regular” meant americano, a “double small” meant double espresso, and then it was a “large double” – and americano with an extra espresso shot. And there was no milk of any kind to add to your coffee unless you buy a carton of milk.

The most common food was a hotdog, but it was not what you think. It was a single hotdog boiled in hot water with a piece of rye bread. No hot dog bun, no relish, no mustard, no onions. That would be my typical lunch. Or you could buy two hot dogs. There could be some pastry, and I am trying to recall why I didn’t buy it. Also, there were chocolate bars with filling. And it always felt very exquisite when you purchase a double coffee and a chocolate bar. The bar cost 55 kopecks, more than a hot dog, and it felt like a gigantic waste of money, but it felt so cool :).

If we planned to go somewhere after we return to the city from the campus, we would usually eat pyshkas, a kind of donuts, in a small place right by the Baltic railway station. One pyshka cost 5 kopecks, and a “coffee” – a drink made of dissolved sweet concentrated milk with a coffee flavor – cost 11 kopeks. So for 51 kopecks, you could get four pyshkas and a coffee and be hunger-free until late evening. That was my and other people’s dinner more often than you can imagine.

The public transportation cost from 3 to 5 kopecks a ride, depending on the type of transportation, and electric train tickets were discounted big for students, especially if you buy 3- or 6-month pass. Those passes were non-transferable and had an owner name written in.

A Typical Day of the Student of the Leningrad State University(circa 1980)

On a typical day, I would wake up, have a cup of coffee (instant or greek, we didn’t have coffee makers) with a little bit of something, and head to the Baltic railway station. There was no subway station close to where I lived back then, so I had to take a tram for about 20 min and then walk.

Each class in the University was divided into groups, like homerooms at school, and everybody in a group would have the same schedule for all subjects, except for English and PE. We felt like one unit, and usually took a train together. Many groups had a designated train car (something like “the third from the locomotive”), and everybody would sit together. In some cases, people might get on the train at one of the subsequent stops, but they would still find their group, and those who got on the train earlier, would hold places for them.

Continue reading “A Typical Day of the Student of the Leningrad State University(circa 1980)”

Attending the University: Military Studies, Schedules and Transportation

Last week, when I was in Helsinki, I also went to Saint-Petersburg for two days. There was nothing neither touristy nor nostalgic in this visit. I had an appointment with the realtor, and I also visited the HSE, where Boris is now teaching. Visiting this school and seeing how normal it is, made me think yet another time about my years as a student. I realized I’ve stopped blogging about this segment of my history, and now I will continue from where I stopped last time. There will be several posts describing our everyday life as students in the early 1980s.

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Attending the University: How We Learned to Program

Back to my years at Leningrad State University. In my last post related to this part of our family history, I described how most of the subjects were taught except for programming.

For a start, programming did exist in 1980, even in the Soviet Union, and I was very interested in it. Since I was enrolled into a specialized high school for mathematics and physics, we even had a computer!  

I believe this school computer was one of the “native” ones developed in the country, not copied from the Western prototypes (my former classmates may remember better). Since it was just one computer for a whole school, and not a super-powerful one, we did most of our programming on paper and didn’t debug our programs. We were only allowed “to touch the keys” a couple of times during a semester.

However, at the University, we had actual programming, and we were supposed to debug our programs and to show some results. 

Continue reading “Attending the University: How We Learned to Program”

Attending the University in the Soviet Union: English and PE

The list of subjects we studied was very limited. In addition to math classes and very politicized social studies, the only other classes we were offered during the first and the second year in the University were English and PE.

We had two “pairs” of both of them each week. Since my English was considered to be very good (I will explain later why) I was assigned to the most advanced level. This didn’t have any effect on the grade and was not reflected in the final transcripts, I was just fortunate to attend the better class.

Even in this better class, we had very little of conversational English. We’ve studied tons of grammar (to be forgotten the next day after the test) and completed lots of grammar exercises. Also, each semester, we were supposed to “pass thousands.” In this case “thousands” stand for thousands of symbols. I forgot both how many symbols per page was considered a reasonable estimation. I also forgot how many “thousands” we were supposed to prepare. But that’s how the process looked like.

Continue reading “Attending the University in the Soviet Union: English and PE”

Attending the University in the Soviet Union – Social Studies

This is the continuation of that post; I’ve spoken a little bit about how math subjects were taught, but there were also a couple of non-math ones. So let’s cover them.

The toughest ones were all political subjects, which we had on place of social studies. Both in high school and the University, we studied “Marxist-Leninist philosophy,” and that was the only kind of philosophy we were allowed to know. By the way, I think it’s very good to know Marx works because 1) he had indeed some wise things to say, and 2) we should to know the origin, not interpretation, and learn from the previous mistakes. I find it very sad that people who got their education in the Soviet Union still resent this forced feeding of Marxism from their early stages of life, that they want completely erase it out of the world.

But back to my student years. Marxism-Leninism consisted of five parts, which could be conveniently mapped to the five years at theUniversity:

-The History of CPSU

-Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism (this is one subject – one semester for each :))

– Political Economy of Capitalism

– Political Economy of Socialism

– Scientific Communism

Continue reading “Attending the University in the Soviet Union – Social Studies”