First School for Noble Ladies in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Smolny was created after Peter became inspired by Madame de Maintenon’s Saint Cyr Girl’s Institute in Versailles, France.
Peter originally set up private, secular schools for young orphan girls to learn grammar and other skills related to home and hearth. But Smolny blossomed under Catherine the Great (Ekaterina). Under Catherine, only young girls from the best families were accepted to this boarding school. The education was free, but the students were selected by the Headmistress and approved by Catherine herself.
Smolny was referred to as “a greenhouse for raising delicate and beautiful flowers.” The mission of these young ladies was not only to develop their best qualities and get the best European education, but also to pass their education, traditions, moral values and the purity of their hearts to their children and grandchildren.
Catherine, being a very wise ruler, understood that the morality and culture of a nation is cradled in its families, particularly in the mothers. A cultured and moral mother will raise cultured and moral children.
Girls studied beaux arts (fine arts), literature, history, foreign languages, arts and aesthetics. They learned music and each of them played at least one musical instrument. The girls also studied science, physics and mathematics.
But, the main purpose of the school was to prepare excellent wives for noble gentlemen. All girls learned housekeeping and domestic management, cooking, sewing, knitting, a general knowledge of medicine, and much more.
Girls were under the very careful control of the Headmistress and their teachers. Unlike the typical schools of the day, no corporal punishment or abuse of any kind was allowed in Smolny. Girls were raised in respect, high self-esteem and great spiritual and traditional values. They were considered to be the “gems of Russia,” its future and great hope. And, there was a reason for this.
The girls were prepared not only to be excellent wives, but also the wise and devoted mothers of their children. These young women were isolated in the school from bad influences of any kind and were taught to be “pure and honest in their hearts, devoted and faithful, joyful and polite, modest and kind.” They were raised in Christian values.
Noble young women were taught to be helpers for their husbands and were prepared not only for the good times, but for the worst times, as well. They all learned to be survivors – to never give up.
The rules and discipline in the school were very strict. Girls came out of gymnastics to a cold shower and often took baths in the cold Neva River. They slept on hard beds and lived a very Spartan life. Aside from the high education these girls received, they were also trained to become real survivors.
Many of these girls of Smolny were wives of the famous “Decembrists,” who attempted a revolt against Czar Nicholas I in 1825. After the revolt failed, the Czar offered these Smolny wives the opportunity to divorce their husbands, remain in St. Petersburg and retain their high social status.
Of the eleven surviving Russian officers who were not executed after the revolt and were exiled to a harsh life in Siberia, all eleven wives spurned the Czar’s offer and followed their husbands into exile. Most of these girls were not much older than 20 and had been raised up in refined privilege and luxury. Their loyalty and devotion to their husbands is a powerful testament to the training these girls received at Smolny.
Today, Smolny is legendary in Russia, and not least amongst its women, and beginning from an early age of young girls.