Foster Home, People’s University and a pharmacy: The age-old traditions of Moscow’s philanthropists

Foster Home, People’s University and a pharmacy: The age-old traditions of Moscow’s philanthropists
On 14 March, the historical-documentary exhibition “Act Good for the Sake of Goodness: Moscow’s Benefactors and Philanthropists” opened at Children’s Library No 155. The exhibition features various documents from the Central State Archive and will acquaint visitors with people who made a tremendous contribution to philanthropic projects in the city from the late 18th up until the early 20th century.

A foster home for orphans and foundlings

On 1 September 1763, Empress Catherine II issued a proclamation on establishing the Foster Home in Moscow. The building’s ceremonial cornerstone was laid on 21 April 1764 when Catherine the Great celebrated her 34th birthday. Illegitimate children, foundlings, orphans and children of poor parents could all be educated there. They studied reading and writing, math, history and foreign languages. Boys were schooled in cobbling, dyeing, glove-making and textile industries, gardening and also learned how to work as servants at estates. Girls studied housekeeping, needlework, sewing and lace-making. It was here that classes for girls laid the groundwork for a state policy aiming to create a system for educating women.

The students also obtained a fundamental privilege: they became free for the rest of their lives, and no one had the right to make them serfs.

It was intended for the institution to be financed through private donations. The Empress donated a lump-sum payment of 100,000 roubles, a huge sum in those days, plus 50,000 more annually. Others also followed her example. Quite soon, the Foster Home attracted the attention of prominent statesmen, courtiers and members of the Empress’ inner circle. Their list included Field Marshal Kirill Razumovsky, Count Alexei Orlov, Princess Yelena Naryshkina, diplomat Nikita Panin and many others.

 Similar foster homes began to open in other Russian cities, including St Petersburg (1770).

In the 19th century, the Foster Home started training future university students and state officials. Top-scoring students were sent to the Art Academy in St Petersburg, Moscow University and even Strasbourg University.

A portrait of Empress Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov. 1763

Count Sheremetev’s Hospice

This hospice was established through the efforts of Count Nikolai Sheremetev, a member of the Governing Senate and Director of the Nobility Bank. The institution catered to his elderly serfs and servants and the city’s destitute and sick residents.

In 1803, Count Sheremetev’s wife, Praskovya Kovalyova-Zhemchugova, died following childbirth, and this tragedy stunned him. She left a behest of commiseration with our neighbours,” and after reading it, the Count was forced to revise the establishment’s original charter.

He spent a fortune, three million roubles, on the Hospice, and bequeathed another 500,000. The Hospice opened in June 1810, after his death. Under the charter, it consisted of a retirement home for 100 crippled and elderly persons and a hospital for 50 patients. Destitute and orphaned young women received 6,000 roubles each from the Count’s donations, and poor artisans received 4,000 roubles each. And 5,000 roubles was donated to each local church. Other funding was spent on buying out debt prison inmates, burying destitute paupers and on other needs. During the 100 years of its existence, Count Sheremetev’s Hospice assisted about two million people. 

This building now houses the Sklifosovsky First Aid Research Institute.

A unique pharmacy and medical treatment for all

A new city hospital opened in 1802, treating all destitute persons, regardless of their backgrounds, religious affiliation, sex and ethnicity. An asylum for terminally ill persons opened there one year later, followed by a school of emergency medicine for children of serfs and a maternity ward for impoverished women. People could freely buy medications only at the hospital’s pharmacy; this also helped explain the institution’s popularity.

The hospital was founded by Prince Dmitry Golitsyn, an officer, patron of the arts and a talented diplomat, in memory of his beloved wife Princess Catherine (Smaragda) Kantemir.

Prince Golitsyn bequeathed 920,600 roubles for the hospital project, plus incomes from his two estates with 2,000 serfs and a collection numbering 297 paintings. The latter were hung on a separate hospital floor. The Prince was certain that works of art could heal almost as effectively as doctors.

A portrait of Prince Dmitry Golitsyn by Francois Drouhet. 1762

Vocational-training schools, a mental institution and new schools

Public activist Nikolai Alexeyev was a top-guild merchant, a member of the Moscow City Duma, and Mayor of the city. He donated 71,807 roubles (the equivalent of about 72 million roubles today) for building primary vocational-training schools for boys and girls. In addition, he donated some money to be used as infrastructure expenses. The schools were opened in 1884 and presented to the city administration.

In 1889, Alexeyev, who was already Mayor, urged members of the Moscow City Duma to donate money for expanding the Preobrazhenskaya Mental Institution, and he donated the first 350,000 roubles for this purpose. Others followed suit, and they managed to collect over 1.5 million in 12 months.

Alexeyev also financed construction of over 30 schools in the city during his eight-year tenure of office.

In March 1893, a mentally ill man attacked Alexeyev in his office and fatally shot him. Surgeon Nikolai Sklifosovsky (see above) operated on Alexeyev in the office, but the patient died of his wounds soon after. He was only 40 years old at the time of his death. Interestingly, just a few hours before his death, he donated another 300,000 roubles for completing the above-mentioned mental institution, which received its first patients in 1894.

First public library chain

In the early 1880s, the city received a primary school and a vocational-training school, as well as evening and Sunday schools for workers on Prechistenka Street. A physics laboratory opened at Shanyavsky Moscow City People’s University, and alms-houses and poor students also received funding.

All this was made possible by Varvara Morozova, the wife of one of the co-owners of Tverskaya Manufactory, descendent of a renowned family, honourary city resident and businesswoman.

In 1885, she financed construction of the Ivan Turgenev Reading Room, the first free public library in Moscow, at her own expense. Her experience later made it possible to open the Ostrovsky Library/Reading Room and the Pushkin Library.  It appears that Morozova made the most substantial contribution to establishing a chain of free libraries in the city.

First local school for deaf and mute people

Artist Ivan Arnold, an instructor for deaf and mute children, opened the first city school for children with hearing and speech impairments. Arnold had first-hand knowledge of their problems, as he became deaf after sustaining an injury at the age of two.

Arnold studied at the St Petersburg school for deaf and mute people and later relocated to Dresden where he studied painting at the local Art Academy. After that, he worked as an artist at the Imperial Hermitage but eventually resigned.

In 1860, he financed construction of a small private school in St Petersburg. He relocated it to Moscow that same year.

University on Miusskaya Square

Moscow City People’s University was founded in 1908 through the donations of gold-mine owner and patron of the arts Major General Alphonse Shanyavsky and his wife Lidia Shanyavskaya. Its main concept was to provide an education to anyone who wanted one, regardless of their sex, financial standing, ethnicity and religious affiliation. The first class had 400 students who did not submit any school graduation certificates in order to enroll, but simply chose lectures they were most interested in.

The University was first located at the Shanyavsky House on Arbat Street, and was relocated to a custom-made building on Miusskaya Square in 1912. The building now houses the Russian State University of the Humanities.

Among its students were the poets Sergei Yesenin and Nikolai Klyuyev, and many others.

A grateful city

Moscow authorities realised that philanthropists completely trusted the city, because their donations continued to increase year after year. Their contributions were greatly appreciated, and much was done to ensure their names were not forgotten and to fulfil their wills and testaments as best as possible. Members of the Moscow City Duma also considered it their duty to raise public awareness of these philanthropists and the work of institutions established through their donations. This made it possible to convince everyone that good deeds yield substantial results.

But dull scientific-sounding reports did not completely show the development of these institutions, and it was suggested in 1900 that a special publication be issued instead. The publication evaluated the performance of institutions established or financed using philanthropists’ donations. It published the sums of donations and what the city did with this money, but also stories about various institutions and their role in Moscow’s life. The publication also discussed vital, but unrealised, city-level charity projects and those dealing with alms-houses and people’s education. This made it possible to use philanthropists’ funding as effectively as possible.

Photos courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Department