Youth in Imperial Russia

Photo taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) Image Source

Transition is a hot topic these days. At this moment I can name many states dealing with enormous transitional phases in government and economy: 1) The United States of America has a new president who was inaugurated just a few days ago on January 20th, 2) Great Britain has exited (or ‘Brexited’, I suppose) the European Union (EU) this past year and is in the midst of working out alterations to government and economic policy as I write this, and finally 3) EVERY OTHER sovereign state who is responding to these and many other changes in hopes of providing a better future for their country.

…Better future for their country? Assuming that these governments have their populations’ best interest in mind, I would assume that their ‘future’ would mean the kids, or future working-generation who support state ideology and overall well-being. For this reason, I chose this vibrant photo taken in 1909 of “Russian children sitting on the side of a hill near a church and bell tower in the countryside near White Lake, in the north of European Russia” to begin my exploration of Russian/Soviet history.

In late imperial Russia at the turn of the century, children were only somewhat protected from factory labor by laws enforced in the late 19th century. Older children (around ages 15-17) would work “the standard workday [that] remained 11.5 hours, the norm introduced by the 1897 law [concerning child labor]”(Gorshkov p. 196). Younger children would stay at home, usually in an agricultural or post-serfdom farm setting. Education was very limited, and access to a primary school education for the majority of the peasant population was unlikely. Once children reached working age they were put into factories to keep fueling the industrial labor force set in place. Being a kid at this time in Russia was no easy feat. Fortunately, the fall of imperial Russia brought with it the rise of a public education system and more flexibility and opportunities for the peasant population.

The children shown in the photograph taken by Prokudin-Gorskii were sitting by White Lake, which is located directly east of St. Petersburg. It is known to be a place of business for those who work on the river system in the fishing industry or a vacation spot for city dwellers. An interesting fact about the lake is that on an island in the middle of it is located a high security prison that houses some of Russia’s worst criminals.


10 thoughts on “Youth in Imperial Russia

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  1. I think this was a great topic to pick. Obviously when it comes to the “working class” of Imperial Russia the first thought is usually serf rather than child labor. It honestly doesn’t seem as if child labor here in Russia is any different from the more notorious places like England from this period. Just a random thought – I wonder if the USSR’s attempts at educating the youth post-revolution was to benefit the youth or to benefit the state?


  2. I really appreciate how you chose a picture the depicted the life of individuals in Russia during the time of reforms. Especially regarding children, it is interesting to observe what life was like for them back during this time period. I like the direction you took analyzing the picture by researching and applying child labor laws.


  3. This was definitely a good picture to choose, great job!! I was drawn in to reading your post by the vibrant colors in the image. It was also the first one I’ve looked at that featured children – this adds a very interesting dimension to the topic of imperial Russia. It is also super interesting about the prison on the island, very cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought this post was well thought out and a good read! I liked how you brought in topics of recent concern, and related them to Russia’s transition. I thought it was especially interesting that you focused on the children of that time period, as they will be the ones fueling the work force of the future Soviet Union. Well thought out and well done!


  5. I like that you wrote about children in Russia because it’s not a subject that we hear much about. The economic changes that Russia was experiencing must have affected their views toward the Revolution, and it would make sense that the young people would support a movement which promised to educate them.


  6. I thought it was really insightful in how children were treated in Russia before the Revolution. It is amazing how for a lot of ordinary children, school was not as important compared to working in the cities and basic agricultural labor.


  7. This photo is cool. I like how it is people focused rather than focused on an item/place. The children are important to note because they will see the different changes that Russia will go through in the late 19th/early 20th century


  8. You did a really good job on this post. The picture you chose is very eye catching and is not similar to any of the others that people chose. I also liked that you tied in contemporary issues that tied into your topic. The topic of children in Russia isn’t one that is heard of often so it was interesting reading a little something about them.


  9. This picture drew me in because it reminded me of a similar family photo I have from when I was young. Being a part of a big family (3 brothers, 20 aunts/uncles, 40 plus cousins) we were often staged together in big groups for pictures, like these Russian kids. We would all have on assorted colors and styles just like these boys and girls do in this picture. Where we differ is I don’t ever recall fearing I’d be sent off to the fields or factories to help support my brothers and parents. Our childhoods were full of leisure, adventure, and education unlike the lives of these children pictured. Awesome piece, very well done!


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