Born in 1871, descended from the Russian aristocracy’s highest ranks, and heiress to one of its great fortunes, Countess Sofia Vladimirova Panina won the admiration of progressive contemporaries for her work to expand access to education and culture for the working class before World War I. Early in the revolutionary year of 1917, after the monarchy fell and a provisional government took over Russia’s deteriorating military front and collapsing economy, she moved onto the political stage and attracted national and international attention as the first woman in world history to occupy a ministerial position in a government.
After a second revolution toppled that government in October, the liberal countess became an “enemy of the people.” In December 1917, “Citizen Panina,” charged with stealing government funds, faced the Bolsheviks’ new revolutionary tribunal in their first trial of a political opponent.
After leaving everything she possessed to flee Russia and the Bolsheviks in 1920, Countess spent the rest of her life in humanitarian activities, assisting Russian emigres stranded in Europe prior to World War II as well as prisoners of war and other displaced persons. Countess Panina once counted among the best-known members of her generation. Few works by Western historians have mentioned her name, and her remarkable life has never been written—until now.
Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. She is the author of Poverty is not a Vice: Charity, Society and the State in Imperial Russia which won the Heldt Prize for Best Book Published by a Woman in Slavic Studies from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies. She is also coeditor of several volumes in the series Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution, 1914-1922 Her research has been published in American, European and Russian scholarly outlets. She is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences, including most recently the annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the Notre Dame University Workshop on the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities. Dean Lindenmeyer also participated with other Russian history specialists in a panel on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Kennan Institute.