Treasured schooldays, the Mennonite Madchenschulen in the Russian Empire, 1874-1920

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Friesen, Helene Sarah
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Scholarship to date, in detailing women's contributions to the formation of the Russian Mennonite community, has failed to provide a coherent history of Mennonite women. This study makes a modest contribution to that history by examining women's position within their culture and society on the basis of personal narratives about their own experiences and perceptions. A more distinct portrait emerges through the reflections and accounts of former students of private secondary schools for girls in the Mennonite colonies in South Russia. The study begins with tracing the development of the Mennonite school system. Research into parallel educational systems that possibly influenced the Mennonite institution provides the background from which comparisons can be drawn. Motives for founding Madchenschulen are examined, as is support for the schools. The descriptive and analytical intent of this study culminates in the chapter where the voices of former students are heard at last. The Mennonite community's regard for the female segment becomes apparent as the experiences of former students of schools established for them during an era of enlightened reform and increasing prosperity are observed. The so-called insular, cohesive world of the Mennonite colonies was transformed by innovations from outside as the well-travelled and educated, the wealthy and progressive elite conveyed the foreign back to their home communities.