Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Russia's Martyr-heroines: Women, Violence, and the American Campaign for a Free Russia, 1878-1920
by Gibson, Chelsea C., Ph.D., State University of New York at Binghamton, 2019, 324; 13879926
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the reception of Russian terrorist women in the United States between 1878 and 1920, a period in which Russian revolutionaries and their American allies worked continuously to cultivate support for Russian revolution among the US middle class. In contrast to other research about the “Free Russia” movement in the United States, which suggests that middle-class supporters were ignorant of Russian revolutionary violence, this dissertation instead demonstrates that violence on the part of Russian women actually made the Russian revolutionary movement more popular and sympathetic in the United States. The mythology of the Russian “martyr-heroine,”—an idea that originated in the Russian revolutionary underground and was successfully translated into the United States by revolutionaries and their American supporters—forms the central organizing concept of this study. This dissertation argues that the ideal of the martyr-heroine—the young, chaste, elite, white women who suffered selflessly for their cause and undertook acts of revolutionary violence—encouraged US support for Russian revolution. Russian and US accounts depicted martyr-heroines in ways that aligned with traditional gender norms; Russian women’s radicalism was often portrayed as an expression of pure, maternal sacrifice. In the process, the image of young women driven to violence contributed to a sensationalized US narrative about tsarist barbarism and cruelty. Thus, in a moral landscape shaped by the gendered self-abnegation of Russian women, Russian terrorists garnered sympathy and respect from middle-class Americans while their victims—government officials, military officers, and the tsar himself—were increasingly vilified.

The martyr-heroine ideal importantly not only shaped US support for Russian revolution in this period, but also influenced the reception of domestic radical groups. In their appeals to US audiences, Russian revolutionaries repeatedly insisted that their methods of radical violence and protest would be unnecessary, and therefore illegitimate, in the US’s more liberal, democratic system. This dissertation therefore also demonstrates that American middle-class support for the idealized martyr-heroine reinforced hostility toward radicalism at home. Ending with the First American Red Scare, this dissertation argues that conservative Americans mobilized the martyr-heroine narrative to suit their own political needs after 1917, ultimately using it to eradicate the space in which sympathy for Russian revolution had once flourished and lay the foundations of the anti-Bolshevik hostility that later dominated the twentieth century.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wheeler, Leigh Ann
Commitee: DeHaan, Heather, Ortiz, Stephen, Wall, Wendy, Verhoeven, Claudia
School: State University of New York at Binghamton
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: History, Russian history, Wood sciences
Keywords: Free Russia, Nihilism, Progressives, Russian revolution, Terrorism, Women
Publication Number: 13879926
ISBN: 9781085593731
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