Russian Peasant Women Who Refused to Marry

Russian Peasant Women Who Refused to Marry

Spasovite Old Believers in the 18th-19th Centuries
John Bushnell
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/09/2017
Format: Hardback 4 maps, 22 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-02965-2
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John Bushnell’s analysis of previously unstudied church records and provincial archives reveals surprising marriage patterns in Russian peasant villages in the 18th and 19th centuries. For some villages the rate of unmarried women reached as high as 70 percent. The religious group most closely identified with female peasant marriage aversion was the Old Believer Spasovite covenant, and Bushnell argues that some of these women might have had more agency in the decision to marry than more common peasant tradition ordinarily allowed. Bushnell explores the cataclysmic social and economic impacts these decisions had on the villages, sometimes dragging entire households into poverty and ultimate dissolution. In this act of defiance, this group of socially, politically, and economically subordinated peasants went beyond traditional acts of resistance and reaction.

Author Bio

John Bushnell is Professor of History at Northwestern University. He is author of Mutiny Amid Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution of 1905-1906 (Indiana University Press, 1985) and co-editor of Russia’s Great Reforms, 1855–1881 (Indiana University Press, 1994).


“This is very much a book worth reading. It sheds interesting new light on sectarian practices in the countryside, and in the process forces us to revise the ways in which we think about the most basic aspects of rural life in imperial Russia.”
 — American Historical Review

“An analysis of a previously understudied phenomenon, the book constitutes a significant contribution to the study of Russian peasant, religious, and matrimonial history.”
 — New Books Network

“Drawing mainly on tax census and parish records, John Bushnell has produced an impressive study of marriage practices among Old Believer peasants in several districts in Vladimir, Kostroma, and Nizhnii Novgorod provinces between the early eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries.”
 — The Russian Review

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Table of Contents

Introduction: What is the Opposite of Eureka?
1. The Moral Economy of Russian Serf Marriage, 1580s-1750s: Serf Marriage Unregulated
2. Nobles Discover Peasant Women’s Marriage Aversion
3. The Outer Limits of Female Marriage Aversion: Kuplia Parish in the 18th Century
4. Kuplia Parish, 1830-1850: Separation, Collapse, Resumption of Marriage
5. Spasovites: the Covenant of Despair
6. Baki: Resistance to Marriage on a Forest Frontier
7. Steksovo and Sergei Mikhailovich Golitsyn: Marriage Aversion in a Context of Prosperity