Monday, March 1, 2010

The Russian Florence Nightingale

A rather curious form of posterity is having yourself named after an asteroid or minor planet, more so if you are not in any way associated with astronomy, astrophysics or the exploration of outer space. The Dictionary of Minor Planet Names by L D Schmadel is worth browsing, if only for its remarkable listing of people, places and things after which these planets are named, from ancient pharaohs to samurai, from HMS Bounty mutineers to B-grade actresses, and there is even Dr Who's Tardis.
Of relevance to this post is No. 3321, known as "Dasha", discovered in 1975 and named after Darya Lavrentevna Michailova, described as the first Russian army sister of charity during the Crimean War, and better known as Dasha Sevastopolskaya. There is little to be found - at least written in English - about Dasha (the woman, not the planet) even with the aid of all-knowing Google.
Her description as an "army sister of charity" is probably not quite correct according to the outline that Helen Rappaport gives about Dasha's achievements in her excellent book No Place for Ladies - The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. For anyone interested in learning more about numerous unknown women of all nationalities who literally carried buckets behind men during one of the worst military blunders in history, this book is highly recommended reading.
Dasha Sevastopolskaya is just one of them who deserves to be better-known and who can stand tall alongside far more famous women such as Florence Nightingale or Mary Seacole in her accomplishments.
In 1854, Dasha was aged about 18, the orphaned daughter of a Russian sailor. She worked as a laundress and needlewoman in the Russian naval garrison in the Korabelnaya district of Sevastopol. When the British invaded, she sold all that she had, including her chickens and her pig, bought a horse and wagon and loaded it up with barrels of water and food. In disguise as a naval apprentice, she headed into the Russian supply lines where she established the first nursing station of the war, cleaning the men's wounds with vinegar and dressing them with bandages made from strips of her own clothes. She was soon recognised by the sailors who knew her from Korabelnaya but she was allowed to continue her valuable voluntary work and together with other wives of Russian servicemen helped tend to wounded men during the siege. A memorial was erected to her, and Helen Rappaport further tells us:

"Dasha's selfless heroism soon became legendary... News of it reached Tsar Nicholas I in November 1854 and she was awarded 500 silver roubles and the gold medal 'For Zeal', becoming the only working-class Russian woman to receive the award. The following year she married and opened a tavern; imperial generosity responded with a dowry of one thousand silver roubles from the Tsarina."
Unlike Britain, Russia was much more generous in acknowledging the valuable service of all kinds of women, including ordinary army wives, in the Crimea. Rappaport tells us around 120 Sisters of Mercy, a semi-religious order founded by the Tsar's sister-in-law after the Battle of Inkerman, received both gold and silver medals for their work, and 'For Zeal' was also presented to women who carried supplies and ammunition to the bastions throughout the bombardment. Some even received higher award military medals 'For Gallantry'. (Image: Medal awarded to Russian participants of the Defense of Sevastopol in 1854-55.)
In 1855, Dasha married Private Maxim Khvorostov and continued to work at one of the city hospitals for the rest of her life. When she retired, the patients collected money to buy an icon of the Saviour and presented it to her. She died in Sevastopol in 1911.
In case you were wondering, yes, Florence Nightingale is also celebrated with an asteroid, No. 3122 discovered in 1981 at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. It is classified as a "near-Earth asteroid and a potentially hazardous one". Sounds rather appropriate for the no-nonsense and determined Florence.
Some wonderful artwork and history about the Russian side of the Siege of Sevastopol and in which Dasha is mentioned can be found here.


Helen said...

How nice to see Dasha Sevastopolskaya getting some attention. The sources on her are a bit thin and tend to unverified hagiography but there are a few things in Russian if anyone wants to know more - do contact me via my website Thank you for your kind mention of my book. I am currently pushing for a reprint. For those interested Mary Seacole will receive a considerable boost at the revamped Florence Nightingale Museum in London when it reopens in May. The new designs are wonderful and I urge anyone interested in women in the Crimean War to go along and see the new exhibits. Best wishes, Helen Rappaport

Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks Helen. I hope the Florence Nightingale Museum has lots of visitors and it's good to see Mary Seacole getting more press too.