The University of Wisconsin Press

From the Womb to the Body Politic
Raising the Nation in Enlightenment Russia
Anna Kuxhausen

A striking examination of gender, society, and culture in Russia during the era of Catherine the Great

In Russia during the second half of the eighteenth century, a public conversation emerged that altered perceptions of pregnancy, birth, and early childhood. Children began to be viewed as a national resource, and childbirth heralded new members of the body politic. The exclusively female world of mothers, midwives, and nannies came under the scrutiny of male physicians, state institutions, a host of zealous reformers, and even Empress Catherine the Great.

Making innovative use of obstetrical manuals, belles lettres, children’s primers, and other primary documents from the era, Anna Kuxhausen draws together many discourses—medical, pedagogical, and political—to show the scope and audacity of new notions about childrearing. Reformers aimed to teach women to care for the bodies of pregnant mothers, infants, and children according to medical standards of the Enlightenment. Kuxhausen reveals both their optimism and their sometimes fatal blind spots in matters of implementation. In examining the implication of women in public, even political, roles as agents of state-building and the civilizing process, From the Womb to the Body Politic offers a nuanced, expanded view of the Enlightenment in Russia and the ways in which Russians imagined their nation while constructing notions of childhood.

 “A pleasure to read and a long-awaited, welcome contribution to the fields of eighteenth-century studies, women’s history, the history of education, and the history of medicine.”—Rebecca Friedman, author of Masculinity, Autocracy and the Russian University, 1804–1863

Anna Kuxhausen is associate professor of history at St. Olaf College.


“Discussions of the upbringing of children and its significance for Russian political and intellectual elites of the eighteenth century are the focus of Anna Kuxhausen's welcome analysis of ideas and practices of childrearing in Enlightenment-era Russia. . . . A very rich and well-researched book.”
Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

“A useful and valuable contribution to the history of women, childhood, and the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Russia.”
Slavonic & East European Review

“Kuxhausen has provided a good guide to the rapid entry of Enlightenment discourses into Russian intellectual life . . . and she has done so with an overarching theme that reveals the mutually reinforcing effects and aspirations for national assertion of the Russian court.”
The Russian Review

“An important contribution to the history of the Enlightenment in Russia, to women's history, and to the comparative history of the Enlightenment.”
American Historical Review

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Of Related Interest:
Cover of book has black and white image of people in the background with a red flag with yellow writing.The Body Soviet
Propaganda, Hygiene, and the Revolutionary State
Tricia Starks

The Body Soviet is the first sustained investigation of the Bolshevik government’s early policies on hygiene and health care in general.”—Louise McReynolds, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era

April 2013
LC: 2012013016 HQ
242 pp.   6 x 9   9 b/w illus.,
2 maps, 1 table

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Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-28994-2
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“Anna Kuxhausen combines meticulous and path-breaking research with sophisticated argument to shed new light on little-known aspects of eighteenth-century Russian history.”
—Adele Lindenmeyr, Villanova University

A Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Book
This book is part of a five-year initiative for publishing first books by scholars in the fields of Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


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Updated January 31, 2013

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