Committees and Societies for Literacy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Committees and Societies for Literacy


Russian public educational organizations formed to encourage primary mass education.

The committees and societies were centers of pedagogical activity that were unique for Russia at that time, they were strongly democratic in their tendencies. In 1861 the St. Petersburg Committee for Literacy was formed under the Free Economic Society. The committee started schools for the training of rural schoolmistresses. The school set up in St. Petersburg enjoyed great popularity (1863–67). The committee held competitions for the best primary-school textbooks, and it arranged the publication of cheap popular books. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, it organized about 450 free libraries for the troops and for field hospitals. Between 1891 and 1893 it raised funds for victims of the famine and organized school dining rooms in 12 provinces. At various times L. N. Tolstoy, I. S. Turgenev, V. G. Korolenko, G. I. Uspenskii, V. V. Stasov, N. A. Rubakin, A. M. Kalmykova, P. P. Semenov-Tian-Shanskii, I. V. Vernadskii, and S. F. Ol’denburg took part in its work. The committee conducted its activities “in a spirit of disagreement with the government viewpoint,” as noted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1895 it was transformed into the St. Petersburg Society for Literacy and was placed under the Ministry of Education. As a sign of protest, 600 members quit the committee.

The Moscow Committee for Literacy, founded in 1845, had as its aim “the spread of literacy through the whole nation on a religious and moral basis.” In the 1870’s the committee established links with the zemstvos (local bodies of self-government) on questions of education. It opened summer courses in pedagogy for public school teachers. In the early 1890’s, a number of commissions were formed under it: for example, the Library Commission, headed by V. P. Vakhterov and D. I. Tikhomirov, and the commissions investigating the status of schoolteachers and pupils. In 1895 the committee was changed into the Society for Literacy and was subordinated to the Ministry of Education.

The Kharkov Society for the Spread of Literacy in the Nation, founded in 1869, directed its efforts chiefly toward organizing general-education schools for the public, with classes held during the week and on Sunday. The society gave material assistance to public school teachers. Similar work was done by the Society for the Spread of Literacy Among Georgians, founded in Tbilisi in 1879 with the help of I. G. Chavchavadze. The Kiev Society for Literacy was formed in 1882, as was the Tomsk Society for Support of Public Education. The Samara Society for the Encouragement of Education was founded in 1886. In the late 19th and early 20th century, educational organizations arose in many Russian cities. By 1917 the total number had reached 270.

The committees and societies for literacy played a significant role in spreading literacy in the nation. After the October Revolution of 1917 and the creation of a state system of public education, they ceased to exist.


Protopopov, D. D. Istoriia Sankt-Peterburgskogo Komiteta gramotnosti (1861–1895}. St. Petersburg, 1898.
Dikson, K., and B. Ketrits. Sankt-Peterburgskii komitet gramotnosti. St. Petersburg, 1915.
Obzor deiatel’nosti Komiteta gramotnosti, sostoiashchego pri imperatorskom Moskovskom obshchestve sel’skogo khoziaistva. Moscow, 1894.
Istoricheskii obzor deiatel’nosti Khar’kovskogo obshchestva rasprostraneniia v narode gramotnosti. Moscow, 1911.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.