Nikolai Semashko

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Semashko, Nikolai Aleksandrovich


Born Sept. 8 (20), 1874, in the village of Livenskoe, Elets District, Orel Province; died May 18, 1949, in Moscow. Soviet party and state figure; a founder of the Soviet public health system. Academician of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR (1944) and of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the RSFSR (1945). Member of the Communist Party from 1938.

The son of a teacher, Semashko enrolled in the faculty of medicine at Moscow University in 1891. He joined a Marxist circle in 1893. In 1895 he was arrested for participating in the revolutionary movement and exiled to his native village under open police surveillance. He graduated from the faculty of medicine at the University of Kazan in 1901 and practiced medicine in Orel and Samara provinces. Semashko became a member of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of the RSDLP in 1904; he helped organize the strike at the Sormovo Plant during the events of 1905 and in consequence was again arrested.

In 1906, Semashko emigrated to Geneva, where he first met V. I. Lenin. In August 1907 he represented the Geneva Bolshevik organization at the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International. In 1908 he moved to Paris with the Bolshevik center abroad and served as secretary of the Central Committee Bureau Abroad until 1910. He participated in the work of the Party School at Longjumeau in 1911.

At the Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP (1912), Semashko delivered a report on workers’ insurance; his draft resolution was edited by Lenin and adopted at the conference. Semashko took part in the social democratic movement in Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913. He was interned early in World War I (1914–18). Upon returning to Moscow in September 1917, he was elected chairman of the Piatnitskaia District Administration from the Bolshevik faction; he also served as a delegate to the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B). Semashko helped prepare for the October armed uprising in Moscow and set up medical aid for its participants.

After the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, Semashko headed the medical and sanitation section of the Moscow soviet. He was the first people’s commissar of public health of the RSFSR, holding this post from July 1918 to 1930. Under his supervision, the work of controlling epidemics was successfully carried out and the Soviet public health system was established; the systems of health care for mothers and children and for children and adolescents were founded, and a network of medical scientific research institutes was established.

From 1921 to 1949, Semashko was a professor in the sub-department of social medicine of the faculty of medicine at Moscow University (the faculty was called the First Moscow Medical Institute beginning in 1930), also serving as the subde-partment’s chairman. From 1930 to 1936 he worked on the All-Russian Central Executive Committee as a member of the presidium and chairman of the Children’s Commission, which was charged with the rehabilitation of homeless children and the supervision of preventive medicine at children’s health institutions.

From 1945 to 1949, Semashko was director of the Institute of School Hygiene of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the RSFSR. From 1947 to 1949 he also served as director of the Institute for the Organization of Public Health and the History of Medicine of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR (beginning in 1965, the institute was called the Semashko All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Social Medicine and the Organization of Public Health). Semashko was instrumental in the founding of the Central Medical Library (1918) and the House of Scholars (1922), both in Moscow. He was editor in chief of the Great Medical Encyclopedia from 1927 to 1936. In 1923 he became the first chairman of the Supreme Council on Physical Culture and Sports, and from 1940 to 1949 he served as chairman of the All-Union Hygiene Society. Semashko was a delegate to the Tenth and Twelfth through Sixteenth Congresses of the ACP(B). He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, and several medals.


Izbr.proizv. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.


Mirskii, M. B. Glavnyi doktor respubliki. Moscow, 1964.
Chachko, M. I. Povest’o narodnom komissare. Moscow, 1972.
Petrov, B. D., and B. M. Potulov. N. A. Semashko. Moscow, 1974.


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