Moscow Main Archive tells the story of the Shanyavsky People's University creation

August 10

Today, in the building on Miusskaya Square, the well-known Russian State University for the Humanities is located. However, earlier, there was another university here - the Shanyavsky Moscow People's University.  And the building itself was built specifically for it at the beginning of the last century. The Moscow Main Archive has preserved documents about the history and activities of the university.

From the Owner of the Gold Mines

The People’s University was created with the money of the general and a large Siberian gold miner, Alfons Shanyavsky. He bequeathed a vast fortune to the university, which was supposed to open its doors to everyone - regardless of gender, origin and religion. In addition to money, the general left the future educational institution also a house on the Arbat Street. Three years after his death, in 1908, through the efforts of his widow Lydiya Shanyavskaya, the People's University was opened.

After the first Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, women were allowed to study at universities on an equal basis with men. However, in 1908, a decree was issued that again prohibited them from receiving a university education. It remained in force until 1912, but at the People's University women could study in all directions.

A special commission developed the training program and teaching system for the new university. It consists of well-known professors and representatives of the Moscow public representatives.

One of the lab’s departments for medicines preparation at the Shanyavsky Moscow People's University.  Photo by P. Pavlov. 1914. Moscow Main Archive

The archive has preserved the minute-book, from which it follows that future students were divided into four groups. The first group includes those who received home education or studied at courses. They did not have an official diploma, and they could not joint Moscow universities without it. The same group included everyone for whom simply there were no enough places in other universities. The second group consisted of young men and women who were ready to study at the university, but do not have time for full-fledged studies. For example, they could study only during their free hours. At the People's University the convenient time for them was selected. The third group included people with higher education who decided to get a different profile. And the fourth one was for those who had graduated from a university and wanted to improve their knowledge.

Training in All Subjects

The number of study fields at the Shanyavsky University was the maximum - liberal arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics were taught here. According to the report for the 1909-1910 academic years, the university worked according to the subject system: students could enroll in each of the presented subjects or even several courses at once.

At first, the subjects were divided into three groups: natural-historical, social-legal and historical-philosophical. Subsequently, two departments were formed at the People's University: popular science and academic. Students without secondary education studied at the popular science course, and the study course lasted four years. At the academic department, students with secondary education took a full university course in various disciplines for three years.

There were also ‘episodic’ courses that complemented the main subjects. In addition, students could choose special courses on local government, cooperative, library, refrigeration engineering and other matters. And for people with incomplete primary education, there was a preparatory group.

The Price of Education

Tuition fees were selected depending on the financial situation of the student. The price for each cycle of subjects in the popular science department started from six rubles per year. Full training at the academic department cost more than 40 rubles per year. And the price of a separate ‘episodic’ course did not exceed 40 rubles.

Such prices were quite affordable for most Muscovites. It was also possible to get an education completely free of charge, having received one of the scholarships that were formed from donations to the university. In addition, a special society for mutual assistance of university students was created. In addition to financial support, the society also helped in the employment of graduates.

The Alfons Shanyavsky University was very popular, and at some moment its class rooms stopped accommodating all interested people. Therefore, in 1911, a new building was built specifically for the University on Miusskaya Square. Famous scientists and public figures were invited to ceremony of breaking ground for it.


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