The middle of the Summer Garden was traversed by a wide lane bordered by tall lime trees. Here a young couple strolls in intense conversation with a respectable distance between them. In 1900 the relationship between men and women was changing very rapidly, with more freedom for both. The positive development of a small middle class in the cities was helping to establish new urban families with developing networks based on self-interest and common values. Working families had less time and energy to think of such things, as the struggle to survive was intense and all encompassing for the majority of families in the lower classes - but they too were seeing a greater stability and a gradual improvement in the conditions for families and a recognition by employers that married workers were more reliable and worked harder - thus leading to improvements in family housing and work benefits of interest to workers with wives and children.
Left: A typical Petersburg young man.
Although city life was progressive in many respects, there was a strong difference between attitudes between the city and in the countryside, where the village community was a strong and a conservative influence. As men and women left the countryside to find work in the cities they found themselves exposed to new ideas of individuality and personal choice they had not known before and this led to conflict between new values and village ties for young men out from under the influence and control of their elders.
Men and women from the countryside found themselves exposed to the startling reality of prostitution in the cities; the concept of women earning money from sex for simply didn't exist in the village. Men generally saw this as a new opportunity rather than a problem, while women saw it as the frightening last resort for them if they were unable to hold on to employment in the city.
William Barnes Steveni, an English resident of Petersburg before the revolution has written:
"At one time the Nevsky was the favourite residential quarter for the well-to-do classes, but they have now migrated to more quiet neighbourhoods, for the life of the city is concentrated in and round this fine promenade. In the morning thousands of officials hastening to their posts give it the first signs of activity; about one o'clock, in the lunch-hour, it becomes comparatively silent. Between four and five it wakens for the evening. The officials, after consuming innumerable cigarettes and much tea flavoured with lemon, during the discussion of the latest ballet or the last rubber of " vint," hasten homeward to their dinner. As night approaches, the youth of the town and the ladies of the pavement stroll about-gay young officers, students from the university, clerks from the banks, and a sprinkling of greybeards who ought to know better, throng the pavements. The butterflies, who are the chief cause of this promenading, are not gaily dressed as in England or Germany, nor do they powder and paint; they are noted for their unassuming demeanour and quiet costumes. They never sink to the low level of degradation of the prostitutes of other large Western cities, partly because drink rarely coarsens them, partly because they have always a chance of regaining their lost social position by marriage or by reform. In Russian eyes they are merely "unfortunate," not "fallen." The teachings of Christ and his compassion to Mary of Magdala are ever in the mind of the true Russian when he is prone to condemn. Thanks to this spirit of sympathy, many a woman of this class is rescued and married by some broadminded or warmhearted merchant or officer. In most European countries this would, of course, be impossible. On once expressing my surprise to a Russian merchant, he replied: "Why not? What are we men that we should cast a stone at a poor weak woman?" The answer silenced me, for I felt that he was in the right. Although Petrograd cannot be called a moral city, one never sees the street parades that are so terrible, yet so familiar, in London; the excellent police regulations tend to segregate to certain quarters this portion of the population. Owing to the amative nature of the Russian people and the presence of the Guard, numbering 250,000 men, in and around the capital, prostitution is very prevalent. In 1899 about 5000 women were registered as belonging to the unfortunate class, and the number now must be far greater. Probably double the registered number are secretly engaged in prostitution, but escape the vigilance of the authorities. The majority, however, are relegated to the houses of ill fame, for which Petrograd is notorious. These are under the supervision of the police and the medical committees. Were it not so, disease would be rife, for the ignorance and carelessness of consequences of the lower classes is astounding. In Russia it is realised that as long as human beings congregate in cities this evil will never be eradicated; measures are therefore taken to keep it within limits and reduce it to a minimum, thus protecting the more moral section of the population. The prohibition of vodka and the rapid spread of the temperance movement is accomplishing more toward this desirable end, than all the laws and regulations can do."
Left: A typical young lady of Petersburg at the turn of the century.
As prostitution was widespread and openly practiced in Petersburg it was the source of endless problems for the civil authorities, who were more concerned about the effect on public health rather than the moral issues involved. In Russia attitudes about sex in general were very different than in the West. Part of this had to do with differences in attitudes between Orthodoxy and both western Protestantism and Catholicism on this issue of sin. Russians weren't as burdened with guilt about sex as the Germans or the English. For example, homosexuality wasn't actually outlawed until the Communists took over. This does not mean that the average Russians 'officially' approved of or endorsed homosexuality - there was just not enough interest or outrage over such things in Russian society for the government to get involved.
A more liberal attitude toward sex in cities like Petersburg led to an increase in orphans and venereal disease, both of which were serious problems in 1900's St. Petersburg. Annually, thousands of children were born out of wedlock in Petersburg - or abandoned by their parents - which meant government and church authorities had to do their best to raise these poor orphans.
Venereal disease was rampant among the lower classes and was primarily spread by prostitution. In 1900 there was not much that could be done for this scourge. Birth control for men existed, but these devices - generally imported from France, were expensive and beyond the reach of workers.
Next photograph: On the Palace Quay
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