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The Russian Empire had a problem.
While they had established successful
colonies in their territory of Alaska, life
in the settlements was anything but civilized.
The settlers of the Russian-America
Company were drunk, disorderly,
and corrupt. Worst of all, they were terrible
role models for the Natives, whom
the empire saw as in desperate need
of moral enlightenment. The empire’s
solution? Send in women. In 1829, the
Company decreed that any governor
appointed after that date had to have
a wife, in the hopes that these more pious
women would serve as glowing examples
of domesticity and bring charm
to a brutish territory.
Elisabeth von Wrangell, Margaretha
Etholén, and Anna Furuhjelm
were three of eight governors’ wives who
took up this domestic mantle. Married to
the Empire, tells their stories using their
own words and extraordinary research
by Susanna Rabow-Edling. All three
were young and newly wed when they
left Russia for the furthest outpost of
the empire, and all three went through
personal and cultural struggles as they
worked to adjust to life in the colony.
Their trials offer a little-heard female
history of Russian Alaska, while illuminating
the issues that arose while trying
to reconcile expectations of womanhood
with the realities of frontier life.
Susanna Rabow-Edling is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Russian and Eurasian
Studies at Uppsala University. She is the author of Slavophile Thought and the Politics of