The Role of Catherine the Great in Promoting Education and Health Care in Russia

Catherine the great had a number of achievements during her reign. This article highlights two key achievements, namely promotion of education in Russia and provision of health care to the Russians.

Promotion of education in Russia

The Establishment of the Moscow Foundling Home (Moscow Orphanage) was the first attempt at achieving that goal. It was charged with admitting destitute and illegitimate children in order to educate them in any way the state deemed fit. After reviewing the report wrote by Dr. John Brown about the commission’s problems and suggestions for education and social reforms in Russia. She argued that in a democratic country, education ought to be under the state control and based on an education code.  She then placed great emphasis on proper and effectual education of the both sexes.


After the establishment of Moscow Foundling Home, Catherine established the Smolny Institute for Noble Girls to educate females. The Smolny Institute emerged as the first of its kind in Russia. At first the Institute only admitted young girls of the noble elite, but eventually it began to admit girls of high intelligent and high educational potentials as well. The girls that attended the Smolny Institute were often accused of being ignorant of anything that went on in the world outside the walls of the Smolny buildings. At the Institute, enforcement of strict discipline was emphasized to its philosophy. Running and games were forbidden and the building was kept particularly cold because it was believed that too much warmth was harmful to the developing body, just like excess play (Raeff, 1972).


During the years 1768-1774, there was no progress made in setting up a national school system. However, Catherine herself continued to investigate educational theory and practice in other countries. She made many educational reforms especially through remodeling of the Cadet Corps 1766 which initiated many educational reforms. School then began to take children from a very young age and educate them until the age of 21. The curriculum was broadened from the professional military curriculum to include the sciences, philosophy, ethics, history and international law (Klier, 1976).


She also strictly reviewed religious education. At first, she attempted to revise clerical studies, proposing a reform of religious schools. This reform never progressed beyond the planning stages… She transformed the clergy from a group that wielded great power over the Russian government and its people to a segregated community forced to depend on the state for compensation (Hosking, 1997).

Provision of health care to the Russians

One of Catherine’s first contributions towards forming an enlightened nation was to create a system of hospitals. She also started a medical college to provide health care for her people (Isabel, 1979). Although Russia lacked medical science to reach a respected position, as many other countries had did, methods of administering medical knowledge had to be imposed. In attempts to alleviate this, Catherine funded the TownHospital at St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg House for Lunatics, and the FoundlingHospital. She also popularized vaccinations. The Empress donated money to fund the TownHospital at St. Petersburg, where poor were admitted without payment (Simon, 2009). Upon admittance, they were shaved, bathed, and put in tidy dress. The hospital consisted of 300 well spread beds with curtains and a professor of electricity who was permanently employed to relieve diseases. Likewise, the St. Petersburg House for Lunatics was constructed, which became renowned for its gentle treatment (Hans, 1961).


Hosking, G. (1997) Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917,HarvardUniversity Press, 231.

Simon, D. (2009) Catherine the Great,New York: HarperCollins, pg 130.

Hans, N. (1961) Dumaresq, Brown and Some Early Educational Projects of Catherine II”, Slavonic and East European Review: pg 229-235.

Hosking, G. (1997) Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917,HarvardUniversity Press,           231.

Raeff, M. (1972) Catherine the Great: A Profile. New York: Hill and Wang, 293-297.