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Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova Dashkova ( 1743 - 1810 )  Category ( women_in_history ) [suggest a correction]
 

Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova DashkovaYekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova Dashkova was a very close friend of Russian Empress Catherine the Great as well as a major figure of the Russian Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Her Memoirs were first published in 1840, but remain in print today because they provide a birds-eye view of the life and times of Catherine's Russia.

Dashkova was born Countess Catherine Vorontsova, the third daughter of Count Roman Vorontsov, a member of the Senate. Unlike most European females during the eighteenth century, she received an exceptionally good education. She displayed an aptitude for the intellectual from a very early age. She studied mathematics at the University of Moscow and enjoyed the literary works of Montesquieu, Boileau, Voltaire, and Helveticus. In her youth, she became connected to the Russian court and became one of the leaders of the party that supported Grand Duchess Catherine (later Catherine II, the Great).

At that time, the Russian court was distinctly divided into two camps: one that supported Catherine's husband, the future Peter III, and Catherine, who came to Russia as a minor Prussian princess. Before Dashkova was sixteen she married Prince Mikhail Dashkov, a prominent Russian nobleman, and settled in Moscow. In 1762, however, she played an important role in the coup d'etat by which Catherine assumed the throne and control of the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, once Catherine had her throne, she cooled her friendship with Dashkova, though the latter remained loyal to her sovereign. The estrangement made Dashkova uncomfortable enough to request that the Empress allow her to travel abroad. Permission was granted, and Dashkova departed on an extended tour of Europe. As a widow it was acceptable for her to travel. She was received well at foreign courts, and her literary and scientific reputation paved the way to many prominent European salons and connections. While in Paris she became good friends with Diderot and Voltaire. She expressed a distinct appreciation for the English people and their culture, indeed, she arranged for her son to be educated in England.

In 1782 Dashkova returned to Russia and found herself once again in Catherine's favor. Shortly after her return, the Empress appointed Dashkova to the position of director at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and Sciences, and two years later she was named the first president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which was founded by Catherine at Dashkova's suggestion. Dashkova was the first woman in the world to head a national academy of sciences. Other accomplishments include the development of the Russian dictionary used by the Academy. She edited a monthly magazine and wrote at least two dramatic works. Not long before the death of the Empress, the two old friends had another falling out and Dashkova soon retired from court. On the accession of Catherine's son, Pavel I, in 1796, Dashkova and all of Catherine's favorites and supporters were stripped of their offices and exiled to a small village outside Novgorod, with the recommendation that she ponder her involvement in the coup d'etat. Pavel was very much estranged from his mother and enacted a lengthy and extensive program of revenge against his father's murder. After a time, Dashkova's sentence was partially rescinded thanks to the intervention of her friends, and she was permitted to spend her final years on her own estate near Moscow.

Portrait of Princess Dashkova by Dmitry Levitzky.


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