Heiress, Political Prisoner, Reformer, Refugee: Villanova Dean’s New Book Chronicles Russian Countess’s Extraordinary Life

Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean of Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has written the first-ever biography of Countess Sofia Panina.
Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean of Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has written the first-ever biography of Countess Sofia Panina.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – She was born into a wealthy aristocratic family and dubbed “Russia’s Jane Addams” for her passion for improving the lives of urban workers. She became the first woman in world history to hold a cabinet position, and the first political prisoner to face the Bolsheviks’ terrifying revolutionary tribunal. Countess Sofia Panina was one of the most remarkable women of the generation that made the Russian Revolution, and now her life story has finally been fully told.

In Citizen Countess: Sofia Panina and the Fate of Revolutionary Russia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019), the first-ever biography of Panina, Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean of Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brings her subject vividly to life. Readers today will connect with the story of a woman who was challenged to constantly reinvent herself, from her early years as one of Russia’s most eligible heiresses to her final decades devoted to humanitarian projects in Europe and the US assisting refugees whose lives—like her own—had been upended by war and revolution.   

“Sofia Panina is one of the most important women of the twentieth century that you’ve never heard of,” says Dr.  Lindenmeyr. “Her life documents the successful struggle of so many women in the modern era to emancipate themselves from restrictive class and gender norms.”    

Based on Dr. Lindenmeyr’s 20 years of detailed research in numerous archival collections, Citizen Countess establishes Sofia Panina as an astute eyewitness to and passionate participant in the historical events that shaped her life. Her experiences shed light on the evolution of the European nobility, women’s emancipation and political influence of the time, and the fate of Russian liberalism as an alternative to violent revolution.     

“A compelling read!” notes reviewer Laura Engelstein, PhD, Henry S. McNeil Professor Emerita of Russian History at Yale University. “Feminist aristocrat, social-minded philanthropist, female cabinet minister, ‘class enemy,’ rootless émigré, US citizen, Sofia Panina’s story, embodying revolutionary Russia’s liberal dreams, abounds in contradictions. Its twists and turns and her own dramatic fate are vividly brought to life in Lindenmeyr’s brilliant feat of scholarly detective work.”

An expert in Russian history, Dr. Lindenmeyr is the author of Poverty is not a Vice: Charity, Society and the State in Imperial Russia (Princeton University Press, 1996) and coeditor of Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution, 1914–1922 (Slavica Publications, 2018). She has presented her research at several international conferences, including the annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, (ASEEES), the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute Seminar on the 1917 Russian Revolution and the University of Notre Dame Workshop on the Russian Revolution of 1917.  She received her PhD in History from Princeton University.

Citizen Countess will be the subject of a book discussion and roundtable on Sunday, November 24 at 10 a.m. at the 2019 ASEES Convention in San Francisco.   Dr. Lindenmeyr will offer a reading of Citizen Countess on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. at Falvey Memorial Library on Villanova’s campus. It is free and open to the public.  For more information on the book, please visit www.sofiapanina.com.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.