Nagezida Duroy, the first transgender officer in Emperor Russia

Her story was unique in Russia in the early 19th century. She was a hero of war and served the cavalry, and the Russian emperor even allowed her to serve the army in the name of a man.

1810 Nagezida Duroy, Borodino Museum Collection (L) // From Victor Delkin. Portrait of Nageji da Duroy, 1953 (R)

Heritage Images / Getty Images; Najage Daduroy Museum Estate

“The Horse Soldiers Maiden”, “The Hero of the Patriotic War of 1812”, “Russian Amazons”, and the first female officer in Russia. This is how Nagezida Durois, or more precisely Alexander Vasilyevich, who was called in the military and in everyday life, is known in Russia.

Hollywood is an enviable childhood

Napoleon Bonaparte colorfully portrayed the story of her life in her autobiography, The Horse Soldiers Maiden: The Diary of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars. She was born in 1790 (1783, according to some sources) in Malolossia (now Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire). Her mother eloped with a Hasser captain named Durov, contrary to her parents’ wishes, and secretly married him. She dreamed of having a boy, but to her great disappointment she gave birth to a girl who was also a very noisy toddler.

read more: Why was Hasser considered the crazy army of the Russian Empire?

One day, as the regiment was in motion, four-month-old Nadigida was yelling, and her “totally resentful” mother simply threw her baby out of the carriage window. Miraculously, the girl was not injured and was picked up by Hasser. The father was furious and decided to take his daughter away from his irresponsible mother, taking care of Nadigida as a fellow soldier.

“The man who raised me, Astahof, held me in his arms all day, took me to the stables of the squadron, put him on a horse, played with a pistol, swung a saber, and I applauded and spit sparks and luster. I burst into laughter when I saw the steel, “Durova said in the book.

Nageji da Duroy, 14 years old

Nageji da Duroy, 14 years old

Public domain

A few years later, Durov had another child, and his father had two children, so he decided to leave the army to stay afloat. Nadigida was returned to her mother, but their relationship did not go well-the mother tried to give her a suitable upbringing to teach her embroidery, but her daughter asked for a pistol and a horse. .. The father was sweeter and comforted the mother by saying that this childhood was “just a transit stage.”

When Nadigida was 12, her father bought a horse called Alkyd. Every morning she secretly went to the stables, dreaming of tame him. She talked to Alkyd, gave her sugar, and ran around the courtyard without fear. Once upon a time, the stables witnessed the scene-the stallion stood up and began to sprint like crazy. Nadigida lovingly calmed the horse, and the stables had to admit that she controlled Alkyd much better than he did. So, during the day, Nadigida was miserable for doing “girlish” activities like embroidery, but at night, secretly from her mother, she sprinted on her stallion.

The first feminist and her dream of freedom

“If my mother didn’t symbolize the role of a woman so gloomy, I might have finally forgotten all my swashbuckler ambitions and become a normal young woman like everyone else. She expressed herself in the most hurtful words in front of me About much of women’s sex: In her view, women should give birth and live and die in slavery, “Durova said. I am writing in the “Journal” of.

Nadigida’s father, who loved her so much, also broke her heart when she told her that if she were a man, it might have been the power and support of his old age. Therefore, Durova inevitably decided to “cut off from the gender that was under the curse of God, as I believed.”

V. Gau.Portrait of Nageji da Duroy

V. Gau.Portrait of Nageji da Duroy

Alexander Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

In 1806, when Nadigida was 16, she decided to flee her home. One night, unknown to her parents, she cut her hair, wore a Cossack uniform, and rode a horse where the passing Cossack regiment was sheltering for the night. The Colonel did not suspect that the stranger was a girl and succumbed to Durova’s persuasion to tentatively register her with the regiment until they joined the regular army. This is how Nadezhda became Alexander.

But it didn’t take long before Durova began to realize that he didn’t look like one of the great mustache-bearing Cossacks. And the cavalry maiden decided to continue her wandering. Completely on her own, she enjoyed her freedom-and eventually arrived at the Uhlan Regiment in Poland (Poland was part of the Russian Empire at the time).

Durova participated in several Russian battles with Napoleon’s army. Her “Journal” describes the first battle near Gutstadt, where the regiment did not attack completely, but attacked by squadron and mistakenly took turns with each squadron. In battle, he saved the life of an officer surrounded by enemy troops after being taken off the horse. And her horse, Alkyd, was always with her everywhere.

Emperor’s approval

The legend of Nadigida was almost destroyed by a letter she wrote to her father. She sought his forgiveness for her escape and said she had joined the Uhlan regiment and went to war. He was then frightened and sent a letter to an influential friend in St. Petersburg to see if his daughter was alive. Eventually, the letter reached Emperor Alexander I, who “shedding tears.”

Nageji da Duroy on the St. George Cross

Nageji da Duroy on the St. George Cross

War Encyclopedia, 1912

Nadezhda was invited to be received by the emperor. He told her that her commander had reported her extraordinary courage in battle, and he asked if the rumors that she wasn’t a man were true. She gathered her thoughts and answered honestly. The emperor thanked her for her courage and offered her to go home, but she threw herself at his feet and asked him for the honor of fighting for her homeland and his name. He granted her wish, gave her his name, and Najezida Duroy became Alexander Alexandrov and awarded the cross of St. George for saving the life of the officer.

Kutuzov’s order

Auguste-Joseph des Sarnods.Ubarov Cavalry Attack on Borodino

Auguste-Joseph des Sarnods.Ubarov Cavalry Attack on Borodino


Duroy also showed courage in the legendary battle with Napoleon in Borodino in 1812, but suffered frostbite and blast injuries. She left the battlefield hiding the seriousness of her injury. After that, Durova had a discussion with his boss. She went looking for her horse and was away from the men entrusted to her. Her commander threatened to shoot her. Nadigida felt insulted and decided to approach Supreme Commander Kutuzov directly. She begged to be his orderly person-and found that he had heard her courage from previous military operations, and he was pleased with her to serve his aides. I took it with me.

A. Sheperiuk. Army Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov at the command post at the Battle of Borodino in 1812 (1951)

A. Sheperiuk. Army Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov at the command post at the Battle of Borodino in 1812 (1951)

V. Kurbsky / Sputnik

However, a few weeks later, Kutuzov realized that Nadigida’s injury was serious and sent her to treatment. When she recovered, there was news that the general had died. Nevertheless, she was allowed to return to military service after being injured.

Writer Durova

Nadigida was persuaded by his father to retire from the army in 1816. He then used the name Alexander Alexandrov, pointing to himself in the form of muscles, and spent the rest of his life dressed in men. She was exceptionally straightforward, born and raised in military camps, and frequently reiterated her accustomed to such speech.

She wrote a memoir, and her brother, who was familiar with Russia’s leading poet Alexander Pushkin, showed him the manuscript. Pushkin praised Alexander’s subject matter, style and literary talent and asked him to purchase the manuscript. “The author’s life is so curious, well-known and mysterious that the puzzle solution needs to give a strong and universal impression,” Pushkin wrote to his brother Nadigida.

A monument to Nageji da Duroy in her mansion in Yelabuga, Tatatan. Here she spent the last year of her life.

A monument to Nageji da Duroy in her mansion in Yelabuga, Tatatan. Here she spent the last year of her life.

Galina Surkova (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Pushkin printed a memoir of his journal Sobremennik (“Contemporary”) under the heading “Memoirs of NA Duroy”. In the preface, he also gave the author an ardent review and named her Najezida Duroy. “We read these confessions of such an extraordinary woman with an indescribable engagement. How quickly the soft fingers that once held the bloody handle of the Uhlan sword , A bright and ardent pen. “

Duroy was terribly indignant at being kicked out by the poet. The correspondence between them will continue, so Durova demands that the print run with the name that made her flinch should be destroyed. But Pushkin remained stuck. “Be bold-get on the literary path as courageously as you entered the path that brought you fame,” Pushkin inferred.

Duroy did continue to write, writing several more prose works, where she raised the topic of women’s status in society. She died in 1866 at the age of 82.

Nagezida Duroy, the first transgender officer in Emperor Russia

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