Servants (Russia)

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Some prosperous Mennonite immigrants to Russia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought servants with them. These were youths, or more often young girls, related by ties of kinship or marriage to their employers. Occasionally, however, they were non-Mennonites, some of whom later joined the Mennonite faith. From the outset of settlement servants thus were accepted as normal members of prosperous Mennonite households. Female servants, who often came from poor families, assisted with domestic chores, while male servants were employed in farm work, especially herding and shepherding in the early years. As incomes increased and the area cultivated expanded in the colonies, additional labor was required on colony farms and for domestic duties in the homes. In the Molotschna colony in 1855, 1,598 people were employed as laborers and servants, 737 of whom were Mennonite, 681 were Russian (usually local Ukrainians), and 180 were "German" colonists, Tatars, etc. Increasingly Russian peasants were employed, either local Ukrainians or Great Russians who were seasonal migrants from central Russia.

By 1914 it was common for established colony farmers in New Russia to employ a farm laborer for the main agricultural season (May to October) or for the entire year; additional labor at ploughing and harvest time; and contract labor for building, etc. In the house a maid or maids assisted with housework, washing, cooking, and childcare. In richer households a child's maid was also employed to care for very young children. As a consequence, young Mennonites learned to speak Ukrainian at an early age. Male farm workers slept in the barn or in special quarters away from the house; female servants in their own quarters or in the house. While farm workers and servants were occasionally ill-treated, many served Mennonites for long periods, sometimes members of the same family for a number of generations. Female servants, because they were more closely identified with the domestic sphere, were more integrated into Mennonite families and Mennonite ways than most male farm laborers. Some servants were taught basic literacy skills by the employers or their children and maintained close connections with their Mennonite families even after they had married and returned home.

Mennonite estate owners and industrialists employed a large labor force and their more extensive households required more servants than colony homes, servants whose roles were also more clearly defined. Mennonites living in urban areas, often professional people or businessmen, also employed such servants. The treatment of laborers and servants varied greatly in these situations, but again there are reports of close connections being established.

The employment of servants and laborers came to an end with the Russian Revolution and Civil War (1917-20) but not before servants had occasionally defended their employers against attacks by marauding bands, neighboring peasants, and troops.

Author(s) James Urry
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Urry, James. "Servants (Russia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 18 Jun 2018.

APA style

Urry, James. (1989). Servants (Russia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 June 2018, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 812. All rights reserved.

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