Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


The Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child has organized two hostels in Moscow to care for those very poor women who have nowhere to go for the two months before and the two months after they give birth. The majority of these women are students who live in college dormitories, or working women living in co-operative dwelling houses, neither of which is suited to a pregnant woman's needs. Some of the women, of course, come from the streets, but the purpose of these hostels is to relieve the bad effects of over-crowded living conditions by helping those pregnant women who, though very poor, are good proletarians. The women apply for entrance into these hostels through their local Point of Medical Consultation, and after their living quarters have been inspected and it is agreed that they really do need a change, they are allowed to enter one of these hostels any time between the seventh and ninth month of their pregnancy. Both Hostels for Mother and Child are within a five-minute walk of a State Maternity Hospital.

As soon as possible after the birth, usually from six to nine days, the mother returns to the hostel with her child and they remain there for two months. During this period the women are given instruction in how to care for their children in the best possible way, even in the inadequate dwelling places in which they live. As a rule, both co-operative dwelling houses and college dormitories have creches attached to them, hut the difficulty arises at night should the mother have to keep her child with her in a room where there are noisy people.

The ground floor of each of these hostels is given over to the pregnant women so that they will not be forced to climb stairs; then as soon as their babies are born, they are moved to the first floor. There are three nurseries in each hostel; one for the babies under one week of age; another for children under one month of age; and another for those under two months. They sleep in these nurseries at night, and not with their mothers. In good weather they stay in the garden all day, and when it is rainy or cold they stay on a sleeping porch, so they are in the house only during the night. No one suffering from an infectious disease is allowed to be an inmate; but there are two small infirmaries, one for the children, and one for the mothers, to care for minor illnesses. The women do all the work for their children under competent instruction. Groups of women take turns in caring for the various rooms, and sometimes they may help with the cooking if they desire to do so. Also, if a woman shows a desire and an aptitude for nursing and wishes to continue with it she is given the opportunity of attending a nurses' training school. But on the: whole, these hostels are not of an educational nature because the women whom they serve are usually quite well educated. However, there are lectures given every evening on child care; and in the dining-room and sitting-room which are combined there are a great many books and magazines of various types to divert the women. Women are all taught to sew so that they will know how to make their children's clothes. While they are in the hostel they wear clothes owned by the State unless they desire to wear their own which is almost never the case because they know that it is best to save their own outfits until they leave the hostel. As is usual in Russian social institutions, the inmates are allowed considerable freedom in that they can leave the hostel any time after their work is done and stay out until nine o'clock in the evening, or later, if they have permission. The head nurse told me, however, that they very seldom care to go out, because there is ample diversion offered by the hostel and, in any case, they are all kept busy in their spare time making clothes for their children.

Three times a week the inmates are allowed to receive their relatives and friends and talk with them in the sitting-room; but the babies can only be shown through a glass window. The most impressive rooms in both these hostels are the bathrooms and the rooms for feeding and weighing the babies. Each hostel has four large white-tiled bathrooms, imported from the United States, of which they are very proud. The nursing and weighing rooms are very sunny and quiet rooms which seem more like social rooms than anything else, for they are tastefully decorated, and the women use them more frequently than their regular sitting-rooms.

Each hostel accommodates about 25 mothers and 30 children, 2 doctors, 1 gynecologist, and about 9 or 10 medically trained nurses. These two institutions, being under the guidance of the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child are supported partly by a subsidy from the budget of the Communist Government, but mainly by the Social Insurance Company. I understand that it costs approximately ten rubles a week for each woman and her child. This means that a woman and a baby can live in such a Russian hostel at an inclusive cost of less than seventy-five cents per day.