Dear Readers, once again our good friend, the excellent genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, sends a superbly informative post from Geneva.
Archives of Swiss universities : lists of students on line 1874-1975
While assisting an American woman looking for the birth certificates of her distant cousins born in Geneva, I came across some interesting sources that could be useful in finding out more about your ancestors from the Russian Empire.
Indeed, the children in question, Sophie and Frederik, were born in 1908 and 1910 in Plainpalais - today a district of Geneva - to a couple originally from Ekarinoslav in Russia, and the father's job stated that he was a student. This was a good start for a case study in the large Russian community of the time.
During the 18th century, Russia, under the rule of Catherine the Great, was influenced by its Western neighbors and modernized its administration, education, army and technology. Aristocrats began to travel in Europe, mainly to Italy, Germany, France and England, but also to Switzerland, as part of their Grand Tour. They visited the enchanting landscape of Lake Geneva, the setting for Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloïse, a kind of literary tourism avant la lettre. In the second half of the 19th century, many Russians settled and stayed in Switzerland for an extended period. It was fairly easy to obtain a residence permit and Russians speak German and French making it easy to settle in a tranquil and neutral country. Political exiles took refuge in Geneva or Zurich, artists came in search of inspiration and a great number of young people looking for emancipation or prevented from studying in Russia applied in Swiss universities.
At the end of the 19th century, Switzerland counted seven universities for three million inhabitants: foreign students were therefore welcome to fill the faculty benches; up to 65 % of the alumni around 1890 were foreign. As the quota policy prevented the non-orthodox students to study in Russia, the subjects from the minorities of the Russian Empire – Jewish, catholic or lutherian (Germans of Russia) who were living in a restricted residence zone (Ukraine, Poland, Finland and Baltics) and who could afford it turned to study abroad.
From 1867 onward, it is interesting to note that young women from Russia enrolled in large numbers at the university of Zurich and a few years later at Geneva and Bern universities (1872) when those establishments opened to women. Then Lausanne, Basel, Neuchâtel and Fribourg followed.
The female students were deprived of a university education in Russia and most often in Switzerland they picked science and medicine studies in particular as they wish to improve the destiny of their fellow compatriots once back in Russia. At the turn of the 20th century, 80% of the enrolled female students were foreign and 85% came from Russia.
The historian Natalia Tikhonov-Sigrist studied the presence of foreign female students in western universities. She wrote: “according to my estimates, based on onomastics and place of origin, Jewish female students made up at least 62% of all female students from the Russian Empire enrolled at Swiss universities before 1920.
As I was working on the case of the cousins born in Geneva to a Russian couple, I found numerous lists of students with their nationality and their address. It indeed illustrated the fact that the Russian community lived in the Carouge area in Plainpalais close to the Arve river and known as Little Russia. Housing there was cheap and close to the university.
According to the Swiss canton, the individual rights law can affect the diffusion of online lists of students. If it is not available on line such as for UNIGE ( University of Geneva), for UNIL (University of Lausanne) and UZH ( University of Zurich) you can contact or visit the universities of other cantons and will encounter helpful archivists. You will find below, Dear Readers, the information for each one.
University of Geneva (UNIGE)
University of Lausanne (UNIL)
University of Zurich (UZH):
On Matrikeledition, you can consult the online lists in German: you can search by name and, surprisingly, there are pages dedicated to women (Frauen: sortiert nach Namen).
The listings show the student's date of birth, gender, enrolment date, subject studied, nationality and enrolment number. Even more interesting: when you click on the student's name, you get more information: place of birth, previous place of study, semesters of study, parents' names, and even dissertation title.
University of Bern (UNIBE):
Possibility to consult the lists on site at the library:
Please find below the links to the index
University of Basel (UNIBAS) has deposited its archives at the local State Archives of Basel-Staadt. Possibility to consult on site at the following address: Martinsgasse 2, 4051 Basel
Online archive catalog of the Basel-Stadt State Archives
University of Fribourg (UNIFR)
Possibility to consult the lists on site at the Archives of the university with appointment 3 weeks in advance:
Archives de l'Université
MIS06 - Bureau MIS6102
Av. Europe 20
University of Neuchâtel (UNINE):
Some more readings:
Natalia Tikhonov Sigrist holds a PhD in History and civilization from the University of Geneva / Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
Etudiants de l’Exil Patrick Ferté, Caroline Barrera - p 105 -118
A Russian pioneer in Swiss universities – July 27, 2021 – RTS:
Thank you SO much, Isabelle!