Russian Maids of Honor
An Academy at Moscow Where They Are Trained — Must be Able to Sew, Read Aloud for Hours and Stand for Indefinite Periods
Speaking of the Russian schools, there is one academy at Moscow which is unique in its way. I am sure that a similar institution does not exist in any other country, says the Philadelphia Times. "It is a school for young ladies of high birth, whose parents desire that they shall become Maids of Honor at the Imperial Court.
The English Queen has only six or eight Maids of Honor, and I believe the Royal attendants of that description are even fewer in number at Courts where there is a Queen Regnant, Queen Regent or Queen Consort of first-class rank. Of course, by "Queens" I also mean "Empresses."
All the reigning Consorts who have the Imperial title are also Queens. Empress Elizabeth of Austria is also Queen of Hungary; Empress Alexandria of Russia is Queen of Poland; Empress Augusta Victoria of Germany is also Queen of Prussia and Queen Victoria is also Empress of India. In Russia there are several institutions which retain an oriental flavor and the fact that the Czarina is always surrounded by an imposing bevy of unmarried women is a case in point. At least fifty young women, all the daughters of great Nobles pay her personal service. They are in two ranks, "Cipher" and "Portrait," distinctions which I will presently explain.
Candidates for the position of Maids of Honor to the Empress have their names registered by a Court official, whose title might be translated as "Overseer of the Maids." This is often done a day or two after the birth of the aspiring young ladies. At the age of ten they enter the official school of the Maids of Honor and there they are taught everything pertaining to the Court, as well as everything that goes to make a well-educated young gentlewoman.
The girls must acquire the art of legible writing and be able to correspond fluently not only in Russian, but in English, German, French and Italian. They must be able to take dictation in all those languages rapidly. They are also expected to become familiar not only with the routine etiquette of their own and foreign Courts, but they must learn rules of prudence, delicate distinctions of rank and other intricacies of Court life, almost impossible to explain to those who have not been born in the atmosphere of the purple.
Future Maids of Honor are also required to be not only clever at embroidery but capable, if necessary, of ordinary domestic stitching. While in attendance there are always possibilities of a ready needle being required for the Empress or a Grand Duchess. They are also expected to know how to order a dinner and how to direct cooks in the way of preparing dishes favored by Imperial personages. They must have a capacity of being able to read aloud for hours if necessary, without undue fatigue; being able to stand for indefinite periods; of being able to reecive snubbings, scoldings, even abuse with patient composure, and finally they must inculcate within them the fact that an Empress or Grand Duchess is a personage almost divine in attribute.
All these accomplishments acquired —or apparently acquired— it remains with a Maid of Honor lastly to be of such favor in her features, her general appearance and her dress that she enforces attraction from the Empress or from one of the other half-dozen Grand Duchesses of Russia, who are permitted to have the second pick of the Maids of Honor, after the Czarina has finished her own appointment.
Before, however, such appointment can be ratified, the Czar himself inspects the candidates. Indeed, at various periods the Czar makes a point of visiting the school and generally "looks over" the girls. The Czarina's Maids of Honor enjoy a barbaric splendor of costume that far exceeds anything to be seen at any other European Court. A white satin robe stretches from chin to toes, the buttons up the front being set with precious stones. Over this is thrown a sort of red velvet cloak, embroidered with gold and having long pendant sleeves. On their heads rests the kakochnik or national cap of crimson velvet, thickly studded with jewels, from the summit of which hangs a veil of white tulle that spreads half way over the voluminous train. This gorgeous array is donned on all State occasions until the wearer passes from the "Cipher" to the "Portrait" stage of promotion.
The juniors wear for some years on their left shoulders the monogram of their mistress worked in pale blue silk, but after a period of service they substitute for this the portrait of the Empress framed in brilliants and exchange their crimson and gold for a less radiant cap of green and silver.
While receiving their education they wear plain woolen frocks, with frilled silk aprons, but these dresses are so contrived that the upper part of the bodices and the long sleeves can be removed at will. Whenever the Czar visits the schools all the girls appear decollete. — Sacramento Daily Union and Philadelphia Times, 1896
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