Rusudana Nikolaevna Nikoladze-Polievktova (1884-1981) was the oldest of three children of Niko Nikoladze. She was born in St. Petersburg but grew up in Georgia, moving between Poti, Tiflis (Tbilisi), and the family estate in the small western village of Didi-Dzhikhaishi. At her parent’s wishes she received a broad education. Rusudana graduated with specializations in mathematics and education from the Tiflis Gymnasium for Women in 1904 and matriculated at the Women’s Pedagogical Institute (WPI, now Herzen Pedagogical University) in St. Petersburg later that year. In 1900, 1903, and again in 1905 she traveled with her parents to Western Europe visiting England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In the West she met many Russian revolutionary émigrés, including the anarchist Petr Kropotkin, “the father of Russian Marxism” George Plekhanov, and the young Bolshevik leader Lenin. In 1909 Rusudana received her degrees in physics and inorganic chemistry and began working as a junior researcher at WPI. Simultaneously, during the 1909-1910 school year she taught chemistry and physics at a St. Petersburg gymnasium, and attended St. Petersburg University from which she graduated in 1913 with a degree in organic chemistry. In addition to her native Georgian and equally impeccable Russian, Rusudana spoke English, French, and German. From 1915 to 1917 she also took higher pedagogical courses in preschool education, specializing in the new Montessori System. Her interest in education and its methods would continue throughout her life.
In the summer of 1913, Rusudana married the Petersburg historian Mikhail Aleksandrovich Polievktov. They were acquainted as early as 1907, when she was a senior at WPI and where he taught at the time. Their only child, Nikolai (Nika) Mikhailovich Nikoladze-Polievktov, was born in 1915. During 1913-1914 Rusudana accompanied her husband on several research trips to Berlin and Paris; they also visited Switzerland, France, and Scandinavia as tourists. The outbreak of the First World War caught the couple in Switzerland, penniless and unable to travel back to Russia across Central and Eastern Europe. They returned home only in late September 1914, after a long detour via Marseilles, Constantinople and Odessa. Rusudana recalled that on the last leg of the journey they were on the same boat with the members of the renowned K.S. Stanislavskii theater company. Her travels are described in great detail in her travelogues and diaries, which are now part of the Polievktov-Nikoladze Family Papers at Notre Dame.
Considering the Left-leaning political orientation of the recently formed Polievktov-Nikoladze clan, it is hardly surprising that they greeted the news of the February Revolution with enthusiasm. Rusudana recorded in her diary that her parents’ reaction to the demise of the old order was even more jubilant and euphoric than her own or that of her younger sister Tamara (1892-1939), a recent graduate of the Women’s Pedagogical Institute. Within days, the Nikoladze sisters offered their services to the newly formed Petrograd Soviet and in the following weeks they worked eight-hour shifts every day inside the Tauride Palace as telephone operators on the lines designated for the Soviet’s leaders. (See Rusudana’s entry pass to the Duma exhibited). The sisters also played a major part in the work of the Interview (Polievktov) Commission. Rusudana’s careful, contemporaneous diary of her experiences during the February Revolution is also here on display.
In July 1917, Rusudana and her toddler son returned to Didi-Dzhikhaishi, where she was among the founders of the local gymnasium and where she taught until 1920. She then moved to Tbilisi and until her retirement in the early 1970s worked at several institutions of higher education, beginning as a researcher and reaching, in 1933, the rank of Professor and Chair of the chemistry departments at Tbilisi State Pedagogical and Polytechnic Institutes. Rusudana was a prolific and talented writer, publishing scholarly works on organic and inorganic chemistry, chemistry methods, and Georgian chemistry terminology. She also completed two (unpublished) monographs on the life and works of famous Georgian chemists, Professors V. Petriashvili and P. Melikishvili, long (unpublished) memoirs on her St. Petersburg mentors, and accounts of her prerevolutionary life in both Georgian and Russian.
Though she was never a member of the Communist Party, Rusudana received numerous awards from the Soviet state, including the title of Honorary Scientist (1941), two Orders of Lenin (1947, 1953), the Order of the Red Banner (1965), and two Certificates of Merit from the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (1960, 1965).
Rusudana’s son Nikolai became a prominent nuclear physicist and reportedly worked for the Soviet atomic bomb project under Kurchatov in the 1940s. He returned to Tbilisi around 1970 to be with his elderly mother and taught physics at the University. Rusudana’s father and younger siblings all passed away prior to the Second World War. After her husband’s death in 1942, she became the sole custodian of the family archive and dedicated her life to preserving their legacy and papers.×
Commandant of the Tauride Palace
March «1» 1917
Number [not marked]
Stamp: Commandant of the Tauride Palace
This has been issued by the Commandant of the Tauride Palace to those standing on duty by the telephones for the right to enter and exit the State Duma.
Commandant: [Signature] Colonel Engel’gardt
Adjutant: [Signature] Ensign Aleev
March 5th, at 11 o’clock in the evening …
In the Duma, where we are standing on duty by the telephones in order to search and bring the sought after [the Soviet] deputies—the mood was just great. Everyone in the [Petrograd] Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, as well as in the lobby, was for the continuation of the war. In the lobby, there were thousands of people! At the Duma’s entrance I almost had to jump back away from the door of the Catherine Hall—there was such a stench; it was worse than the stink of a barracks! What has become of the beautiful Duma?! Its columns at the bottom were all smudged, with pairs of their alabaster pedestals broken off in places where it looks like soldiers marched through. The entire floor was covered with dirt, cigarette butts, food scraps, and documents soiled by footprints—such as appeals from the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, etc. Everywhere masses of all kinds of people were standing and wandering around—in coats, hats, red and white armbands, dressed as civilians, students, military, navy; crowds of girls—nurses, medical attendants, etc. Everywhere you look, you see new handwritten signs: room number 1, rooms with numbers 12, 15, 25, 30, 47; for the food department, medical department, information section, automobile transport, and so on, and so on.
Off-shift soldiers are sleeping on their overcoats everywhere—along the walls and on the floor…
Students, military cadets, and sailors with white hatbands were guarding all entrances and exits—some with sabers and bayonets—checking everybody for passes (issued by the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and the [Duma] Military Commission). In some rooms tea was served without saucers or spoons—instead there were tin mugs or strange-looking cups and glasses—and black bread with butter. Everyone who is working can get it, from soldiers to [Duma] deputies…Besides, in several corners of the lobby black bread was dumped on the tables—everyone who wanted could come and eat it.×
“The Diary. One more notebook. The Last Chapter. 1934”
What a notebook I have produced! A real cemetery—no, worse, it is a battlefield that has emerged—nobody knows why and for what purpose. “Field, field, who has sown you with the bones of the dead?” As well as the shadows—dear faces of so many who are dead and gone. My God, there are so many of them, and they were such [extraordinary] people!×
For many, many years I have not written to you and for a long time have not heard anything about you, except for bits and pieces from Mira’s occasional letters…As you can see, I still live in Leningrad! I live with O.P. Lenskaia whom you know well, and have for 10 long years since the war. Together we survived the Leningrad blockade in 1942. We have buried Aunt Lisa, who survived the most horrifying days of that war winter of 1942. She died peacefully after putting her glasses on the page of an unfinished book. O.P.’s youngest son—our dearest Kolia—did not come back from the front. He went as a volunteer and got slaughtered in the battle probably near Pulkovo. Elder (son) Pavlik is here with his family. Tamarochka is married for a second time. Her elder son is already a naval officer, and her two girls will become adults very soon. O.P. has received the title of Honored Doctor and she continues to work in a clinic, always surrounded by affectionate patients.
I defended my dissertation [in microbiology] in 1939 and left science to work in the industry. Since then I have worked at a factory—now at the factory of sparkling wines as a department manager. I love my job. I frequently travel on work assignments to various factories, but unfortunately Tbilisi (you have a big factory there) is not on my list. I have not visited the south for a long time…×