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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Yekaterina Dashkova

b. 1744, Saint Petersburg; d. 1810, near Moscow

Born a countess in the powerful Vorontsov family, and goddaughter of both Empress Elizabeth and the future Peter III, Yekaterina Dashkova was a gifted intellectual, a major figure of the Russian Enlightenment, and a close friend of Empress Catherine the Great. She received an exceptionally good education, studying mathematics at the University of Moscow, and married Prince Mikhail Dashkov before she was sixteen. According to her memoirs, she played a leading part in the 1762 coup that placed Catherine on the throne, a service for which she received the Order of Saint Catherine (an award given only to women). After an extensive tour of Europe commencing in 1768 and during which she formed friendships with French philosopher Denis Diderot and writer Voltaire, she returned home in 1782 to be appointed director of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1784, she was named the first president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which had been founded at her suggestion, and under her guidance it achieved prominence and intellectual respectability. In 1789, she became the first woman elected to the American Philosophical Society through the sponsorship of Benjamin Franklin.