Anastasia Shteinert, Communications and Engagement Manager

November is a month of gratitude, when families come together for Thanksgiving to celebrate the blessings of the past year. In observance of this holiday, we are highlighting four documents expressing heartfelt gratitude from different periods and locations. They are not just historical artifacts, but also testaments to the power of appreciation, affectionately written and decorated.

1. Birthday Greeting to Prince Peter Georgievich Oldenburg 

Birthday greeting presented to Prince Peter Georgievich Oldenburg, 1862. Gift of the Association of Jurists (465.83).

This exquisite document from 1862 is a greeting presented to Prince Peter Georgievich Oldenburg (1812–1881) on the occasion of his 50th birthday by the Gatchina Women’s School. The Prince, a grandson of Emperor Paul I, held the position of Head of the Main Council of Women’s Educational Institutions within the Office of the Institutions of Empress Maria. The Office operated in the Russian Empire between 1828 and 1917. It was named after Empress Maria, Emperor Paul I’s second wife, who founded many charitable institutions and managed the Empire’s charitable establishments even after her husband’s death.

Portrait of Prince Peter Georgievich Oldenburg. Oil on canvas. Unknown artist, second half of 19th c. Gift of the Association of Jurists (161.81).

The greeting address is adorned with delicate watercolor illustrations painted by artist S. Kudriavtsev. The dedication, “To His Imperial Highness Prince Peter Georgievich Oldenburg,” is decorated with floral ornaments and is surmounted by a view of the Gatchina Women’s School building. On subsequent pages, the undulating hand-written text of the address is followed by numerous signatures of the school’s administration and teachers.

Prince Oldenburg made notable contributions to education, diplomacy, and military service of the Russian Empire. In 1835, recognizing the scarcity of government officials with solid training in the legal profession, he introduced a project to establish the Imperial School of Jurisprudence. The project was developed in collaboration with M. M. Speransky, a reformist and political advisor of Alexander I and Nicholas I, often referred to as the father of Russian liberalism. Prince Oldenburg dedicated his personal funds, in excess of one million rubles, to acquire a building and establish this school in Saint Petersburg.

2. Gramota from Russian Refugees to Anna V. S. Mitchell 

Gramota from Russian Refugees to Anna V. S. Mitchell. The George Schidlovsky Papers

Anna V. S. Mitchell (1878–1966) served as an American Red Cross worker in France during World War I and later extended her assistance to Russian refugees in Constantinople. The combined hardships of the Russian Revolution and Civil War led to a widespread displacement of Russians abroad from 1917 through the 1920s. Mitchell traveled to Constantinople to aid those who were forced to leave their homeland.

Mitchell cared for the sick and infirm, helped the refugees find work and obtain visas, and aided in the schooling of their children. She leveraged her position as an Executive Assistant to Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the influential American High Commissioner in Turkey, to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees beyond Constantinople – on Lemnos Island, the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) peninsula, and in the Balkans.

To raise funds, Mitchell applied to her affluent family connections and arranged for refugees to sell their handicrafts on passenger ships in the Black Sea. Periodically returning to the U.S., she would raise awareness and collect funds for her refugee work by giving lectures and hosting events such as programs of Russian song and dance. Mitchell’s dedication to assisting Russian refugees continued until her departure from Istanbul in 1936.

The Russian History Museum is home to a collection of gramotas presented to Anna Mitchell by Russian refugees in the 1920s. A gramota is an embellished document expressing appreciation or recognition. Such documents were widely used in Russia and other Slavic countries, often written on parchment or high-quality paper, and profusely decorated with ornamentation, illustrations, and wax seals.

One of the gramotas addressed to Anna Mitchell commences with a dedicatory page adorned in the Art Nouveau style. The frame prominently features the following dedication: “To Highly Honourable Miss Mitchell from Grateful Russian Refugees from the Russian Home No. 7.”

The second page opens with a salutation and the following lines:

“Like wrecks of a ship, thus were we thrown out by the high elements now raging in our native land, onto the shores of a foreign country, thus, being precursors of the social storm threatening the whole of mankind.

<…> Great in her nobleness, America was the first to stretch out her disinterested and powerful hand which saved numerous Russians from death from starvation and epidemics.”

The letter further honors Mitchell for her dedication and help. The third page duplicates the text in Russian. The document is signed by more than 100 individuals.

Four hand-illustrated thank you addresses presented to Mitchell are currently on display in the Russian History Museum’s exhibition Mysteries and Odysseys, and were highlighted in a recent presentation by Michael Perekrestov, the museum’s Executive Director.

3. Letter of Thanks to Lieutenant General M.G. Mikheev

Letter to Lieutenant General M.G. Mikheev, 1934

In 1934, Lieutenant General Mikhail Grigorievich Mikheev (1861–1938) was honored with a letter of gratitude from the Union of Russian Military Invalids in Brno, Czechoslovakia, for his decade-long commitment as the Union’s chairman. Established in Czechoslovakia in 1921, the Union’s primary objective was to safeguard the Russian emigrant community, with particular emphasis on supporting veterans. As the chairman, Mikheev arranged three congresses of the Union, contributing to fundraising campaigns.

In the address, six Union members wished Mikheev “health, strength, and success in [his] high humanitarian and productive efforts for the betterment of military invalids and the Russian exiled community as a whole.”

The front page of the address portrays a wounded soldier comforted by a nurse. The second page features an autumnal panorama of Brno with the spire of Church of St. James, the Old Town Hall, the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, and Špilberk Castle. These watercolor illustrations were skillfully painted by Lieutenant Leonid Mikhailovich Popov.

Letter to Lieutenant General M.G. Mikheev, second page, 1934

4. Name Day Greeting to Nikolai Nikolaevich Alexandrov

Name Day Greeting to Nikolai Nikolaevich Alexandrov, ca. 1948

This gramota is addressed to Nikolai Nikolaevich Alexandrov (1886–1970), the first dean of Holy Trinity Seminary. The seminary, like the Russian History Museum, is located on the grounds of the historic Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY.

The gramota was created around 1948 to congratulate Alexandrov with his name day — the celebration of his patron saint. Having retired from a distinguished career as a professor of physics and aeronautical engineering (including at MIT), Alexandrov dedicated himself fully to assisting the monks of Holy Trinity Monastery in various building projects and in establishing the Holy Trinity Seminary.

The gramota shows the monastery brotherhood building their new cathedral in Jordanville. Printers, iconographers, and construction workers come together in the effort to create a spiritual haven abroad. The text in the center of the composition denotes Alexandrov’s central role in this endeavor, referring to Nikolai Nikolaevich as “the soul of the construction of Holy Trinity Cathedral.” The bottom of the scroll is signed by members of the monastery community.

The author of the painting, Archimandrite Kiprian (Pyzhov) (1904-2001), was Holy Trinity Monastery’s resident iconographer. He included a painting of himself in the gramota, along with other members of the brotherhood: Fr. Kiprian is seen painting an icon in the bottom right of the composition. Father Kiprian would go on to fresco the interior of the newly built cathedral, and to teach several generations of icon painters who carry on his legacy to this day.