The first Georgian female MPs: Eleonora Ter-Parsegova-Makhviladze

On 12 March 1919, five Georgian women entered parliament after democratic elections, a first in Georgia. This is the story of Eleonora Ter-Parsegova-Makhviladze, a dedicated menshevik activist and participant in the 1905 Russian revolution. She was a member of the Social-Democratic Party of Georgia which ruled the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921). After the Soviet annexation of Georgia she was part of the anti-Soviet resistance and led the underground organisation of the social-democrats.

Eleonora Ter-Parsegova

Eleonora Ter-Parsegova was born on the 18th of August 1875 into an Armenian-Russian family in Tbilisi, which was then part of the Russian Empire. Her father Hovsep Ter-Parsegova was a nobleman, a so-called aznauri, and her mother Matilda Barthold was of German-Russian descent. Eleonora Ter-Parsegova graduated from the Women’s Gymnasium in Tbilisi. Subsequently she married the Georgian doctor Vladimir Makhviladze and moved to Sokhumi,1Sovlab 2012 the administrative capital of the Sokhumi okrug (nowadays Abkhazia), at the time part of the Kutaisi governorate. Here she worked as a teacher at a private school, while her husband had a practice in Sokhumi specializing in the treatment of malaria. Eleonora Ter-Parsegova was a good piano player and gave music lessons to the neighborhood children.2Rafalskaya 2021, 28

While her husband had little interest in politics,3Rafalskaya 2021, 25-26 Eleonora Ter-Parsegova became a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1902.4Sovlab 2012 She had an ardent Menshevik and revolutionary conviction, was dedicated to party work, and never missed an opportunity to push her thoughts onto high school pupils. The couple had two daughters, Lida and Tanya and later had a dog that the children sarcastically named “Wilhelm” during World War I, after the German emperor.5Rafalskaya 2021, 27-28 The Georgian Mensheviks sought a deeper relationship with the Germans for their cause for independence.

The home of the Ter-Parsegova-Makhviladze family became a center of revolutionary activity and was regularly visited by prominent revolutionary figures from Abkhazia. Among them were Georgian Mensheviks, such as Valiko Jugheli, but also Bolsheviks such as Siova (Ivan) Kukhaleishvili. Revolutionary documents were hidden in the children’s rooms among the toys and behind paintings. Her home was searched by authorities because of her activities.6Rafalskaya 2021, 26-27

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Eleonora Ter-Parsegova moved to Sokhumi in the early 1900s. During the 1905 revolution she frequented the boulevard leading protests.

Revolution of 1905 in Sokhumi

In Sokhumi, Ter-Parsegova became involved in revolutionary activities and played an important role during the Russian Revolution of 1905. She became one of the leaders of the Sokhumi group of the Batumi Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Party.7Sovlab 20128Lakoba 1991, 176 The Sokhumi group was originally founded in 1903.9Ibid, 17310Khachapuridze 1955, 38. Ter-Parsegova regularly led demonstrations against the Tsarist power on the boulevard of Sokhumi with a red flag. She promoted revolutionary ideas among her students and taught them the French national anthem “Marseillaise”, which she changed to include a reference to Russian Tsar Nicholas II.11Sovlab 2012

Shortly after the October Manifesto of 17 October 1905, the Tsarist authorities in Sokhumi were overthrown and the Sokhumi group took over the administration of the city. The group formed a people’s militia and the city was divided into districts. In November 1905, demonstrators demanded that the Sokhumi Municipal Council be dissolved and a new council elected in free and fair elections. The current council refused to cooperate. After the revolutionaries stopped tax collection and declared general strikes, the administrators submitted their resignation to the governor of Kutaisi, Vladimir Staroselsky, under which Sokhumi fell. Ter-Parsegova was a representative of the revolutionary organization during the negotiations in this conflict.12Ibid.

After the crackdown of the revolution, Ter-Parsegova was charged with criminal activity along with the other leaders of the Sokhumi group, but she refused to testify. During the investigation she was not in pre-trial detention due to the overcrowded prisons in Sokhumi and the lack of a women’s prison.13Ibid. The Sokhumi prison originally had place for 30 prisoners, but by June 1907 this had risen to 225. Only a third of them could lie down, while the rest had to  sit on the floor or stand against the wall. On top of that, typhus raging in the prison. In the prison hospital there were two patients per bed, and some were lying on the floor. Political prisoners were mostly shackled and were tortured and brutally beaten.14Khachapuridze, 152-153 The prison was located in the outskirts of Sokhumi, outside a military camp and not far from the Ochamchira highway.15Rafalskaya 2021, p. 34

On 28 April 1908, the Tbilisi District Court sentenced Ter-Parsegova to one year in prison, from which she was released due to her pregnancy. Instead, she was exiled from the Caucasus. Until the 1917 revolution she was arrested three more times.16Sovlab 2012 Ter-Parsegova was also involved in the Society for the Spread of Literacy among Georgians, and served the board of the Sokhumi branch since 1911.17Prosopography 201418Database of the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians During the First World War she took a so called defeatist point of view, allegedly to the outrage of her husband and daughters. The majority within the socialdemocrats had a defensist position on the war.19Rafalskaya 2021, p. 28

Ter-Parsegova was elected in the Tbilisi city Duma in the 30 June 1917 election for a term until 1 January 1919.20Kavkaz newspaper, N173, page 1, 4 August 1917 In October 1917 she was elected by the Tbilisi district council as a representative from Tbilisi city to the Russian constitutional assembly.21Kavkaz newspaper, N243, page 2, 31 October 1917

Independent Georgia

After the October Revolution of 1917, it became clear to the Georgian Mensheviks the power struggle against Bolshevism within Russia was a lost battle. Together with the other two Caucasian nations Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Georgians set about secession from Russia. The Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic of the three Caucasian nations was not a success, and five weeks into its independence, the Democratic Republic of Georgia broke away by declaring its independence on May 26, 1918. It quickly announced the election of a constitutional assembly through universal suffrage, including for women.

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Eleonora Ter-Parsegova became member of the Constituent Assembly of Georgia on 12 March 1919.

Eleonora Ter-Parsegova was a candidate in these elections for the Social-Democratic Party of Georgia, which took place on 14-16 February 1919. At number 36 she was the highest-ranking of six female candidates on the party’s list.22Gaiparashvili 2018, 36 In total, 26 women were registered as a candidate in these elections running for six different parties.23Ibid, 31 On 12 March 1919, Ter-Parsegova was inaugurated as the first female parliamentarian in Georgia, together with her fellow party members Minadora Toroshelidze, Kristine Sharashidze, Elisabeth Bolkvadze and Anna Sologhashvili. She held other influential positions as well: in February 1919 she was elected for a second time to the Tbilisi city council, she became the head of the tailor union and she was elected honorary conciliation judge of Tbilisi.24Sovlab 2012

In the Constitutional Assembly, Ter-Parsegova was part of the Labor, Pension and Health committees.25Gaiparashvili et al 2018, 120-121 She authored a number of legislative initiatives and published in the social democratic newspaper ‘Ertoba’.26Ibid, 426 In February 1921, Georgia was invaded by the Red Army and the Constitutional Assembly had to terminate its work on 17 March 1921. The government and many other politicians left Georgia to work for Georgia’s independence from abroad. Ter-Parsegova remained in her country to engage in anti-Soviet activities against the Bolshevik occupation of Georgia.27Sovlab 2012

Anti-Soviet Resistance

The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed by the Bolsheviks on 25 February 1921, and a communist regime was installed. Political freedoms were restricted, which meant that the Georgian Mensheviks and other opposition against the communists were under surveillance and were persecuted. Ter-Parsegova’s family home at Udeli Street N14 in Tbilisi, which is nowadays Vasil Petriashvili Street, was also under constant surveillance.28Sovlab 2012 Ter-Parsegova was a member of the Social Democratic Party’s Women’s Committee, which provided assistance to political prisoners and their families. In 1921, the Committee was transformed into the Georgian Political Red Cross, uniting various groups and parties fighting against the Bolshevik occupation regime. Ter-Persegova was one of the leading members of the Political Red Cross, together with her fellow MPs Kristine Sharashidze, Minadora Toroshelidze, Anna Sologashvili and others.29Rekhviashvili 2016.

In February 1922 leaders and members of anti-Soviet parties were getting arrested and imprisoned in the run-up to the first anniversary of the Soviet occupation on the 25th of that month. On 13 February 1922 the Cheka arrested Eleonora Ter-Parsegova, together with her brother Konstantin. He was a chemist and served in the artillery division of the Georgian army. On 19 March 1922 Ter-Parsegova was sentenced to three months of solitary confinement in Tbilisi’s Metekhi prison. She was released four months later on 14 July 1922 due to her deteriorating health.30Sovlab 2012 After the defeat of the anti-Soviet uprising of August 1924, she took an active role in reviving the Social-Democratic Party and its underground activities. In 1925 Ter-Parsegova was elected a member of the Central Committee of the party. After the arrest of leader Solomon Telia, she took over the leadership.31Ibid.

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On 22 February 1926, Ter-Parsegova was arrested by the Cheka and expelled from Transcaucasia.32Ibid. According to the memories of her former Sokhumi neighbour Evgenia Rafalskaya (1897-1988), a childhood friend of Eleonora’s children, the house of Ter-Parsegova was searched by security officers. Just after they left, they heard the sound of the stove door slamming shut. Upon return to the apartment they witnessed her burning papers. Ter-Parsegova was tried and sent to the Syzran prison (Saratov Oblast).33Rafalskaya 2021, p. 29 According to Rafalskaya a letter arrived after some time in which Ter-Parsegova allegedly wrote “all my life I have been in the thick of the revolutionary struggle and have dealt little with issues of theory. While in prison, I read everything that was here about October. And I came to the conclusion that I was on the wrong path. I wrote to the Government about this.” After that Eleonora Ter-Parsegova was released.34Ibid

Since her exile very little is known about the course of life of Ter-Parsegova, her husband and the children. She allegedly returned to Tbilisi in the early 1930s and resumed her work as teacher in private education. According to most sources she died in the (first half of the) 1930s in her house in Tbilisi at an unknown date. The database of the members of the Society for the Spreading of Literacy puts her year of death at 1933.35Database of the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians According to her former Sokhumi neighbour, Ter-Persegova was still alive during the Great Patriotic War (WW2) and may have died around 1943.36Rafalskaya 2021, p. 26, 29



References and footnotes

  • 1
    Sovlab 2012
  • 2
    Rafalskaya 2021, 28
  • 3
    Rafalskaya 2021, 25-26
  • 4
    Sovlab 2012
  • 5
    Rafalskaya 2021, 27-28
  • 6
    Rafalskaya 2021, 26-27
  • 7
    Sovlab 2012
  • 8
    Lakoba 1991, 176
  • 9
    Ibid, 173
  • 10
    Khachapuridze 1955, 38.
  • 11
    Sovlab 2012
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
    Khachapuridze, 152-153
  • 15
    Rafalskaya 2021, p. 34
  • 16
    Sovlab 2012
  • 17
    Prosopography 2014
  • 18
    Database of the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians
  • 19
    Rafalskaya 2021, p. 28
  • 20
    Kavkaz newspaper, N173, page 1, 4 August 1917
  • 21
    Kavkaz newspaper, N243, page 2, 31 October 1917
  • 22
    Gaiparashvili 2018, 36
  • 23
    Ibid, 31
  • 24
    Sovlab 2012
  • 25
    Gaiparashvili et al 2018, 120-121
  • 26
    Ibid, 426
  • 27
    Sovlab 2012
  • 28
    Sovlab 2012
  • 29
    Rekhviashvili 2016.
  • 30
    Sovlab 2012
  • 31
  • 32
  • 33
    Rafalskaya 2021, p. 29
  • 34
  • 35
    Database of the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians
  • 36
    Rafalskaya 2021, p. 26, 29

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