Sophia Perovskaya was a Russian revolutionary and a member of the socialist revolutionary organization Narodnaya Volova at the time of her death. This group was a highly populistic socialist group based in the Russian peasantry. It was one of the groups formed when Zemlya I volya split. Zemlya I volya was created after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 when conditions for the peasantry was not improving. The Narodnaya Volova was a terrorist organization composed of socialist intellectuals.
Sophia Perovskaya was born on September 13, 1853, in Saint Petersburg to an aristocratic family, who were descendants of Elizabeth of Russia by marriage. Her father was a former military governor of Saint Petersburg, and her mother was from Crimea. She would often stay with her mother in Crimea in her earlier years, as her father was authoritative, and often verbally abusive to both her and her mother. Sophia Perovskaya’s mother did not try to educate her daughter, even though it was common at the time.
Once her family moved to Saint Petersburg in 1869, she attended the Alarchinsky University for Women. It was here that she became friends with women who were in the radical socialist movement. She joined the Circle of Tchaikovsky at the age of 16 against her parents’ wishes. The Circle of Tchaikovsky was a literary society that helped with self-education in the early 1870s. After she left the circle, she traveled around Russia and received diplomas as a medical assistance and a teacher.
When she returned to Saint Petersburg, she started to attend anti-tsarist propaganda meetings. She was arrested and placed in the Peter and Paul fortress in connection with the Trial of the 193. This trial was when 193 students and other revolutionaries were charged with populist unrest and propaganda against the Empire. After she was acquitted, Perovskaya also took part in an attempt to free Ippolit Myshkin, a revolutionary. She then became a member of the Zemlya I volya, and because of this was arrested and banished to the Olonetskaya province. However, she managed to escape on her way there and went underground. She would later try and organize more liberation attempts of political prisoners, and she rose up in the ranks of the Zemlya I volya. She would become a member of the Executive Committee and a member of the Administrative Committee of Zemlya I volya.
After her first failed attempt at killing the czar, she would join the Narodnaya Volya, which was a splinter group of Zemlya I volya which believed in more violent measures. There she would become part of the Executive committee. She would later participate as part of the directive committee and plan three more attempts to assassinate the czar, the last being in Saint Petersburg, where the Narodnaya Volya finally assassinated him, by bombing his car when he was out for a drive. Perovskaya was the first woman in Russia to be sentenced to death for a political crime and is remembered saying “We have begun a great thing. Two generations perhaps will succumb in the task, and yet it must be done.”