Literacy societies

Literacy societies (товариства грамотности; tovarystva hramotnosty). Community-based societies for popular education that were active in the Russian Empire from the second half of the 19th century until 1917. Their chief purpose was to increase literacy and general knowledge among the population at large. The work of these groups resulted in the establishment of Sunday schools and library-reading rooms, in the organization of public readings and lectures as well as literary and musical evenings, and in the printing of popular literature for broad distribution. Most of this activity was centered in larger cities and towns, with only occasional forays into villages. The oldest group of this type in Ukraine, the Kharkiv Literacy Society, was founded in 1869. It focused mainly on publishing popular works, but few of its titles were in Ukrainian. The Kyiv Literacy Society, founded in 1882, was more active in Ukrainian-language work. It published Ukrainian literature (including the works of Taras Shevchenko) and built the People's Home in 1902, which provided a facility for Ukrainian theater and lectures and later for a Prosvita organization. The Kyiv Literacy Society was also active in Right-Bank Ukraine, where it had affiliates and provided assistance for educational programs in Kyiv gubernia, Podilia gubernia, and Volhynia gubernia. Similar societies formed in the 1890s included the Society for Spreading Popular Literacy in Katerynoslav Gubernia and the Poltava Society for the Development of Popular Education. A Volhynian literacy society was formed in the 1900s. These various societies for popular education tended to limit their work to larger centers and in fact did little to spread literacy in the Ukrainian language. A similar sort of work was taken up in Central and Eastern Ukraine after 1905 by the Prosvita society. The cause of Ukrainian-language popular education was taken up during the Soviet period by the Het’ Nepysmennist (Away with Illiteracy) society (1923–36), which had 1,500 branches and affiliates and a membership of 59,000 in 1925 (see Elimination of illiteracy).

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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