The story of the Herzen University commenced on 13 May 1797, when Emperor Paul I institutionalised the Saint Petersburg Orphanage with Empress consort Maria Feodorovna as its High Patron. Two building were procured to house the Orphanage: Count Kirill Razumovsky’s and Count Alexei Bobrinsky’s houses located on the Moika river embankment.
In 1806, a pioneer College for the Deaf was founded as part of the
Orphanage. The new College saw the formation of Russian school of
teaching for the deaf and hearing-impaired, which today continues its
development in the Herzen University’s Institute of Defectology
Education and Rehabilitation.
The Orphanage endeavoured to study and manage childcare by instituting foster homes, schools, kindergartens and nurseries.
In 1837, the Orphan College for noble girls was opened, training teachers
for both public and private schools or private tutoring.
For raznochintsy girls, Alexandrinsky Orphan College was established in
1843, training preschool and school teachers for orphanages.
In 1855, the Orphan College was renamed to Nikolaevsky Orphan College for Noble Girls.
1881 saw the establishment of the all-boys Teacher’s Seminary training teachers for country schools.
In 1903, the All-Girls Pedagogical Institute was established, with two departments: Linguistics and History, and Physics and Mathematics. Its aim was to train teachers for gymnasiums. Later, in 1912, it was renamed to Emperor’s All-Girls Pedagogical Institute.
Following the Russian Revolution, all of Saint Petersburg’s schools, colleges and universities were remodelled. The aforementioned education institutions were replaced by a new State Pedagogical Institute, which in 1920 took on the name of the Russian writer and thinker Alexander Herzen.
The Herzen State Pedagogical Institute grew rapidly; all-new departments were formed, such as the first and unique Northern department in 1929, training teachers for the Far Northern and the Far Eastern ethnic schools (Institute of the People of the North today).
During World War II some of the Herzen Institute’s lecturers were
evacuated, but studies and teaching still continued in some of the
Institute’s departments throughout the Siege of Leningrad.
At that time, the main buildings of the institute on Moika River embankment housed a military hospital and three kindergartens.
The 1950–80s were a time of recovery and further development for the Institute: new faculties, departments and laboratories were opened at
Polytechnic education became one of the key drivers of growth: new education programmes in physics, chemistry and mathematics, etc. were introduced.
For instance, the Faculty of Mathematics created a pioneering centre for algebraic studies under the leadership of Evgeny Lyapin; the Department of General Physics started research into radiography (with Yuri Terminasov as the leading researcher) and semiconductor and dielectric physics (prominent works by Mikhail Kosman, Gennady Bordovsky and Vladimir Laptev). Chemistry professor Vsevolod Perekalin lead the development of phenibut, which is widely used in astromedicine and child psychiatry.
On 21 January 1991 the Institute was awarded university status and has
been flourishing under the name of the Herzen State Pedagogical
University of Russia ever since.
In 1998, the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation designated the Herzen University as the Russian Cultural Heritage Site.
Today the University remains among the leaders in Russian education, a major cultural and educational centre, a unique multidisciplinary research and educational complex which maintains and develops the best Russian academic and cultural traditions.