History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

To the biography of N.A. Semashko: on the work of the first People’s Commissar of Health in 1920–1925

doi: 10.3897/hmj.5.3.32480

Evgeny V. Arsentyev, Vladimir A. Reshetnikov

The article deals with the main turning points in the life and work of N.A. Semashko, the first People’s Commissar of Health of the RSFSR, from 1920 to 1925. The authors of the article proceed from the fact that the historical and biographical data available about Semashko are interpreted according to ideologically tinted stereotypes that were formed in the Soviet historiographic school. Based on various sources (mainly documents from the State Archives of the Russian Federation and Semashko’s family archive), as well as critical analysis of data from literature, an attempt was made to give an ideologically neutral assessment of the participation of Semashko in the organization of the sanatorium and resort sector in the RSFSR and the assistance provided to Soviet Russia from foreign public organizations. New facts were discovered about Semashko’s life, which in particular made it possible to clarify his role in helping medical personnel in Crimea during political repressions there (after the Bolsheviks established power on the peninsula). The authors of the article point out that despite the difficulties that existed at that time, in many respects, it was only due to Semashko’s authority and organizational abilities that the famous Soviet All-Russia health resort was established in Crimea. While work was carried out on the archives, data were found on the supply of humanitarian aid to the People’s Commissar of Health by US public organizations, sympathizing with Soviet Russia in the first half of the 1920s. It is concluded that the formation of Semashko’s scientific biography, which assumes an objective assessment, in particular, concerning his contribution to the organization of medical care, will make it possible in general to move on to an objective analysis of the features of the Soviet health care system and the transformation of the Soviet model (the Semashko model) into the modern Russian model of health care.

Keywords history of public health, scientific biography, N.A. Semashko, the first People’s Commissar of Health, Soviet model of health care


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