Vera Figner (1852–1942) was a Russian radical imprisoned for her role in the Tsar Alexander II's assassination on March 1, 1881.
Figner came from an aristocratic background. Her grandfather was a hero of the war against Napoleon and her parents owned a large estate in the Kazan province. She'd attended the prestigious Institute for Noble Maidens and gone on to study medicine at the University of Zürich, where she was active in the Fritsche Circle, a group of female students who studied and debated socialism. Ultimately, Figner returned to Russia without getting her degree, becoming instead a licensed paramedic. She worked as a doctor's assistant among the peasantry, a position that allowed her to serve the lower classes while disseminating radical propaganda. When the revolutionary organization Zemlia i Volia, of which she was a member, split into two factions over the issue of terrorism, Figner aligned herself with the more extreme Narodnaya Volya group, a populist faction of anarchists and socialists who sanctioned the use of terrorism in achieving their political goals.
Figler served on the group's Executive Committee as a leading member and was involved in several attempts on Alexander II's life before the successful 1881 attack. She helped to manufacture the bombs that were used in the assassination and stored the dynamite in her house.
After the Tsar's death, when the group's other leading members had all either been arrested or fled the country, Figner became Narodnaya Volya's de facto leader until she was apprehended in 1883, betrayed to the state police by an informant who had infiltrated her circle. She was initially sentenced to death, but this was commuted to lifelong exile and servitude. She was incarcerated in the Schlüsselburg fortress, where she remained for twenty years until Nicholas II arranged for her pardon and release in 1904. In 1921, she published her autobiography Memoirs of a Revolutionist. She remained active in revolutionary politics until her death.
Revolutionary women in Russia, 1870-1917: a study in collective biography
The Internet Index of Tough Jews
Leo Deutsch on Vera Figner
Radicalism as Political Religion? The Case of Vera Figner