March 7, 2016–Sophia Vlasoff
In 1811, Sophia Vlasoff, a young Alutiiq woman from Kodiak became the first female school teacher in Alaska. She taught reading and writing on Spruce Island, an island located nearby Kodiak Island, where Russian Orthodox monk Father Herman had relocated to set up a school.
Vlasoff followed, as his disciple and volunteered her help. Herman had located on Spruce Island to distance himself from then Governor of the Russian Alaska Territory Alexander Baranov and his harsh treatment of the Alutiiq people.
At first, Herman tried to dissuade the young Vlasoff from staying on the island. Conditions were primitive and perhaps he craved solitude. She was resolute and stayed. Reading and writing were important to her, and he needed an assistant as his school began to grow.
Vlasoff soon began teaching children, many of them orphans. Years of exploitation under Baranov left many Alutiiq families destitute. Vlasoff taught domestic skills and helped with religious education. She taught the children hymns and prayers of the Russian Orthodox Church in their own Alutiiq language.
Father Herman, still today, is beloved by the Alutiiq people, for his honesty, humility, holiness and generosity, his genuine commitment to educate the children and his tireless defense of their rights. He remains one of the most important figures in their history. Vlasoff stayed with him on Spruce Island until his death in 1837. It is largely because of Vlasoff that stories of Herman are still remembered today. If she had not shared her stories of Spruce Island and Father Herman with her people, his contributions may have been forgotten.
Vlasoff’s students succeeded and spread throughout Alaska, and even the world. One of her students, Alexander Kashevarov went on to attend the Russian Naval Academy on the Baltic Sea. He circled the globe many times, and would later explore and map the Arctic Coast from Pt. Hope to Pt. Barrow. She must have been a great teacher.