Administrative Reform and Social Policy in the Baltic Cities of the Russian Empire: Riga and Reval, 1870-1914.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Subject: LCSH

Public administration, Baltic Sea Region, History




The all-Russian municipal reform of 1870 brought immense changes to urban self-government in the Baltic region, where the reform was implemented in 1877, and marked increased efforts by St. Petersburg to integrate Baltic administrative structures with those of the rest of the empire. Unlike the magistrates which previously directed city affairs, newly formed city councils created by the reform were not part of the corporative estates, but instead were elected by urban residents who had paid the qualifying amount of property tax. This electoral reform contributed to the weakening of the estate system in Baltic cities, though more so in Reval than in Riga. In both cities it enabled non-Germans to enter city government, although Baltic Germans continued to dominate. Tensions increased in the mid-1880s between Baltic city governments and the Tsarist state, with Russification measures imposed upon municipal administration. Nevertheless, the work of Baltic city councils continued with remarkable efficiency, and a number of major urban reform projects were completed in the last decades of the century, including improvements to city infrastructure and services, and expansion of the education system. A Tsarist-imposed electoral reform in 1892 (as in 1877, part of an empire-wide reform) narrowed the franchise and increased Tsarist oversight of municipal government. While some urban residents seem to have lost confidence and interest in city government, energetic professionals were increasingly drawn to city government. The skills and optimistic outlook of this new urban elite, which was not tied to the old estate system, were greatly in need in Riga and Reval, which were undergoing rapid population growth and industrialization. In Reval, a group of Estonian electors cooperated with Russian electors to seize control of the city council in 1904. Despite the chaos that both cities experienced in the 1905 Revolution, elected officials in both Riga and Reval governed with skill and determination, and cooperation between city council deputies of differing nationality was impressive. In both cities, significant progress was made in expanding the primary education system, and further reform and improvements were made in the cities' infrastructure and public services. Voluntary associations thus made important contributions to the betterment of urban life.


Series: Jahrbuch für europäische Verwaltungsgeschichte (JEV)/ Yearbook of European Administrative History, Vol. 16 Purchase book here:

Publisher Citation

Bradley D. Woodworth (2004). Administrative Reform and Social Policy in the Baltic Cities of the Russian Empire: Riga and Reval, 1870-1914. Administrative reforms in the Baltic region. Erk Volkmar Heyen, ed. Yearbook of European Administrative History 16. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag, 2004. ISBN 3-8329-1010-7