Genius Mothers of
Renowned Scientist and Philosophers
Maria Dimitrievna Kornilieva
 Mother of Russian chemist Dmitriy Mendeleev
Maria Dimitrievna Kornilieva
(1793 — 1850)
 Mother of Russian chemist Dmitriy Mendeleev
Maria Dimitrievna Mendeleeva (nee Kornilieva) was a descendant of an old, albeit impoverished dynasty of Siberian merchants and industrialists Kornilievs. Her grandfather, a first guild merchant Vasili Yakovlevich Korniliev, owned a printing-house and supported various cultural causes: he published the “Irtish” magazine and sponsored the “Teaching House” in Tobolsk.  Intelligent and energetic, Maria had played a significant role in her family’s life. Although lacking any kind of formal education, without help, she had covered the entire Gymnasium course her brothers were taking.

When her husband Ivan Pavlovich unexpectedly lost eyesight, Maria had to keep the family together: she, the mother, became its life force, the one who dedicated entire life to her children and their upbringing, who supported her husband and had to provide the daily bread.

On February 8th (O.S.  January 27th) 1834 in the village of Verkhniye Aremziani, near Tobolsk, the family of Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev was blessed with their last son (seventeenth) child, who was christened Dimitri. Three of the Mendeleev infants had died right after they were born, and did not live till their baptism, that is why Dimitri was registered as the fourteenth Mendeleev child. By the time he was born, there were only six surviving siblings: two brothers and four sisters.

Due to dire financial situation caused by Ivan Pavlovich’s illness, Maria Dimitrievna was left with a heavy burden: besides tending to her children, she had to be the breadwinner of the family. She was indeed an exceptional woman:  selfless and affectionate, ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of her children and loved ones.

Maria’s eldest brother, Vasili Dimitrievich Korniliev, who lived in Moscow, had inherited a small glass factory, so he suggested that Maria manage the factory with the right to use the profits to sustain the Mendeleev family. The factory was in the Aremziani village, a few miles away fr om Tobolsk, and the Mendeleev family moved there. Maria Dimitrievna succeeded in managing her brother’s factory. This after having given birth to seventeen children! When Ivan Mendeleyev passed away in 1847, the big family’s wherewithal depended entirely on Maria Dimitrievna: yet, even combined with the meager pension, the family merely eked out a living. Besides taking care of the finances, Maria Dimitrievna still managed to attend to her motherly duties: she even succeeded in providing her children with the best   education available.

Maria Dimitrievna toiled away managing the factory and operating a considerable farm in the village, which was started with the purpose of feeding the family: she did not have a minute to spare. Despite her efforts and hard work the results were not as impressive as she had hoped. Even after her daughters had married and Ivan, the eldest son, sponsored by his uncle, had enrolled in Moscow University Boarding School for Noblemen, Maria Dimitrievna could hardly make ends meet. To make things even worse, soon Ivan was expelled from school for “disorderly conduct”. It came as a hard blow to his mother.

Letters, written by Maria Dimitrievna to her relatives during the period, show the extent of her anguish: she could not help blaming herself for having neglected her son.  She felt that he should not have been allowed to leave home so soon and that while struggling to provide the daily bread, she somehow had overlooked her children’s upbringing. “Carried away by my ambition to keep up appearances suitable to my status”, she wrote to her daughter, “and having taken upon myself the burden of managing the business, which proved harmful to my family, I had forgotten that I was surrounded by children who would reward my motherly care and efforts with their successful future. I had forgotten that I am the mother of the family, and now, ten years later, the bitter reality has opened my eyes. The factory had not provided any relief for my needs, my children and I remain without a home, and I, with managing the factory, have become deprived of any consolation and support in my old age. I have lost the virtue I have been so proud of until now: I have sold my eldest son’s morality for the sake of temporary relief for my family…  Own eye is the keenest eye, yet I was living at the factory, tending to business from dawn to dusk, having left my children motherless and orphaned.” The Mendeleev family returned to Tobolsk, having left Aremziani and the factory for good. Maria Dmitrievna wrote:  “Even now I pass the entire day in toil, there is no time to go for visits, sit down with cards, take care of my outfits, but I woke up today with a feeling that my love for my baby-boys makes me their guardian, their mentor, and I have returned to my motherly duties I had neglected while I was hustling to make the business work. My conscience is clear now, and I shall die happy if I fulfill my motherly obligations towards Pasha and Misha.” She decidedthere and then, in 1839 “to leave Tobolsk if necessary and go beyond Ural” in order to provide her sons with suitable education.”  

Maria Dimitrievna was forty-one when she gave birth to Dimitri. Exceptionally intelligent and well-educated, a kind and caring mother, she put together a vast home library, all her children were able to read by the ages of four or five. Alexander Pushkin was the most favorite author.  According to Mendeleev, it was his mother who had inspired his love for science, his passion for reading, and who greatly influenced the shaping of his personality his mother believed in free, natural awakening of innate talents. There were two idols in the Mendeleev family - books and labor. 

In the evening Maria Dimitrievna used to play the piano. Beside the big Mendeleev family, many friends and acquaintances came to hear her play. Maria Dimitrievna was a woman of remarkable intellect, she was held in high esteem by the group of  local intellectuals.  Mendeleev’s childhood and school years were spent within an atmosphere beneficial for educating an unusual and independent mind.

 She often took him along to the glass factory wh ere he would spend hours observing how glass was made. Here, enthralled with magical transformations, little Mitia fell in love with science, from then on having dedicated to it his  entire life. Later Dimitri Ivanovich recalled: “There, at the glass factory run by my mommy, I was absorbing my first impressions of nature, people and industrial matters.”  

Maria Dimitrievna was one of the very few lucky mothers who were able to play such an important role in determining their child’s future. We can assume that his mother’s opinions and advice, instilled in him since very young age, etched into his mind and soul, had immensely influenced the course and the character of Mendeleev’s professional life as well as his attitude towards various technological, economical and social phenomena.

Little Miten’ka, the youngest child, was especially cherished and loved by his mother. It was the maternal unique love that helped to awaken his exceptional talent. Maria Dimitrievna was determined to do everything possible and oftentimes impossible to enable her son to fully realize and apply his talents.  She put him through school at Tobolsk Gymnasium. After his graduation, Maria Dimitrievna resolved to leave her native Siberia for the sake of her son’s future. After settling all her business affairs in Siberia, with Mitia and Yelizaveta, her youngest daughter, Maria Dimitrievna left for Moscow, and had to travel to St. Petersburg in order to arrange Dimitri’s attendance at the university.  As a matter of fact – Dimitri was not accepted either to Moscow University or its St. Petersburg counterpart.  Only due to indefatigable efforts of his mother, who had appealed to the assistance of few influential acquaintances of hers, Dimitri Mendeleev was accepted to Petersburg Main Pedagogical Institute in 1850. Maria Dimitrievna was elated by the long anticipated happy event, she felt as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders. She seemed to have fulfilled her destiny – she had paved the road that would lead the future genius of Russian science to glory. One can feel but awestruck - how quickly her life waned after that.

Maria Dimitrievna’s entire being had been permeated with profound faith: many misfortunes befallen her, were making Maria stronger in spirit, her belief in the Lord’s Will and His mercy - more powerful. Those who sought salvation ought to have learned from her, taking heed to her approach to life.  Maria Dimitrievna came close to sainthood with her overwhelming ability to generously bestow love and charity on people, she blamed only herself for her children’s troubles, and just a few strong men would be capable of such courage and resolve she had demonstrated while enduring many hardships dealt to her in life. She ought to be a role model for mothers: it is hardly surprising that her letters, shining examples of her spirituality and selflessness, have been preserved to our days. There is no doubt that the amalgam of mutual love and respect between the mother and her son, was one of the vital sources to have nurtured the genius Russian chemist, making him one of the most prolific scientists in history.

 We find it necessary to mention here the inscription intended for her son by Maria Dimitrivna: on her death bed Maria Dimitrievna blessed her son Dimitri with an icon of Mother Mary. It had the following words written on it by Maria Dimitrievna: “I bless you, my son Miten’ka, on whom I hoped to lean on in my old age. I forgive all your mistakes and doubts, and I am begging you to turn to God. Please be kind, honor the Lord and the tsar, as well as your motherland. Do not forget about the Judgment day. I bid you farewell: remember your mother who loved you most. Maria Mendeleeva.

Maria Dimitrievna passed away at the age of fifty-seven, on September 20th, 1850.  ‘Miten’ka” was sixteen, “darling Lizan’ka” – twenty-eight. Later her children would remember with painful regret that their precious mother was practically alone when she died: “only Lizan’ka and Miten’ka – a mere boy, were with her”.


His mother was Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleev’s role model, from her he had inherited his intellect and talent, vigor and will, tenacity and determination. Owing to her sacred love, he became an outstanding scientist.

Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleev had expressed his sentiments towards his mother in the dedication which prefaced his first significant research paper, published in 1887 and titled “Research of Water Solutions In Relation to Atomic Mass”. “The present research is dedicated to the memory of my mother -by her last-born child. She was able to raise him only if she worked hard, managing a factory; she educated with her own example, chided with love. To donate to science, she took him out of Siberia, having spent her last means and last drops of strength. On her deathbed, she bequeathed: to avoid Latin vanity, give forth to work and not words, to patiently seek the truth – godly or scientific, because she realized that very often dialectics is deceptive, and that there is much to be learned.  She understood that with the help of science, without violence but with resolute love, superstitions and mistakes shall be banished, instead there shall appear: protection of the truth obtained, freedom of further development, common wellbeing and inner peace. He considers his mother’s bequeaths to be sacred. D. Mendeleev”.  It was then, in1880’s, that he bought a burial lot for himself at Volkovsky Cemetery, next to his mother’s resting place.

 Historical Note: Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev (1834 –1907) was a Russian chemist and inventor. He is credited as being the creator of the first version of the periodic table of elements. Using the table, he predicted the properties of elements yet to be discovered

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