Empress Maria Alexandrovna (1824-1880), born Princess Marie of Hesse, was the consort of Emperor Alexander II. The Empress actively supported women’s education, creating a network of pubic schools for lower and middle class girls. She organized a charitable society for wounded soldiers that later became the Red Cross of Russia. The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg was named after Empress Maria.

Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna had eight children including the future tsar, Alexander III. Frequent pregnancies prevented the Empress from keeping the busy schedule of court functions. Her health failing, Maria Alexandrovna was confined to her apartments in the Winter Palace. Within a month after her death, Alexander II entered into a morganatic marriage with his partner of many years Duchess Ekaterina Dolgorukaia, by whom he already had four children.  Alexander II was assassinated within one year of marrying Ekaterina.