At the turn of the century, Maria Mikhailovna lived with her parents in the town of Feodosiya, in the Russian Crimea. "My father was in the working class," she says, "and my mother stayed home to take care of the children. We had a big family, but we never went hungry, even though we didn't have very much money. Mama knew how to take care of us."
In 1905, when Maria Mikhailovna was an eight-year-old student at a
grammar school named after Tsar Alexander II, she first became aware of
the rumblings of revolution in her land. Across Russia, labor strikes
and unrest were threatening the tsarist government, leading to the
infamous "Bloody Sunday" attack on workers demonstrating in St.
Petersburg. "I remember sitting on the roof of my house in Feodosiya and
watching fires burn across the city," she recalls of that time, which
Leon Trotsky later referred to as the "dress rehearsal for the
Far from the seat of government in St. Petersburg, Maria Mikhailovna and her family were affected little by the political maneuvering and intrigue in tsarist and revolutionary circles. In 1913, when her father moved to the city of Kerch to work on the railroad, the main concern was finding a good husband for Maria Mikhailovna, the eldest of the family's seven children.
Within a year, that hope was realized. Naum Ilyich Schneider, a soldier in the Tsar's army, proposed with the words, "Let's get married or not get married, but I'm tired of just coming over for tea," and the couple wed. Two days later, Naum Ilyich was unexpectedly sent to the front to fight in World War I.