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Mondo Yanjmaa

Yanjmaa and her husband
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Sükhbaataryn Yanjmaa (Mongolian: Сүхбаатарын Янжмаа; 1893–1963) was the widow of Mongolian revolutionary leader Damdin Sükhbaatar, who as Chairperson of the Presidium of the unicameral Parliament of Mongolia from September 1953 to July 1954 became only the second woman in history to be elected or appointed head of state.

Yanjmaa was born on February 15, 1893 into a poor herding family near present-day Ulaanbaatar. She worked for Sükhbaatar’s revolutionary group as a messenger in 1919 and when her husband traveled to the Soviet Union in 1920 to establish contact with Bolshevik revolutionaries, Yanjmaa stayed behind in Ulaanbaatar with their son, evading capture from Chinese officials hunting down subversives. In 1921 Khorloogiin Choibalsan helped her and her son flee to Kyakhta (in Siberian Russia) to be reunited with Sükhbaatar.

After her husband led Mongolian guerrillas to victory in the Outer Mongolian Revolution of 1921, Yanjmaa became a member of the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League (MYRL). After Yanjmaa’s husband was poisoned to death in 1923, she joined the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP). As a member of the party Central Committee and of the Presidium of the Central Committee, she represented the MPRP at the Third International Conference of Communist Women (where she met Clara Zetkin and Nadezhda Krupskaya) and the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow, both in 1924. She was involved in the creation of Mongolia’s first trade union in 1925. From 1927 to 1930 she studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow.

From 1940 to 1954, Yanjmaa served on the MPRP politburo and was Secretary of the party’s Central Committee from 1941 to 1947. During World War II Yanjmaa helped raise funds to support the Soviet Union for which she was awarded the Soviet Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1946. [The Battle of Lake Khasan (1938) and the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol (1939) were the clashes of the Soviet–Japanese border conflict fought among the Soviet Union, Mongolia and Japan.] In 1945 she was elected a member of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF).

After the death of Gonchigiin Bumtsend, Yanjmaa became acting President of Mongolia for the transitional period, lasting from 23 September 1953 until 8 July 1954. This made her the second woman in the role of formal head of state of a republic. “One arrow alone can be easily broken but many arrows are indestructible,” instilled Genghis Khan’s mother.