In 1864 Alexander II announced that he was allowing each district to set up Zemstvos. These were local councils with powers to provide roads, schools and medical services. However, the right to elect members was restricted to the wealthy.

The main function of these bodies was the education of the peasants. However, during the First World War they gradually took over the feeding and clothing of the Russian Army. After the February Revolution the Zemstvos were democratized by the Provisional Government with the intention of making them the organ of local government in rural districts. Following the October Revolution the Zemstvos were closed down.