Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day.
In support, I am writing series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with stength and passion, women with a voice, women who create change.
For seven days, I will write about these Great Swedish Women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.
First out is the 1800’s writer and feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer, a kind of Swedish Jane Austen and one of the catalysts of the early feminist movement in Sweden.
Many of the women’s rights that we take for granted in Sweden today did not exist in the Fredrika Bremer’s time. For example, in 1800’s Sweden, women were not free to educate themselves as they liked, marry as they liked, live as they wanted, to have economic independence or to vote in elections. Married women were controlled in all manner by their husbands, unmarried women by their closest male relative. Fredrika Bremer was born into this kind of society in 1801 in Åbo, Sweden, which today is part of Finland. At the age of three, her family moved to Stockholm where Fredrika and her sisters were raised to marry well. Fredrika found the limited and passive family life of Swedish women of her time suffocating and she described her family as “under the oppression of a male iron hand’. Fredrika never was forced under the shackles of marriage, so had a certain level of independence inaccessible to married women at that time. Throughout her adult life, she became a world traveler, an accomplished author (at first anonymously) and a political activist. She was very interested in social reform regarding gender equality and social work and she participated actively in debates around women’s rights in Sweden.
Fredrika Bremer was a catalyst of the first real feminist movement in Sweden. There is much in modern day Sweden to thank her for. In 1853, she started by co-founding the ‘Stockholm Women’s Fund for Childcare’ and the following year, the ‘Women’s Society for the Improvement of Prisoners’. However, it was in her novel, Hertha (1856) that she issued in most change, making it probably her most influential literary work. In the book, she wrote about the lack of freedom for women, which subsequently raised a debate in the parliament called “The Hertha debate”. This directly contributed to a new favourable law for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was a starting point for the campaign for women’s rights in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women and, in 1861, the University for Women Teachers was founded by the Swedish state.
In 1860, Fredrika helped to fund Tysta Skolan, a school for the deaf and mute in Stockholm. Now an established and respected citizen and patron, she supported giving women the vote in the electoral reforms of 1862. In the same year, women of legal age were granted this in municipal elections in Sweden. The first real women’s rights movement in Sweden, the ‘Fredrika Bremer Association’, founded by Sophie Adlersparre in 1884, was named after her, 19 years after her death.
Fredrika Bremer’s leaves a legacy of equality and autonomy behind her. Her legacy extends far beyond Sweden’s borders. Not only is she recognised as an influencial writer and reformer, but the town of Frederika in Bremer County Iowa, USA is named after her.