Faculty of Medicine

Lund University

Hedda Andersson (1861-1950) - First Female Student in Skåne and Sweden's Second Female Doctor

Seven generations of "bone-healers" (orthopedic surgeons)

The art to cure, especially external injuries, was inherited from mother to daughter ever since the 17th century. Already my great-great-great-grandmother was helping injured people, Hedda Andersson would say. To further stress how far back the family's art of healing went, she used to add "Öand then Karl XI was king". Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had all been sought after women in several ways: both by people in need of their help and by the authorities trying to convict them for charlatanry. Hedda's great-grandmother, Maria Nilsdotter, could help both man and beast. She was called the cow-woman, and her Cow-woman's Ointment was very popular and remained available in the pharmacies until the 1960s. Both she and her daughter Elna Hansson, called the Lund-woman, were prosecuted for charlatanry. Their mother, Johanna Maria Andersson, avoided criminal trial in part because she educated King Karl XV with his injured leg. The king's two doctors were unable to heal the leg, but Johanna Maria Andersson was able to do so. In appreciation, he provided her with a certificate giving her authority as a barber-surgeon.

Hedda shall study to be a doctor

Both her mother and grandmother agreed that Hedda should not risk prosecution. When, in 1870, women were first permitted to enter schools that qualified them for university studies in medicine, they decided that Hedda, had she the inclination and disposition, was to be a doctor. By skills and hard work, they managed financially to pay for the long education. It took Hedda twelve years to finish her education. Hedda, who was 9 years old in 1870, went to the best private schools. At Maria Stenkula's School, the principal of the school, who thought that Hedda was an exceptionally good student, asked Hedda if she wished to study to be a teacher. When Hedda answered that she intended to qualify for entrance to the university, Maria Stenkula become dismayed and said: "Are you crazy? What is the use, what do you want to become after that?" When Hedda answered: "A doctor." , Maria Stenkula exclaimed: "Are you wild?" Hedda studied privately and qualified as a private pupil. The high schools were generally not open to girls and a female high school, which had the sufficient level of education, could only be found in Stockholm. She did not want a student's cap. That would be to boast your higher knowledge. After graduation, she left the school by the back door and put on a summer hat.

The first female undergraduate student in Skåne

She started her studies in Lund in the autumn of 1880 as the first female student in Skåne, and she was to be the only such woman for two years. For seven generations, her family had had the profession of "bone-healers". Now, she would be the first one to combine the inherited knowledge with a medical education. Finding somewhere to stay in Lund became an unexpected problem. She was helped by one of her teachers in Malmö, who went to see a female childhood friend in Lund. This friend had a respected board-and-lodging accommodation, but only with great hesitation did she accept a female medical student. Still, everything went well, and Hedda and her landlady became friends for life. The few female students at Lund University at the time were closely watched, and their freedom of movement was restricted. When they attended a party, they had to bring a chaperon and return home before their male collegues had had too much to drink.

Hedda was splendidly received in the student society and by her fellow students. Albert Ulrik Bååth dedicated a poem to her, and her friends arranged a welcoming party ball and a student's comedy play, which unfortunately is lost. Hedda was frank. She stretched the limits. In return for the welcoming party, she invited all the young medical students to a ball and dinner at the restaurant "Stadt Hamburg" in Malmö.

Sweden's second female doctor

Hedda graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine at Lund University in 1887, and then she received her practical training at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. While there, she became a good friend of Karolina Widerström, the first female doctor in Sweden. In 1892, she was awarded licentiate of medical science and became the second female doctor in Sweden. After having worked as a private practitioner in Malmö for a few years, Hedda moved to Stockholm. There, she was able to exchange experiences with Karolina Widerström and other female doctors. After some time, her mother moved in with her.

Doctor and a social human being

She rented an 8-room flat, where she also housed her practice. Her initial furniture was a dining set, a table, and twelve chairs made of oak. She was generous and had an extensive social group. During her last professional years, she lived in Rottne by the city of Växjö. In 1925 she retired. By then she had been working as a private practitioner for 32 years.

Back in Lund

After retirement, she settled on Karl XI-street in Lund. She lived for another 25 years and died in 1950 at the age of 89 years. The years in Lund probably were very pleasant. She freely disposed of her time, she was in a good financial position, and she could meet her numerous friends as often as she wanted. Looking back at her life, she had every reason to be proud and grateful of the earlier generations of her family, whose gathered knowledge served as the basis of her career as a doctor. She could quote Ibsen's Peer Gynt: "But there were women behind him", or in her case: "behind her".

A memory sign

Lund community honored her memory by putting a sign on the house on Karl XI-street, the stairs of which many expectant dinner guests wore out. It was not the food that made Hedda Andersson's parties so popular but the hostess herself. She is told to have had a special radiation, and she also had so much to tell about her own life, her mother's, her grandmother's etc., way back to the time of Karl XI.

The big bag

After Hedda Andersson's death, many of her small things and papers were gathered in a big bag and thrown away. In this bag you might have found her mother's certificate from King Karl XV, her mother's, grandmother's, great-grandmother's, etc. prescriptions for porridges, ointments, and much more. In fact, Hedda was the last in a long line of female healers. She had no daughter to inherit her knowledge. Imagine if the Medical-historical museum had existed in the 1950'! Maybe then the contents of the bag would have ended up there and been handed down to posterity!

Text: Margareta Wickström
Lundasamlingen, Ekska huset

Hedda Andersson

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