Photo: NBA

revolutionary historian
first woman professor

Alma Söderhjelm became the first Finnish woman to teach and be appointed docent at a university when she held a docentship in general history at the University of Helsinki between 1906 and 1926. She also became the first woman professor in Finland when she was appointed Professor Extraordinary in General History at Åbo Akademie, the Swedish-language university of Turku, in 1927.

Börje Colliander, a student of Söderhjelm, described his teacher's arrival in Turku in 1928 by noting that "it was like dropping a bomb in our peaceful town". Alma Söderhjelm's teaching methods gave the students, used to a more conservative academic style, something to think about: she wanted to teach historians French and to improve the students' social skills by arranging meetings with actors and artists.

The basis of Söderhjelm's academic career was her doctoral dissertation, written in French in 1900, on the French press during the Revolution. The book was highly praised abroad and its continuing significance is manifested by the fact that the book was reprinted in 1971. Söderhjelm presented new material and new research results in her book on Sweden and the French Revolution, published in two parts between 1920 and 1924. In 1927 she published an overall history of the French Revolution in Swedish .

Alma Söderhjelm was rediscovered by the French when she published Fersen et Marie Antoinette (1930), a book based on the notes and correspondence of the Swedish aristocrat Axel von Fersen. Söderhjelm's next work on the secret correspondence between the revolutionaries and the Queen was an outright sensation. Söderhjelm was able to prove that the letters, earlier regarded as forgeries, were actually genuine. The book was published in France in 1934 under the title Barnave et Marie Antoinette.

Alma Söderhjelm's vast collection of literary works includes scientific publications, collections of essays, bibliographies and memoirs - a total of 25 works and 34 volumes. In addition, she published a collection of poems, plays, a film manuscript, five novels and eight collections of humorous essays.

Marja Engman

1 2 3

4 5 6 7

1 Alma and Sanny Söderhjelm in commencement photo 1894. Alma Söderhjelm's sister Sanny was the first woman to graduate from University of Helsinki with mathematics as her main subject. Photo: National Board of Antiquities.

2. Alma Söderhjelm's certificate for the Phil. Cand. degree, 1893.

3 Alma Söderhjelm holding a seminar at her home in Turku for history students, 1928.
Photo: Otava picture archive.

4 Alma Söderhjelm. Photo: NBA.

5,6 Alma Söderhjelm at her home in Turku, 1928. Photos: Otava picture archive.

7 Caricature about Alma Söderhjelm in magazine Tuulispää, 1913.