Anna Grönfeldt was active in women’s issues, popular education and within the suffragette movement in Norrland.
Anna Grönfeldt was born in Karlskoga. Her father, Felix Ferdinand Grönfeldt, was a veterinarian who had moved there in the 1850s, along with Maria Lovisa Hedengren, who was his first wife and Anna Grönfeldt’s mother. The couple had four children together, of which three survived into adulthood: a daughter and two sons. Anna Grönfeldt’s mother died in 1870 and in 1877 her father remarried to Emilia Jansson. Another three children were subsequently born into the family.
Anna Grönfeldt’s childhood home was financially well-off and all the children received an education. Anna Grönfeldt gained her school-leaving certificate in 1898 and then began to study at Uppsala University, along with her brothers. She gained her Bachelor’s degree in natural sciences in 1902. She then trained to become a schoolteacher at Norra Real in Stockholm. Having completed her education she found herself excluded from working at the state-run boys’ schools and directed to the girls’ schools instead. One of her workplaces was the Åhlin school in Stockholm, where Lydia Wahlström was the director of studies.
In 1907 Lydia Wahlström encouraged Anna Grönfeldt to apply for a post as a specialist teacher at Folkskolelärarinneseminariet (elementary school female teacher training programme) in Umeå. The assistant teaching posts at the training programme were the highest posts which women were allowed to hold at that time. Anna Grönfeldt took Lydia Wahlström’s advice, applied, and was accepted. She began to work in Umeå in the autumn of 1907, and she remained there until she moved to Stockholm in 1955. She never got married but she shared a home with Lotten Waldenström, a telegrapher, from the mid-1910s until Lotten’s death in 1944. They worked together in various societies. In 1933 Anna Grönfeldt adopted her youngest brother’s daughter, Margot Wingselius, who was an adult at the time.
Anna Grönfeldt was active in women’s issues, in the suffragette movement, and a member of Akademiskt bildade kvinnors förening already before she moved to Umeå. Umeå remained a bourgeois small town right up until the 1960s, with a state-run administration, government, and training institutions, and it was politically dominated by conservative values until the interwar period. She and Ester Middelsten, her colleague and fellow women’s issues activist, were initially the only academically qualified women in Umeå. Over time Anna Grönfeldt became a public and respected person in the area. She was a pioneer in many spheres; she was often the only woman in entirely male environments. She maintained a large network of women engaged in women’s issues in Sweden and she served as a link between the regional female activists in the rest of Norrland and those who were active across Sweden.
When Anna Grönfeldt began to work at the training programme in Umeå, she put her natural sciences degree to the side and focused on her teaching. The teacher training programme adopted a new teaching plan in 1919 in which the religious elements were toned down whilst natural sciences were given major attention. Thus in 1921 Anna Grönfeldt began state-supported continuation courses for employed elementary school teachers, inspired by her own studies in Cambridge. These were the first of their kind in Sweden. In order to improve elementary school teachers’ skills as the new elementary school teaching plan was implemented in 1919, the demands placed on the training programme teachers were raised and they were given the option of becoming senior subject teachers. Anna Grönfeldt undertook further courses in physics at Stockholm College and became a senior subject teacher in mathematics and physics in 1918, and was one of the first women in Sweden to do so. She was also active in union issues which touched on conditions for female teachers on teacher training programmes as at that time the employment requirements and salaries discriminated against women.
The Umeå branch of Föreningen för kvinnans politiska rösträtt (FKPR, Association for Women's Suffrage) was founded in 1903. Anna Grönfeldt joined the association as soon as she arrived in Umeå, and she was elected onto the board in 1908 and became one of the most important figureheads and speakers of the association. From 1909 onwards she participated in all of the meetings of the central board of Landsföreningen för kvinnans politiska rösträtt (LKPR, National Association for Women’s Suffrage). Along with about 25 other women of the LKPR’s executive committee, she was part of the group which ran the suffragette campaign in Sweden. The Umeå branch was active right up until 1921, and extended throughout Västerbotten, including connections with towns further along from the Norrland coast. It worked in accordance with the suffragette movement’s centrally dispensed directive but also focused on showing that women were equal to the roll of citizens. Thus the association worked determinedly to get those women who had the right to vote in municipal elections to exercise their right. The association influenced participation in the elections to the point that the percentage of women involved was higher than men. When women became eligible to stand for municipal seats in 1910 the association managed to get Helena Ljungberg (who represented the right-wing party) elected in the spring of that year as the first woman outside of Stockholm to be elected onto a city council in a by-election. During the ordinary election that autumn both she and Anna Grönfeldt were elected as councillors and Anna Grönfeldt became known. After suffrage rights had been extended to women, Anna Grönfeldt was elected onto Svenska kommittén för internationellt rösträttsarbete (Swedish committee for international suffrage work), where she was active from 1921 to 1930.
Following the reform of suffrage rights, the Umeå women who belonged to the liberal party came together in a local branch of Frisinnade kvinnors riksförbund, with Anna Grönfeldt as its chair. The most important task for the association was to safeguard women’s rights to representation within political associations. The break-up of the liberal party in 1923 following the prohibition referendum generated disputes amongst the liberals. Anna Grönfeldt, who was an abstinence supporter, resigned from her party group in Umeå but remained, for a while, within Frisinnade Kvinnor. The activities of the group petered out, and this was reflected throughout the country, since women began to hold differing positions in the matter. After the 1928 election there was basically no female political association left. Frisinnade kvinnors riksförbund leant increasingly toward the left and in 1931 it was restructured as Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund. In 1934 the liberal party re-united and Folkpartiet (The Liberal People’s Party) was established. Anna Grönfeldt then rejoined the party. In 1935 a liberal women’s association was set up and the following year Olga Widegren, the association’s ombudswoman, travelled through Sweden to set up local branches. In May 1936 she arrived in Umeå and a local branch was set up with Anna Grönfeldt as chair.
Anna Grönfeldt served on Umeå city council and in various agencies and committees during different periods. She was one of the council’s most active proposers of motions and not all of them concerned issues related to women. During the 1910s she worked with two construction committees, formed to build schools and bathing houses. During the interwar period she sat on the elementary school board where she, despite strong resistance, pushed through the establishment of a dental clinic for school children. In 1927, when the clinic agency was set up, the opposition attempted to prevent her from being elected onto the agency, but after a re-election she was indeed elected onto it and remained its chair for a long time. She spent many years trying to get school accommodation arranged for the youth who were staying in lodgings in Umeå but had no success. She spent four decades on the board for the girls’ school where she represented continuity. During the 1930s there was a dispute concerning the girls’ school as the town wanted to direct the girls back there from the secondary grammar school due to a shortage in premises. Anna Grönfeldt along with the leading liberal in the town, Gustav Rosén, managed to stop this. She was also involved in placing the girls’ school under municipal control, which finally happened in 1939.
Local public awareness of Anna Grönfeldt’s political activities relates largely to her motion, proposed in the town council in 1914, with regard to the town plans for an airport. Her motion was rejected as it was determined to be a military matter. In 1961, when the airport was eventually built and was to be opened, Anna Grönfeldt was invited as a guest of honour. She herself had accepted that other motions had greater importance. In 1940 she gave up her political activism, somewhat disappointed that the dream of opportunities imbued in the women of the suffragette movement never came to fruition. Women remained discriminated against.
When Anna Grönfeldt arrived in Umeå she initially lived with her colleague, Ferdinand Laestadius, who was the chief librarian of the county. Through him she gained access to Umeå’s popular education organisation Minerva and also became a founding member of the Västerbotten county lecture association in 1908. She then became one of the area’s most prominent public educators, a pioneering role for a woman. Her first experience of organising popular education courses occurred when FKPR in Umeå, under her leadership, offered the so-called Bergman-Österberg courses to the public in 1912-1913. She lectured on political science, among other things. In 1922 she set up Västerbotten county local association’s first course in local history, off her own back. She was recruited onto the county’s lecture association board and in 1922 she became not only its chair but also its figurehead. In 1930, in order to gain access to state funding for running courses, she set up the Västerbotten popular education course association, of which she also became the chair. She then coordinated the activities of both associations during her joint leadership. Under the framework of course organisation she began to hold the usual courses in civic education. As very few women signed up for these she began a specific housewives’ course in collaboration with the county housewives’ associations in 1932. From 1935 she also ran another type of course, namely a health-related one, which included aspects of hygiene for pregnant women, specifically aimed at female participants. That year she was also the first woman to be elected onto the board of Föreläsningsförbundens riksorganisation (national lecture association).
Anna Grönfeldt died in 1973.