Berta Persson was Sweden’s first female bus driver. She also owned several of her own businesses across various spheres.
Berta Persson was born at Hallgård in Bara, Gotland in 1893. She was the first of five children born in her family. Her father was a carpenter. Berta Persson worked as a maid from the age of 14 onwards. When she was 19 she fell pregnant and married Wilhelm Persson. He acquired a mill and timber works which also served as the family home. Berta Persson tended to the agricultural and animal duties on the farm and the Persson family came to number eight children in total.
When the Kappelshamn-Visby bus service came up for sale the Perssons decided to set up a haulage company. They sold their farm at a public auction in order to raise the capital for the venture, which also comprised trucks and taxis. Their original plan was that Wilhelm Persson would run the bus and truck side of the business whilst Berta Persson would drive the taxi and manage the household. However, Wilhelm Persson had a poor memory and could not keep track of the orders that the job entailed and it was not long before Berta Persson had to take over for him. She faced a certain amount of opposition when she went to obtain her driving licence. Until this point no woman in Sweden had driven for an official bus service and the inspector wanted it to remain a purely male occupation and so he failed Berta Persson twice. On her third attempt she ensured that she had several male bus drivers with her as passengers so that they could confirm that she was driving correctly. The inspector was forced to pass her and she became known as “bus Berta”, not just in Gotland but throughout Sweden too.
From 1927–1934 Berta Persson drove the Kappelshamn to Visby line, sitting at the wheel of an old Chevrolet which could carry 14 passengers and which only moved at 20 kilometres an hour. The speed limit was raised to 30 kilometres an hour in 1931 and at that point she acquired a Volvo. According to the bus timetable her route started in Kappelshamn in the morning, stopping frequently on the way to Österport in Visby. She was often forced to stop at gates where people would stand, waving her down. She not only transported human passengers but often had other cargo, including, not infrequently, the “licence-booklets” which recorded people’s alcohol allowance and with which Berta Persson would purchase alcohol and then deliver it to the licence-booklet owner. The same thing happened with pharmacy errands and even grocery shopping. Sometimes she also served as a messenger, travelling from farm to farm, tooting her horn at the gate as it was still unusual for people to have telephones at this time. Winter tyres did not exist so sometimes she had to clear the snow off the road before she could make headway. Further, Berta Persson had her eighth child during the time she was a bus driver. She had to rely on help from a neighbour to manage childcare whilst she fulfilled her bus-driving duties. In 1934 Gotland’s railway replaced the bus service.
At that point Berta Persson and her family were renting a house. She tidied the garden and began to run a boarding house in 1939. She was personally popular amongst the locals, as was her cooking, and she would often cater for larger events such as weddings and celebrations.
In 1948 Wilhelm and Berta Persson moved to Bunge. She had been involved in Riksförbundet Sveriges Lottakårer (SLK, Swedish women’s voluntary defence organisation) from its inception and she was also a member of the Red Cross and Fårösunds Husmodersförening (later known as Fårösunds Hem och Samhälleförening, similar to a women’s rural institute association). She was on the board of the latter organisation for several years.
Berta Persson died in 1961, aged 68.