Greta Wieselgren had a Ph.D. in history and was a senior lecturer educated in the source-critical Lund school. In later years she became more and more engaged in research on women’s history.
Greta Wieselgren was born in Karlskrona in 1901 as the daughter of a merchant, Alfred Håkansson, and his wife Ida Smedberg. She matriculated in Lund and continued with higher studies at the University of Lund. Her main subject was history. In 1925 she completed her M.A. and in 1928 she married Per Wieselgren Ph.D.
During the 1920s, Greta Wieselgren was the chairwoman of the Lund women students’ association (Lunds Kvinnliga Studentförening), of which Hilma Borelius had been the first chairwoman. She was also active in the women academics’ association (Kvinnliga Akademikers Förening, KAF). Together with Toni Schmid, Greta Wieselgren was one of the most gifted young historians in Lund.
Greta and Per Wieselgren had three daughters. When he was appointed Professor of Swedish language and literature in Tartu in Estonia in 1930, the family went with him and Greta Wieselgren taught as a Swedish lecturer at the University of Tartu in 1934–1940. The time in Estonia came to an abrupt end when Per Wieselgren was ordered out of the country by the Germans in 1941. However, he completed his work on a Swedish-Estonian dictionary first.
Greta Wieselgren’s higher research studies were kept alive and she gained her licentiate in 1937. In Lund, she was engaged as a teacher on courses for foreigners in 1945–1946 and was a member of the city council in Lund in 1947–1950. In 1949, Greta Wieselgren took her doctorate at the University of Lund with a thesis on Sten Sture the younger and Archbishop Gustav Trolle, particularly their conflict in 1516–1519 about winning the majority of the Privy Council. The tangled period of the union was sorted out here through Greta Wieselgren’s thorough archive studies. She was educated in the source-critical school and stood especially close to Lauritz Weibull. However, Curt Weibull, Gottfrid Carlsson, Sven Thunberg and Erland Hjärne were also influential teachers at the University of Lund during her research education there.
Her research career after taking her doctorate came to an abrupt end. In her doctoral thesis, Greta Wieselgren went against the research élite including her own professor and three senior lecturers. The faculty’s examiner also assessed her thesis in a niggardly way in Historiskt tidskrift in 1951 and received a sharp response from her in the next number. Greta Wieselgren was an argumentative woman, but her application for a senior lectureship was rejected with compact opposition, which was based on the negative attitude to her independent thesis research.
A personal upheaval probably occurred when Greta Wieselgren divorced Per Wieselgren in 1951 and accepted an appointment as a lecturer at the Palmgrenska school in Stockholm in 1952–1968. She thus spent her middle years and long old age in Stockholm.
A new phase in Greta Wieselgren’s research career started in 1969, twenty years after her doctorate, when she published Den höga tröskeln. Kampen för kvinnas rätt till ämbete about the high threshold for women’s professional careers, in the seventh part of the Women’s historical archive (Kvinnohistoriskt arkiv). In it, she dealt with the elementary women teachers’ salary issue and the upsetting case of the lawyer Elsa Eschelsson’s suicide in 1911. However, the main point was the struggle for women’s access to higher state appointments that resulted in 1923 in a law ensuring women’s right to all state and public appointments with the exception of the military and the church. Greta Wieselgren continued the struggle and carried further Lydia Wahlström’s work from the 1930s on the Swedish women’s movement. This work still constitutes a foundation in Swedish women’s history research.
For posterity, Greta Wieselgren’s study on Fredrika Bremer and her novel Hertha from 1978, Fredrika Bremer och verkligheten. Romanen Herthas tillblivelse has become the most spoken of and quoted. The reason for that is mainly that the question was taken up of whether and to what degree Fredrika Bremer’s ideological novel Hertha influenced the political and legislative handling of the issue of unmarried women’s right to be considered legally of age. The Gothenburg historian Gunnar Qvist had written a study of the history of opinions in 1969, about Fredrika Bremer and women’s emancipation. In this book, he put forward the thesis that Fredrika Bremer’s novel Hertha had not really been as significant for the political process as the women’s movement had for a long time asserted. He put forward the view that the women’s movement had to some extent idealised Fredrika Bremer’s contributions.
Like the source-critical historian she was, Greta Wieselgren sought to get to the bottom of the issue by considering the question of the novel’s origin and composition, with greater respect for Fredrika Bremer as an individual and a creative person. She took the initiative of examining the original manuscript of Hertha that was preserved in America. Greta Wieselgren’s study focused on the realities of the background to the novel. She immersed herself in the description of the person Hertha and highlighted Fredrika Bremer’s contacts with the English translator. Certain sections of the ideological content could be related to the author’s interest in influential contemporary thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard. Thus two historians, one a woman and one a man, who represented different research traditions, had totally different points of entry into the novel. Particularly worth noting is that Greta Wieselgren does not spend any time or effort on polemicising against Gunnar Qvist’s theories.
Greta Wieselgren also wrote scientific articles about the Swedish medieval period, Baltic seventeenth-century history and women’s history, as well as articles in textbooks and the daily newspapers.
Greta Wieselgren died in 1998 on Lidingö, Stockholm at 97 years of age.