Margit Palmær was an author and active in associations, mainly in Örebro.
Margit Palmær was the daughter of Signe Palmær, née Dillner and Wilhelm Palmær. Margit was born in Uppsala, but when her father became a lecturer and later professor at the College of Technology in Stockholm, the family moved with him to Stockholm. Margit Palmaer has described her childhood and youth in Östermalm as being conservatively academic with a nanny and a large apartment with eight rooms, of which two were rented out. The family spent the summers in the Stockholm archipelago and later at Taberg in Småland. They socialised with relatives and in Margit Palmær’s childhood environment, people were strongly critical towards the growing workers’ movement.
During her school years, Margit Palmær gladly read Anna Maria Lenngren, Carl Snoilsky and Zacharias Topelius, but also devoured cheap popular literature. She appreciated the community libraries in the capital. Together with a maternal aunt, she attended lectures at the school of housewifery and herself led a drama group. In these contexts, Margit Palmær met women from other social classes. She was strongly impressed by belief in the future and middle-class learning ideals. However, she was not yet really politically aware. Nonetheless, she is supposed to have said when very young that she intended to become a suffragette, which shocked the people in her middle-class social circle.
After her matriculation, Margit Palmær studied romance languages and the history of literature at Uppsala University, and art history at Stockholm College. She was awarded her B.A. at Uppsala University in 1922. Her studies were overshadowed by the first world war. Study trips to Berlin opened her eyes to seventeenth-century art, especially the still life painting of the Netherlands. Her trips also gave her insights into the neediness of the working class in the outskirts of Berlin. A trip to London made her aware of the contrasts between the slums and the elegant West End. The interest of this young student in Karl Marx’s social analysis was awoken here.
During her studies at Stockholm College, Margit Palmær met her future husband, Bertil Waldén. He was an art historian and later amanuensis at the Nordic Museum. The couple got married in 1924 and had five children. The youngest child, Louise Waldén, became a women’s historian and one of the founders of the feminist Group 8. The Palmær-Waldén family lived for some years in Eskilstuna where Margit Palmær led study circles at the Workers’ Educational Association (ABF) and wrote her debut book. She was a freelancer at the weekly magazine Bonniers Veckotidning and participated in a women’s association. In 1928, Bertil Waldén was made curator of the County Museum in Örebro and in 1934 national curator. The family spent their summers at Siggebohyttan’s miners’ farm, that the County Museum had equipped and made into a destination of general interest. The province of Bergslagen came to mean a great deal Margit Palmær.
A radical change occurred in her life in 1927. Out of curiosity, she participated in a trip with communist youth for two months to Moscow and Leningrad. She communicated her impressions from this journey the year after, in Sovjetryska secenerier. She was also strongly impressed by Aleksandra Kollontaj’s Women Workers Struggle for their Rights, that had recently been translated into Swedish.
Margit Palmær made her literary debut in 1927 with the story Studentska, and in 1929, she published Historien om den yngste Sjunnesson followed in 1931 by the novel Mariann Tegern. The Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 was a revelation for Margit Palmær with its belief in the future, collective thinking and women’s emancipation. Light, sun and air were whisked into the old social order that was to be changed through reforms instead of revolution. As the mother of several children in Örebro, Margit Palmær had firsthand practical experience of how women needed to get involved in order to create better lives for themselves and their children.
Her literary career continued with Två systrar i Småland and the collection of short stories Mot en ny kärlek both of which appeared in 1933. Thereafter, Margit Palmær wrote a number of plays, for example the popular comedy Lassemaja in 1935 and the play Solidaritet, in 1936. The number of plays is striking.
Another type of writing was Nutidskvinnan i närbild from 1937, in which Margit Palmær sketched portraits of women in various occupations, in industry, healthcare, schools etc. She spent a couple of months for example working in a shoe factory to gain insight into the work there, and Vi nutidskvinnor in 1939 continued the same theme.
Margit Palmær became more and more involved in the cultural life of the Örebro region, in which her husband was already active. Den försvunne postiljonen. Roman från Bergslagen from 1942 and Klosterjungfruarna på Riseberga from 1943 bear traces of this. However, in between those two, Margit Palmær published more pamphlet-like books such as En husmor lever farligt in 1944. In this last she advocates giving women greater opportunities to participate actively in social work, something she herself did in Örebro.
In order to have time and opportunity to be active in the community, Margit Palmær was compelled to acquire help with the children. Her income from short stories and articles was quite sufficient to be able to pay a cook and a nanny. She became active in the Professional Women’s Club and in 1938 she was elected chairwoman of the city’s second Housewives’ Association with the name Active. In the mid-1930s, she started a park playground in the City Park and Active also started park playgrounds here and there in the city and above all the first day nursery in Örebro. An exchange centre for children’s clothes was set up on her initiative, as was a shared laundry.
The post-war era changed the preconditions for the social work that Margit Palmær had striven to promote and develop. The city and the community took over the work of social reform more and more. Even the periodicals for which she had written, like Idun, Folket i Bild and the Sunday magazines were closed down or changed. During the 1950s, Margit Palmær wrote a book about Cajsa Warg in 1958 and Bergslagsblomster in 1959.
Bertil Waldén died in 1963 at the early age of 62, right in the middle of planning a new county museum. The spouses were very different personalities, he a manic-depressive romantic with his focus on the past, while she had her dreams of the future. Margit Palmær succeeded in completing her husband’s work on the book Örebro i konsten in 1965 together with her daughter Katja. The same year she published her Örebro 700 år.
Bertil Waldén’s life work was the cultural heritage village Wadköping next to the river Svartån in Örebro, which was inaugurated on 4 June 1965. Several valuable buildings were moved there, saved from the excavators reducing the old southern district of Örebro to rubble. The widowed Margit Palmær was allowed to live in one of the houses. The only cobbled street there bears Bertil Waldén’s name, but only a tiny alley was named after Margit Palmær. In 1966, she was awarded Örebro City’s Culture Prize and wrote in 1970 an amusing presentation of her local environment in the book Här är Wadköping.
As a person, Margit Palmær united several different layers. She was an author with a variety of publications: novels, plays, articles and nonfiction. Significant for her authorship is a light and witty pen. Her subject matter grew deeper as she dealt with factual issues and controversial questions. There her involvement often bore fruit. She grew up with Ellen Key as her role model, but succeeded in living as a modern, struggling mother of small children in a new city with social conventions that she tried to break to give women greater freedom and independence. She used the Housewives’ Association Active as an instrument for her ideas. As the one to complete her husband Bertil Waldén’s life work with Wadköping, Margit Palmær became an important cultural personality in the city in which she came to live and work for more than 60 years. She died in 1991 in Örebro at the age of 92.