Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren was an ice-dancer, a qualified physical education instructor, and a ‘bilkårist’ (member of the motorised civil defence corps). She was a five-time Swedish champion in figure-skating and she was involved in setting up the organisation now known as Sveriges Bilkårers riksförbundet (national association of Swedish motorised civil defence corps).
Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren, known as Toto to her friends, was born in 1901 as Ragnvi Torslow. She added the second surname of Lundgren following her marriage to Carl Lundgren in 1926. Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren grew up in Stockholm, living with her mother and Astrid, her younger sister. Her mother ran the then well-known Stockholm company Sucksdorffs bandhandel. Her father, Axel, who was a sea-captain, died when Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren was four years old.
The Torslow sisters engaged in a range of different branches of sporting activities from an early age and both of them became successful divers. However, figure-skating became Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren's main competitive sport. Encouraged by her mother, who had also skated competitively in her youth, Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren trained in figure-skating at Stockholm Allmänna Skridskoklubben, SASK. By the time she was twelve-years-old she had already won several club competitions. She then carried on bringing home prizes from various school and junior championships throughout her youth. She won the Swedish championship silver medal just after becoming a ‘senior’ competitor in 1918 and two years later she won two gold medals – one for the pairs event with Kaj af Ekström and the other for the solo ladies event. She held the title of ladies’ champion in the Swedish figure-skating masters for five years in a row, from 1920–1924, during which time she also brought home a series of other figure-skating medals, including the silver medal in the Nordic masters in 1922.
Whilst Ragniv Torslow-Lundgren was at the peak of her career she also trained at Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet (central institute of gymnastics; GCI, now known as Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan GIH, or Gymnastics and sports college). In 1923 she qualified as an instructor of physical education which meant that she was professionally trained as what is now known as a sports instructor and sports therapist. During the 1930–1943 period she worked at the institute as an instructor in games and sport. She also ran an extensive range of sporting associations and related organisations, in various fields including figure-skating, swimming, skiing, and the Girl Scouts. The Nordisk familjeboks sportlexikon of 1946 describes her as “Sweden’s most active and versatile sports leader”.
In addition to her own sporting activities and later teaching activities Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren was also an active board member of several sporting associations. Aged only 14 she had served as chair of the ladies’ section of Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna (IFK), and subsequently sat on the committees of Svenska Simförbundet (Swedish swimming association), Sveriges Flickors Scoutförbundet (Swedish Girls’ Scouts association), Svenska Gymnastiklärarsällskapet (Swedish gymnastics instructors’ society; now known as Svenska idrottslärarföreningen), Friluftsdelegationen, Cykelfrämjandet, and Skidfrämjandet (now known as Friluftsfrämjandet, the Swedish outdoors association). Further, she was part of a group who in 1924 set up Svenska kvinnors centralförbundet för fysisk kultur (SKCFK; Swedish women’s federation for physical culture) and was on the board until 1935. SKCFK aimed at becoming a national collective of women’s sporting associations as well as safeguarding women’s interests within the world of sport. The latter, for example, entailed working towards improved access to training facilities for women as well as obtaining equal pay for female sports instructors at Gymnastiska centralinstitutet and that they should be represented on the institute’s management and that what was termed “women’s expertise” should be respected and heard. The intense women’s rights reforms of the 1920s included sport as a subject of feminist discussion and it was held up as an area of symbolic importance for women. In this regard SKCFK served as a feminist-orientated association with some close personal connections to the contemporary left-wing liberal women’s movement. The inner circle of the association also included qualified instructors of physical education such as Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren and Elin Falk, also a sports education reform campaigner, and women’s rights activists such as the doctors Karolina Widerström and Ada Nilsson. Through Ada Nilsson there was a direct link to the radical feminist publication Tidevarvet, which served as an important voice for the SKCFK. Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren authored several articles for the journal and was interviewed about various sports and the place of women in sport. On behalf of the SKCFK Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren also ran courses in a variety of different sports.
It seems that a combination of opportunities and personal connections led to Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren’s central role within the early emerging ‘bilkår’. One of her friends from the sports movement, Ingrid Holm, was involved with Kvinnornas beredskapskommitté (women’s emergency planning committee) in the Gothenburg area. Ingrid Holm had, for some time, fruitlessly attempted to create a similar set up in Stockholm. During one of her visits to Stockholm Ingrid Holm bumped into an old friend and colleague from the sports movement, namely Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren, who was sitting behind the wheel of her own vehicle. It was not the norm for women to be able to drive at this time in Sweden and far less so for women to have their own vehicle. Holm felt she had found the driving instructor that she had been seeking in Stockholm and following a brief period of reflection Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren accepted her offer.
Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren spent the ensuing period of emergency preparations running training programmes for more than 3,000 replacement drivers in an effort which also involved her husband, Carl Lundgren. He was an engineer at the General Motors factory in Stockholm and contributed his knowledge of engines to the members of the ‘bilkår’.
From an early point in these developments Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren pushed to get the ‘bilkår’ organised into a distinct group which was independent of but worked closely with Kvinnornas beredskapskommitté. The Stockholm women’s ‘bilkår’ came into existence in April 1940 with Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren at its helm. She travelled throughout Sweden and campaigned for the establishment of further similar groups whilst also seeking to draw them together into a national organisation. In 1942 just such an organisation was formed under the name of Sveriges Kvinnliga Bilkårers Riksförbund, for which Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren served as the first chair.
In her role as head of the women’s ‘bilkår’ movement Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren made good use of her experience gained through the sports movement – where she had developed her leadership qualities and her organisational abilities, learned to negotiate with people in authority, to manoeuvre within male-dominated spheres and to deal with prejudice in regard to women’s abilities.
Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren remained chair of the ‘bilkår’ for both the Stockholm division and for the national association until her death in 1947. At that time she was 46 years old and had been in poor health for a long time. In honour of her memory and as a contribution to the continued activities in her spirit the Stockholm ‘bilkår’ established a stipend fund in her name: Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren’s memorial fund.
Ragnvi Torslow-Lundgren is buried at the cemetery in Solna.