Siri Dahlquist was a hymn writer and the second woman to gain a Bachelor of Theology degree in Sweden.
Siri Dahlquist was born in Stockholm in 1889. Her mother was Hedvig Maria Lind, whose jobs included working as a junior school teacher at Ateneum för flickor (a girls’ school) in Stockholm. Her father, Per Jonsson, hailed from Dalarna and was a secondary school teacher. Siri Dahlquist also had two brothers named Nils and Bengt. She attended the Wallin school, and gained her school-leaving certificate there in 1907.
A significant research project on Siri Dahlquist was completed in 2012 and resulted in the anthology Siri Dahlquist. Psalmförfattare, prästfru och teolog. This revealed the extent of her significance to the Church of Sweden as well as her multifaceted activism, particularly as a missionary. This study also revealed that from an early age, whilst a new student at Uppsala, Siri Dahlquist expressed her desire to become a priest. In a 1907 letter to a student priest she wrote: “I too wanted to become a priest”.
Twelve years later, in 1919, Siri Dahlquist returned to the issue of whether women could become priests in an article entitled “Är prästämbetet ett kvinnokall? Några tankar inför en aktuell fråga” (Can the calling to be a priest happen to women? Some thoughts on a current issue) which was published in the journal Idun. She claims in the article that women have “equal worth and equal responsibility in God’s kingdom” and that in principle there are no reasons why a woman should not become a priest. At the same time she ponders whether contemporary women can have the priestly calling. In the article Siri Dahlquist argues for the need for theologically educated women to hold permanent posts in the church, such as travel organisers within the youth movement, in the missions, in deaconess training, in social work, and at hospitals.
Preaching was of central importance to Siri Dahlquist. That women had often preached from the altar in Sweden was indisputable, according to her, but was not to be “sensationalised”. She herself had preached several times and when her husband, Gunnar Dahlquist, who was a priest, fell ill she not only led religious services but also preached to the parish. The arguments presented in the article revealed that Siri Dahlquist was advocating a particular religious role for women with responsibility focused on “teaching”. The proposal for such a role can be compared to the particular women’s role the female priest Margit Sahlin advocated in an article written twenty years later for Vår Lösen, 1938.
Siri Dahlquist believed that women were of prime importance to the church: “The future of religious thought in our country lies with women”, as she wrote in her 1919 article for Idun. Nowadays Siri Dahlquist is mainly known as a composer of hymns, but in the 20th century she was also one of the Church of Sweden’s missionary theologians who was active in the Church of Sweden mission and in Svenska Kvinnors Missionsförening (Swedish women’s mission association). She was the association’s chair, and vice chair, from 1922 until her death in 1966. As chair she was a driving force with extensive knowledge of and wide-ranging contacts with missionaries across the globe. She also campaigned for women to have the opportunity to interpret mission theology. She also contributed to teaching reforms, with regard to confirmation, which were implemented in the Church of Sweden.
Recent research into Siri Dahlquist and the early youth church movement has shown that she, like several other women, played an important role in disseminating the youth church movement across Sweden. This was largely done, from the summer of 1907 onwards, by holding youth meetings, which attracted many young people long into the 20th century. Siri Dahlquist played a leading role in these meetings during the 1910s. Women, in particular, were drawn to comprehensive summer meetings in different places throughout Sweden. These meetings for young women comprised a mix of theological lectures, outdoor activities, sporting activities and games, religious services, as well as celebrations of the Eucharist. The participants lived simply, sleeping on mattresses and were organised into small family groups in the hopes that they would make new friends in different age groups and deepen their faith through meaningful conversations. Siri Dahlquist relied on this basic pedagogical outlook when she later became involved in modernising confirmation activities in the Church of Sweden.
As a composer of hymns Siri Dahlquist particularly worked on themes which resounded with the theology of the youth church and preaching: those of Christ’s teachings on reconciliation, religious calling, decisions, discipleship and beatification, service, evangelising, and mission. Many of her hymns are prayers directed towards God, albeit rarely towards Jesus. Although worry may be expressed, doubt never is. Of all her hymns it is mainly the translation of the hymn of Christ’s passion, Den kärlek du till världen bär which is still in use today. Her own hymn, Låt nya tankar tolka Kristi bud is a well-expressed and timely mission hymn but is rarely sung, probably because the melody is considered to be too tricky.
Siri Dahlquist died in 1966 and is buried at the Gamla cemetery in Uppsala.