Tora Nordström-Bonnier was an early female journalist, known as a ‘pennskaft’ who was multitalented and most famous for her travelogues from different continents written in the period immediately following the Second World War.
Tora Nordström-Bonnier was born in 1895. She grew up in Strängnäs with two older sisters. Her father, Thor Nordström, was a lecturer in modern languages who had high ambitions for his daughters. Upon completing school in her hometown Tora Nordström-Bonnier gained her school-leaving certificate in the Latin section of Nya Elementarskolan för flickor (girls’ school) in Stockholm in 1914. She then decided to become a journalist, having read about Elin Wägner and read her novels Norrtullsligan and Pennskaftet. Tora Nordström-Bonnier had also been commended by her teacher for her writing skills. Her father was, however, completely opposed to that choice of profession and Tora Nordström-Bonnier thus began as a student at a pharmacy. During the autumn of 1914 she read yet another book which inspired her, namely Ester Blenda Nordström’s portrayal of her time as a journalist disguised as a maid on a farm in Sörmland, entitled En piga bland pigor. Despite their shared surname they were not related, but in the spring of 1915 Tora Nordström-Bonnier wrote to Ester Blenda Nordström – who was by then already famous. The latter then spoke to her boss, Ewald Stomberg, editor of Svenska Dagbladet. On 1 July Tora Nordström-Bonnier was allowed to begin working at the newspaper as an unpaid intern for a three-month period. At that time there were, in addition to Ester Blenda Nordström, three female journalists working at Svenska Dagbladet with whom Tora Nordström-Bonnier shared her working space: Célie Brunius, Elisabeth Krey, and Gerda Marcus. This placed Tora Nordström-Bonnier in the heart of the female journalists’ network known as ‘Ligan’, which included the much-admired Elin Wägner and several of the current corps of ‘pennskaft’. Tora Nordström-Bonnier adopted the pseudonym of Vanja which she used, for example, when writing the newspaper’s light-hearted Marginalen column.
Initially Tora Nordström-Bonnier shared accommodation with her sister Ingeborg, who had got a job in Stockholm once she completed her university studies in Uppsala. Tora Nordström-Bonnier also spent some time sub-letting from her colleague Elisabeth Krey. The Svenska Dagbladet family of August and Célie Brunius, who lived in what was then the culturally radical Lidingö, came to play a significant role in Tora Nordström-Bonnier’s life and profession. During her time at Svenska Dagbladet she also worked on the then recently established weekly Husmodern.
Through the Svenska Dagbladet circles Tora Nordström-Bonnier met the man she went on to marry, Eric Ramm-Ericson. His father owned Lunds Dagblad. The couple married in 1918 and initially moved to Gothenburg where they both worked for Göteborgs Morgonpost. Tora Nordström-Bonnier also wrote for the journal Scenen: tidskrift för teatern at that time.
Working opportunities for female journalists outside the big cities were not particularly favourable and just as Tora Nordström-Bonnier and her husband were preparing to move to his home town of Lund she began to write for Lunds Dagblad. Her husband meanwhile became the acting director of his father’s newspaper in 1924. The following year the marriage ended.
In 1926 Tora Nordström-Bonnier returned to Stockholm and began to work for Dagens Nyheter where she was one of the very few women on the editorial staff. In her memoires Eva von Zweigbergk, a colleague of Tora’s, has described her as “the elegant, secretive creature, who discussed clothes, art, and travel with an ironic cool wit”. Tora Nordström-Bonnier’s portfolio also included book- and film reviews for the culture pages and the Sunday inserts.
At Dagens Nyheter she met the publisher Tor Bonnier, and they got married in 1929. She resigned her post the following year in order to dedicate herself to her family, which now included their son. She also began to write for herself. In 1933 she released her first novel, entitled Juninatten, which was later adapted for the big screen. The book was followed by another two novels, and later by travelogues and social commentary from her global travels.
Following the peace of 1945 the family spent almost a year in a small town south of Santa Fe in New Mexico. The Expressen evening newspaper, newly established the previous year, published her letters from Mexico. In 1946 she released a book called Just for fun, in which she collated all these letters. Tora Nordström-Bonnier continued to supply editorials and cultural items to Expressen until 1948.
When she began to report on the politics and culture in Australia, however, she went back to Dagens Nyheter in 1948. She undertook a journey in 1950, travelling in Fredrika Bremer’s footsteps, to mark the centenary of Bremer’s 1849–1851 journey which had preceded Bremer’s book, Hemmen i den nya verlden. Tora Nordström-Bonnier’s journey had originally been suggested by Elin Wägner who, on being accepted into Svenska Akademien (the Swedish Academy), was tasked with writing a biography of Fredrika Bremer. Elin Wägner fell ill and died before she could realise the project. Thus Tora Nordström-Bonnier retraced Bremer’s travels through 27 American states by car in the company of her son Simon, who did the driving. The resulting book, entitled Resa kring en resa i Fredrika Bremer’s fotspår and published in 1950, offered reflections on how America had changed from the country which Fredrika Bremer had experienced.
The following year Tora Nordström-Bonnier’s marriage to Tor Bonnier ended. She then moved to California. She continued to provide travelogues for Dagens Nyheter – which she also published in book form – from places such as Japan, Pakistan, and India. She also worked as a translator of American literature. Towards the end of her life she was living in Cagnes-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, but every summer she returned to Bisslinge farm and Qvallsta manor where her sons lived.
Tora Nordström-Bonnier died in 1991.