Bang, Nina (1866–1928)

views updated

Bang, Nina (1866–1928)

Danish historian who, as minister of education, was the first woman in the world to hold a cabinet post. Born Nina Henriette Wendeline Ellinger in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1866; died in 1928; daughter of Heinrich August David Ellinger and Charlotte Ida Friedericke Preuss; attended school in Elsinore and received private instruction for matriculation in history at University of Copenhagen, granted Ph.D., 1895; married Gustav Bang (a historian), in 1895.

Nina Ellinger was born in Copenhagen but, at age four, moved with her family to Elsinore. This translocation to the shore of the Sound separating Denmark from Sweden may have inspired her later interest in exploration of the Sound Tariffs and their significance for trade and social conditions. Bang attended school in

Elsinore and received private instruction for matriculation as a student of history at the University of Copenhagen, where she received her Ph.D. in 1895. Focusing her studies on the history of trade in the 1500s, she became especially knowledgeable about accounts of the Sound Tariffs collected from ships trading in the Baltic.

Danish waterways gave the only access in and out of the Baltic Sea. Where the Sound is narrowest, the Danes had erected a number of castles as elaborate tollbooths on one of Europe's busiest channels. For 428 years, ships had to pay Sound dues (a toll) and dip their flag as they passed the Elsinore castle. Much to the chagrin of neighboring countries, whenever Denmark needed revenue, it raised the tolls. This practice eventually resulted in the Danish phase of the Thirty Years' War which cost Denmark enormously. By the Peace of Bromsbero (August 25, 1645), Sweden was given important territory on its side of the Sound, effectively ending Denmark's exclusive control of the straits and its status as a major European power. As a Marxist historian, Bang used the tariff accounts as a means to illuminate both material and spiritual social conditions. Her findings, which she published in a two-volume work, offered new and valuable insights into the history of English, Dutch, and Scandinavian trade.

Both she and her husband Gustav Bang, also a historian, became the first academicians to join the Social Democratic Party in 1895. Gustav, considered the first Danish politician to have had a thorough knowledge of Marxism, analyzed Danish society and its developmental trends from a Marxist point of view and wrote weekly articles in Social-Demokraten (the Social-Democratic newspaper), treating current as well as theoretical concerns. From 1898, Nina Bang, too, worked for Social-Demokraten as a writer of articles on foreign politics and political and economical issues. She turned a critical eye on corporate accounts and shares and frequently divulged practices of speculation favoring capitalists. From 1903 until her death in 1928, she would be a member of her party's executive board.

As a council member for the city of Copenhagen from 1913 to 1918, Nina Bang dealt with a wide variety of social and economic cases and issues. She established and maintained contact with leading socialists both in Denmark and abroad, and she attended numerous international conferences. At the peace conference in Stockholm held during World War I, she stood in for the Danish prime minister. Bang became a member of Parliament in 1918 and was reelected in 1920 and 1924. At the formation of Denmark's first social-democratic government in April of 1924, she was appointed minister of education, the first woman cabinet member in the world.

Bang brought to the post extensive insights into matters of state and finance, a strong personal engagement, a great capacity for work, and a keen eye for details. Her chief concern was promotion of stronger local rule with greater responsibility for schools and improved education for teachers.

Although Bang was one of the first established female political activists, she was not an active feminist; she considered women's social and legal issues part of general political issues and part of the general battle for democratic progress. As a woman and a strong, authoritative politician, Nina Bang became a favorite object of right-wing criticism and an easy target for cartoonists. She was, however, greatly esteemed by her party.


Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie. Vol. 12. Ed. Olaf Olsen. Copenhagen: Nordisk Forlag A/S, 1990.

Petersen, Kai A. Danmarkshistoriens Hvornaar Skete Det. Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag, 1985.

Inga Wiehl , Yakima Valley Community College, Yakima, Washington