Hesselgren, Kerstin (1872–1962)

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Hesselgren, Kerstin (1872–1962)

Swedish social worker and champion of women's rights who was the first woman member of the Swedish Parliament. Born in Sweden on April 1, 1872; died on August 19, 1962; attended Cassel Women Teachers Training College and Bedford College, London.

Sometimes called the " Jane Addams of Sweden," Kerstin Hesselgren devoted much of her life to the social betterment of her native country. As a child, Hesselgren dreamed of becoming a doctor, but ill health forced her to train as a district nurse instead. She later took up the study of home economics and taught domestic science for several years during her early career. In 1906, she was appointed inspector of housing in Stockholm (the first woman ever to hold this position) and, during World War I, functioned as a councilor of the government food commission. Hesselgren, a liberal, became the first woman member of the Swedish Parliament in 1921 and served until 1934. She served again from 1936 to 1944. From 1926 to 1929, she chaired an international society, the Human Relations in Industry.

Beginning in 1937, Hesselgren was one of four experts on a League of Nations committee on the Legal Status of Women. The committee, which included American Dorothy Kenyon , oversaw a three-year investigation which embraced three legal divisions: public law which looked into women's right to vote, to hold office, to obtain an education, and to practice a profession; private law which studied women's rights in marriage, right to separate names, right to earnings, right to make contracts, as well as relationships between parents and children; and criminal law which examined how women's criminal responsibilities differ from that of men.

Hesselgren received many honors for her work, including a medal from the Swedish Government. Well known in America, she was also honored at a luncheon in New York in July 1938, held in conjunction with the tercentenary (300th anniversary) of the founding of New Sweden. Recognizing Hesselgren's more than 20 years of service on behalf of women, Eleanor Roosevelt introduced her as a "woman who has participated so richly in the life of her times that it would be impossible to do justice to all her activities without staying here all afternoon." Kerstin Hesselgren died on August 19, 1962.


Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1962.

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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