Fredrika Bremer: Swedish writer, feminist activist, spinster

In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Mrs. March reads something by Swedish novelist Fredrika Bremer to her four daughters (according to

  Who was Frederika Bremer?

Fredrika Bremer (17 August 1801 — 31 December 1865) was a Swedish writer and a feminist activist. She had a large influence on the social development in Sweden, especially in feminist issues.

Bremer County was named for Frederika Bremer. A church and a creamery were all that remained of the little town of Bremer when I was half a century younger.  Whose idea was it to name a small Iowa town for a Swedish romance writer and feminist activist? Why didn’t I hear her name in all the years I grew up next door in Butler County? (And who was Butler County named for?) Been there, but didn’t see the T-shirt:


Bremer got a postage stamp; General William Orlando Butler got a Cigar box label

The town of Bremer barely exists today (section 9, Dayton Township;Post office, 1858-61), but Bremer County lives on in spite of all its ghost towns.

Fredrika Bremer’s father, a descendant of an old German family, was a wealthy iron master and merchant. Raised in a castle near Stockholm, she and her sisters were expected to marry into the aristocracy. Bremer dodged this role and occupied herself with charitable work in the country around Årsta Castle.

Thanks to wikipedia for the bio:

Fredrika Bremer never married. She became acquainted with Per Böklin, a principal at a school in Kristianstad in the 1830s, who gave her private lessons and became her friend. He asked her to marry him but, after several years consideration, she declined. She died at Årsta Castle outside of Stockholm, Sweden.

Bremer debuted as a writer, anonymously, with a series of novels published between 1828 and 1831, which were soon followed by others.

Her novels were romantic stories of the time and concentrated on women in the marriage market; either beautiful and superficial, or unattractive with no hope of joining it, and the person telling the story and observing them is often an independent woman. She wanted a new kind of family life, one not focused only on the male members of the family, but one which would give a larger place for women to be in focus and develop their own talents and personality.

From 1849 to 1851 Bremer traveled by herself in the United States. She was disappointed in what she had heard to be a ‘promised land,’ particularly in the institution of slavery.

A historical marker near Stillwater, Minnesota, notes Bremer describing the St. Croix river valley in the state of Minnesota as “just the country for a new Scandinavia.”

Her novel Hertha (1856) remains her most influential work. It is a dark novel about the lack of freedom for women, and it raised a debate in the parliament called “The Hertha debate”, which contributed to the new law of legal majority for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was somewhat of a starting point for the real feminist movement in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women, and in 1861, the University for Women Teachers, Högre lärarinneseminariet, was founded by the state after the suggested woman university in Hertha. In 1859, Sophie Adlersparre, founded the paper Tidskrift för hemmet inspired by the novel. This was the starting point for Adlersparre’s work as the organizer of the Swedish feminist movement.
Fredrika Bremer was interested in contemporary political life and social reform regarding gender equality and social work, and she was active both as an influential participator in the debate of women’s rights as well as a philanthropist. Politically, she was a liberal, who felt sympathy for social issues and for the working class movement.

In 1853, she co-founded the Stockholm women’s fund for child care with Fredrika Limnell.

In 1854, she co-founded the Women Society for the Improvement of Prisoners  with Mathilda Foy, Maria Cederschiöld, Betty Ehrenborg and Emilia Elmblad. The purpose was to visit female prisoners to provide moral support and improve their character by studies of religion.

In 1860, she helped Johanna Berglind to fund Tysta Skolan, a school for the deaf and mute in Stockholm. At the electoral reforms regarding the right to vote of 1862, she supported the idea to give women the right to vote, which was talked about as the “horrific sight” of seeing “crinolines at the election boxes”, but Bremer gave the idea her support, and the same year, women of legal majority were granted suffrage in municipal elections in Sweden.

Now I want to know who in 1850s Iowa had heard of Frederika Bremer and saw fit to name a town after her.

Bremer County (established 1853): county seat is Waverly. Wikipedia

Butler County (county seat is Allison) was organized in 1854 and named for General William O. Butler. Wikipedia

BUTLER, William Orlando, a Representative from Kentucky; born in Jessamine County, Ky., April 19, 1791; moved with his parents to Maysville, Ky.; studied law at Lexington; during the War of 1812 served as captain, and was brevetted major for distinguished service in the Battle of New Orleans; aide to General Jackson in 1816 and 1817; practiced law; member of the State house of representatives in 1817 and 1818; during the war with Mexico was commissioned major general of Volunteers June 29, 1846; received the thanks of Congress and a sword for gallantry in the storming of Monterey, Mexico; unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Vice President in 1848; declined appointment as Governor of Nebraska Territory in 1855; delegate to the peace convention held in Washington, D.C., in 1861 in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending war; died in Carrollton, Ky., August 6, 1880.

William Orlando Butler Poem Manuscript
[Manuscript of a poem entitled “A Night View of the Battle of Raisin,” dated January 22, 1813, and written by then Major Butler after the battle in the War of 1812. The poem was published in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society in September, 1912]

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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4 Responses to Fredrika Bremer: Swedish writer, feminist activist, spinster

  1. Susan Sloate says:

    Where in LITTLE WOMEN does the above quote (if that’s the one you’re referring to) actually appear? I’ve re-read that book too many times to count since childhood, but don’t recall that, unless this was simply something Mrs. March SAID (not read) to her daughters. Is the quote at the top the one that appeared in LITTLE WOMEN? And if so, seriously, where?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. carolkean says:

    Oops, Susan, I got that line from and there is no footnote to identify it! I’d better get busy with better attributions. 🙂


  3. Thanks for this Carol. You’re right, it was women like Fredrika who paved the way for what we call feminism, but is plain, simple equality

    Liked by 1 person

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