Today is International Women’s Day 2015 and there’s been a lot of twitter traffic on it, particularly within my networks by trying to raise awareness of women in science. So I wanted to reflect on women in the histories I’m currently writing.
The problem is that, quite honestly, there aren’t any. I looked through all of the documents about the beaver reintroductions I photographed in my archival visits. All of the letters are written by men to men. Everyone who was involved in planning, catching, purchasing, moving, and writing about the beavers was male.
But women were at releases. At the first reintroduction in 1922, there were 20 people there and one was a woman. Festin included that detail in his report of the event in the journal Jamten. The woman, however, remains anonymous like so many women in history.
A photo of the third Swedish beaver release in 1925, which took place near Görvik in Jämtland, also shows that a woman was present. A woman with the headscarf stands on the left of the box as the beaver emerges. In the Jamtli archive entry, the woman with the headscarf is identified as Gena Brännholm. Here, I had a lead about a specific person!
So I did some searching for Gena, who turns out to be Märta Eugenia Brännholm, born 1 June 1890 and died 15 January 1954 (she was buried in the Hammerdals churchyard). She was born in time to be included in the 1890 census, so we know that her family lived in Görvik, her father was a foreman, her mother was named Kerstin, and she had two older brothers, Olof and Erik.
It turns out Gena was the teacher at the Görvik primary school. Jamtli’s archive has a photo of Gena with her class in 1925, the same year as the beaver reintroduction. Her last year of teaching at Görvik was 1926 — there is a picture the students thanking her. The old school house that she taught in burned down in 1935. I wasn’t able to find out what happened to Gena after she quit in 1926. I did find a portrait photo that is identified as Gena on the website of Sveriges släktforskarförbund (Swedish genealogy).
I also figured out Gena’s brother Erik Brännholm had been the organiser of this particular beaver reintroduction in Görvik. He was identified as “an energic nature protection friend” and had mobilised a small study-circle group of eight to fundraise for the beavers. It made perfect sense then that Gena would have been present when her brother’s efforts came to fruition.
But it struck me that the woman in the school photo didn’t really look like the woman at the pond edge. So I did some more digging. I found another version of the photo that shows two women present when the beavers came out of the box. In this one, the woman with the scarf is still next to the beaver box, but there is another woman visible on the far left (the one without a hat).
With this photo, things become clearer. The woman on the far left is Gena Brännholm, the Görvik school teacher. The face and hair match perfectly. So it must be that the identification of Gena had been either based on this larger photo, or someone had remembered that she was there thus the only woman in the closer photo got identified as her. This larger photo also shows that the woman near the box is much older, which is evident in her face and arms. What we still don’t know is who she is. Another anonymous woman.
I realised after posting this that the photographer of the wider angle photograph is also a woman, Hanna Vinberg. That means there were at least three women at the release! The Jamtli archive has three photos of the Görvik reintroduction by Hanna. Hanna took over as one of the teachers in 1927 after Gena’s departure from the job.