2. Hilda Theophila Lagerheim – a ”stiftsjungfru”

Little Hilda Theophila Lagerheim was not yet a year old when her name appeared in the daily newspaper in Stockholm. Her name was listed among others – all girls of noble families. The announcement stated that the Board of the House of Nobility on the 2nd of May had accepted the applications of these girls to become maidens of the Vadstena Adliga Jungfrustift. Hilda, still a toddler, now had the title of Stiftsjungfru.

Before getting into the significance of this title, let’s first get back to the birth and childhood of Hilda.

Hilda was born on June 4, 1827. Her father, Olof Johan Lagerheim, was a nobleman and a Supreme Court Justice (thus Hilda’s ranking as 2 of all the 92 girls who were confirmed in St Jacob’s Church in May of 1844). Her mother was Emerentia Frigell, the daughter of a wholesale merchant.

When Hilda was born, the family lived in a wing behind the House of Nobility in the Old Town of Stockholm. The wing was later torn down and today there are two separate houses that serve as wings to the main building.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about another girl in the confirmation class, Therese Gustafva Aspegrén, and how her mother had died in the cholera epidemic of 1834. She also lived in Old Town and not too far from Hilda. The horrors of the epidemic affected them all. Therese’s mother had died on the 13th of September. Hilda’s father died from cholera 4 days earlier, on the 9th. That someone of his eminence would succumb to this disease was so sad, disconcerting, and surprising:

Among more familiar and prominent people who died of cholera was …  Justice Olof Johan Lagerheim, an excellent official who was equally valued and liked for his humanity. Lagerheim was extremely active as chairman of his parish’s health committee. To set a good example and to encourage the townspeople, he volunteered to drive the carriage that collected the dead. He fell victim himself and succumbed to the disease from which he had managed to save so many of the congregation’s members.  http://runeberg.org/gsthlm/0204.html 


The family now had to move, and they moved to a house just a block away from St Jacob’s Church. Hilda’s mother was suddenly a widow at the age of 43 and had 6 children to care for:  Ture 16, Louise 15, Nils 12, Carl 10, Hilda 6, and Johanna 3 years old.

Ten years later, in 1844, when Hilda was studying for her upcoming confirmation, the family still lived at this address. But now the mother had become ill. She had developed gangrene and there were no effective treatments for the disease. On the 24th of April, she died and the children became orphans. The funeral was at St Jacob’s Church one week before Hilda’s confirmation.

Vadstena Adliga Jungfrustift

So what was Vadstena Adliga Jungfrustift (Vadstena Noble Maiden Diocese) and what did it mean to have a title of Stiftsjungfru?

Vadstena is a picturesque town in Sweden, famous for its medieval Birgittine Convent and castle.

Walking by the castle in Vadstena on one of our Augusta trips. Photo by Kerstin Melin.

During the renaissance, noble families in Europe looked to convents for educating and supervising their daughters until they were ready for marriage. Unmarried noblewomen and widows whose families were unable to care for them were also in need of financial help and a place to live.

After the reformation, catholic convents were not an option for the protestant noble families. Instead, they started protestant “convents”, so-called jungfrustift for unmarried women of noble families. Jungfru, literally “young woman”, refers to a maiden and stift means a diocese. A woman belonging to a jungfrustift was given the title stiftsjungfru, literally, ”diocese maiden”.

There were jungfrustifts in Germany and Denmark. In Sweden, there were two – the one in Vadstena, which started in 1739, and one in Norrköping (1783-1796).

The one in Vadstena had lofty goals and got the King’s permission to use the castle to house the women. The estimated cost of running this convent, however, was prohibitive and in the end, the organization moved to Stockholm and became a simple pension fund in 1822, managed by the House of Nobility.

Vadstena Adliga Jungfrustift still exists. Parents will apply for their daughters when they are young, just like Hilda’s parents did. Today, noblewomen can also apply by themselves. There is a small application fee. To be eligible for the pension, the woman has to be single or a widow. Today, the number of women getting a yearly pension is capped at 100. These are the 100 women with the longest membership.

These rules must have changed, as Hilda, who was still young, received a pension from the fund as published in the daily newspaper. On May 6, 1865, she was listed among those who received 50 RKS RMT yearly; the other cohort received 100. Hilda’s pension would be equivalent to 3500 SEK today, or $424.

The star of Vadstena Adliga Jungfrustift

What happened to Hilda after 1844?

Who took care of Hilda and her siblings after they became orphans? The year was 1844 and the following year, no one in the family lived at their old address. Hilda seems to have disappeared from all digitized church and census records in Stockholm. Some of Hilda’s siblings appear in those records, but not Hilda.

So instead, I search for her in the digitized daily newspapers. And that is where I find the announcements of Vadstena and her pension. And I find her obituary and an advertisement about the subsequent auction of all her belongings. The auction mentions an address – Sjöberg’s Bookstore in the town of Västerås. Would they really have hauled all her things to a bookstore? Then it hits me that maybe she lived in the same house as the bookstore? I check the church records – the pastor’s house examination book, where he yearly checked on each household and made sure they knew how to read and that they knew their bible. And there, I find her name! She is indeed living with the Sjöberg family and now I can and go backward in time through volumes of church records – all her moves from place to place, parish to parish, neatly (or sometimes illegibly) penned down by pastors. It takes me a week to find the crumbs she left behind as she moved around Sweden.

This is her story, but now in chronological order, starting with the year she left Stockholm.

Häringe Castle

In 1848, Hilda is 21 years old. She moves from Stockholm to Häringe Castle in Västerhaninge parish.

Häringe Castle. Today it is a hotel. You can book it on Expedia and have a ”yummy breakfast, poolside” as one guest wrote. Times have changed more than Hilda could ever imagine. But we can imagine Hilda sitting in this room some 170 years ago.

Häringe is a castle owned by Baron Axel Wilhelm Löwen (b. 1783). He is married to Lovisa Ehrensvärd (b. 1793). Together they have 5 daughters between the ages of 18 and 26. All the girls were born at an estate that the Löwen family also owned – Glasberga. What an interesting coincidence – my grandfather owned Glasberga manor when my dad was a toddler.


How did Hilda end up at Häringe? She obviously was not hired to be a governess to the daughters as they were all close to her in age.

Ulrika Elin Christina Löwen (b. 1822). One of the daughters in the family. Photo from the House of Nobility.

Could she have been invited to be a lady’s companion to the girls’ mother’s sister, Fredrika Ehrensvärd, who had recently moved in with the family? Or did the family know Hilda’s family and invited her to live with them?

In 1852, the mother, Lovisa Ehrensvärd dies. And in 1855, after 7 years at Häringe, the pastor writes in the house examination book that Hilda has moved away. I check the records of parishioners moving to another parish (that is how I can track her moves – records of moving in and out of parishes) but it simply states that she has been removed from the parish’s records. Where did she go?

Giresta in Rytterne Parish

According to the church records in Rytterne, Hilda is registered as moving into this parish in 1857. That is 2 years after she left Häringe. The records state that she came from Västerhaninge parish, which is correct. Did she go somewhere else for 2 years without registering with a parish?

She has now moved in with a family at an estate by the name of Giresta in Rytterne parish. Giresta is a farm that belongs to a larger estate – Fiholm. Again a surprise as it is a familiar name. My favorite aunt, Aunt Piggen (Marianne Ridderstolpe), was born and raised at Fiholm and I have a wonderful childhood memory of celebrating Midsummer there.

The family residing at Giresta is Baron Adolf Falkenberg (b. 1807) and his wife Eva Fredrika Skjöldebrand (b. 1815) and their 4 children.

Also residing at Giresta is a forester, Johan Fredrik Ludvig Kolbe (b. 1802), his wife Gustafva Hedvig Catharina Rudbeck (b. 1824), and her sister, Fredrika Helena Charlotta Rudbeck (b. 1828).

Interestingly, Forester Kolbe is the brother of Carolina Kolbe, the wife of Fredrik Ridderstolpe (b. 1783) who is the owner of Fiholm and Giresta. In 1861, Forester Kolbe dies and Gustafva is now a widow. She, her sister Fredrika, and Hilda have to move.

Strömsholms Palace

In 1862, the three women move to a beautiful place – Strömsholm in Kohlbäck parish. Strömsholm is a royal palace and has been an equestrian center since the 16th century.

Strömsholm Palace

According to the church records, Hilda and the two sisters Rudbeck rent rooms in the house of the palace chamberlain, N.G. Eek. Again, why did they move here? Three young women from noble families.

In December of 1864, Hilda is in the papers again. This time, an upper court has decided that Hilda will not be entitled to managing her own affairs, but to still have a guardian, even though the law has just changed to grant women majority at the age of 25.

What does that mean? Why was she not trusted to take care of herself? And who was her guardian? One of her brothers? Had her guardian brought her case to court or had she requested to still have a guardian? If you had had a guardian taking care of you all your life, not having one might be frightening. A guardian would be responsible for you and make sure you were taken care of.

Hilda and her friends live at Strömsholm for 6 years until 1868, when it is time to move again. And this time, they take two of their maids with them.


Västerås is a provincial capital and now, Hilda will be living in a town again. Maybe that was exciting. Hedvig, who is a widow, marries a bookstore owner, Carl Magnus Sjöberg on the 12th of June 1870.

Sjöberg’s Bookstore in Västerås

Two years later, on February 26, 1872, at an age of 44, Hilda dies from chronic pneumonia and acute lung edema. The following August, there is an auction of the belongings, listed as furniture, various household items and other things, and even a hooded buggy.

A hooded buggy from the 1870s

To keep her life story straight, I found that I had to construct a map to get an idea of the places where she had lived.

Hilda’s Siblings

So what happened to Hilda’s siblings?

Ture, the oldest brother, never married and died from a stroke at age 33.

Johanna, her younger sister, also did not marry and died from gastric fever at the age of 27.

Then there was Carl who also did not marry but was a lawyer and worked for the court (Svea Hovrätt) that had decided that Hilda should still have a guardian. Was he her guardian? Carl died in Bellagio in Italy where he was staying to cure an illness. He was 58.

Nils married and had children.

And then there was Louise, Hilda’s older sister. She married Jakob von Knorring, had children, and was a very accomplished artist and musician.

Hilda’s older sister, Louise Emerentia Lagerheim, married von Knorring, with her 3 children:  Augusta Emerentia Amalia, Sigrid Elisabeth Lovisa, and Egenolf Alexander Elias. Photo from the House of Nobility.

Faster Maria, släktens extramamma

Det här är berättelsen om Augustas faster Maria Söderholm (det är inte hon på bilden!) som kom att bli släkten Söderholms ”extramamma”. När hon inte fick egna barn, tog hon sig an släktens unga flickor som behövde ett tryggt hem. Hon är kanske inte så ovanlig för sin tid. Man bara gjorde så, tog hand om varandra.

Fortsätt läsa Faster Maria, släktens extramamma

Det första kärleksbrevet

I augusti 1852 hände det som Augusta aldrig trodde sig få uppleva. Hon som beskrev sitt hjärta som ”format af någon hårdare materia än menniskors i allmänhet” hade blivit djupt förälskad. Och hennes kärlek var besvarad. 28-årige filosofen Adolf Nordwall var under sommaren informator åt Augustas kusinbarn på Fullerstad utanför Söderköping. Det var där de träffades. Då var Augusta redan sjuk i tuberkulos. De skulle få 3 år tillsammans innan Augusta drog sitt sista andetag i Varberg.

Fortsätt läsa Det första kärleksbrevet

16. Therese Gustafva Aspegrén and the Cholera Epidemic of 1834

Therese Gustafva Aspegrén was ranked as girl number 16 out of the 92 girls in our Augusta’s confirmation class. Like so many of the other girls in her class, she had a father who was a wholesale merchant.

Therese Gustafva Aspegrén

Therese was born in Katarina parish on 29 January 1828 to Henric Heliodor Aspegrén (b. 21 November 1789) and Gertrud Christina Wihlborg (b. 5 October 1793). She was one of 9 children:

Anna Maria Henrica (b. 14 June 1819, in Torekov)
Emelie Martina (b. 25 September 1820, in Landskrona)
Christina (b. 18 December 1821, in Storkyrkoförsamlingen, Stockholm)
Sophia Magdalena (b. 26 September 1823, in Storkyrkoförsamlingen, Stockholm)
Lovisa Charlotta (b. 5 February 1826, in Katarina, Stockholm)
Therese Gustafva (b. 29 January 1828, in Katarina, Stockholm)
Ebba Mathilda (b. 21 January 1831, in Katarina, Stockholm)
Nils Wilhelm (b. 28 June 1832, in Katarina, Stockholm)
Henric Herman (b. 4 June 1833, in Storkyrkoförsamlingen, Stockholm)

In 1833, the family had moved from Katarina parish to the more desirable address in Old Town – Västerlånggatan 78. And that is where they lived when Therese’s little brother, Henric, was born.

The following year, Therese’s and her siblings’ lives would be changed forever.

Oil painting of an unknown girl by an unknown artist, around 1835.

The Cholera Epidemic of 1834

On August 25, 1834, Stockholm officially declared a cholera outbreak. It would last until the 12th of October. During these 49 days, the official number of cholera cases was 7,895 and 3,277 persons died. In 1834, nobody knew what caused cholera and doctors had limited means of treating patients.

I found a Swedish text, published in 1882, where the authors described a typical day in the life of a middle-class family in Stockholm during the 1834 epidemic. The following is based on some of the text. The full text (in Swedish) can be found at the following link: http://runeberg.org/gsthlm/0204.html

A Typical Day During the 1834 Epidemic

The father of the family and his wife had, as usual, risen early. A few drops, which were supposed to be useful against infection, were taken before the coffee. Although the plague raged, the daily chores had to be carried out. The maid came from the bakery and had a lot to tell the family. She had stood outside the baker’s window for a long time and talked to the madam inside and with the other women outside. The most horrible stories had been told.

A woman had said that in the hospitals those who were taken there were just disposed of. And that the wells were poisoned. That was nothing new. “You see, the rich want to get rid of the poor!”

A cholera-stricken worker from Söder had been taken to the hospital. His dog had followed. Once the patient was in bed, and the nurse was going to give him some medicine, she spilled a few drops on the floor. The dog licked up the drops and died immediately. “That should tell you what kind of medicine it was!”

And a madam from Ladugårdslandet had also been taken to a hospital. A large hole was burned in her scarf from a few drops that fell next to her when she was about to take the medicine. Sure, cholera could be dangerous, but it would still be more dangerous to go to a hospital.

That was the opinion of most people. The stories that circulated grew in numbers and became ever more horrific.

While the children were washed and dressed and told to behave, they listened to the grownup’s stories. They were also told that naughty children would immediately get cholera. But of course, the parents worried about their children. They tied copper plates on each child’s chest to protect against infection. No coppersmith had ever contracted cholera and, therefore, anyone could protect him or herself with such a plate, which was either round or square or triangular with rounded corners, but which would always cover the chest and which hung there and verdigrised to little health benefit until a new type was found – finely polished plates that did not cause any inconvenience. Instead of the plates, or together with them, amulets or silk bags with camphor were also used.

Cholera Amulets from 1834. Used to protect children from cholera.

Stomach belts were also common, even for children. The best one was, it was said, the so-called Polish belts, with ”the same kind of lining that the Polish army used during the war.” They were sold by hatmaker Brandelius at Gustaf Adolf’s Square.

When the children were fully equipped, they were given a glass of tar-water to drink, and a piece of Calamus root was put in their mouths. It was supposed to be very beneficial and was given to them since they didn’t want to chew garlic (which would have been even more beneficial). They were not allowed to go out and play, because they could easily expose themselves to infection. Besides, a child in the ”city” does not have many playgrounds; they often have to stay indoors. More severe was the ban on eating fruits. It was known that at Munkbron, the most delicious plums were sold, but not a single one was brought home by the mother.

The father, who had gone to work early, had already returned from his work and looked worried. Now he had to check how many had fallen ill and died during the last 24 hours. He would find it in the newspaper, Dagbladet. The father, who had taken another teaspoon of double-strength Wormwood drops and felt a pleasant warmth in his stomach, read aloud.

One day, 59 had fallen ill and 25 had died, and 85 were still ill. It was considered a lot, but a few days later, in the last 24 hours, 100 had fallen ill and 46 had died, and 176 were ill. Then the numbers increased for each day, as did the anxiety and worry.

Every morning Dagbladet was read, and in the evening Aftonbladet was consulted. At the beginning of September the number of the sick rose to over 200 a day, 100 died, and 400 remained ill!

“How will this end?” people asked, as they looked around with concern. If you looked through the window, you noticed one stretcher after another being carried past. Those out walking backed up against the walls of the houses in the narrow street. They feared infection from the carriers of the sick, they covered their mouths and noses and turned their heads away. And yet people had to continue with their daily activities.

There were endless disputes about the origin and spread of cholera, if it was contagious or not, how it would be cured, etc. Everyone thought they understood the matter. One said that one should eat only vegetables to avoid cholera. Another claimed that meat was the best. One said he had heard from Söderköping that Dr. Lagberg advocated blood-letting, dozens of leeches on the head, piles of leeches on other parts of the body. The storyteller was suddenly interrupted by a heartbreaking scream from an upper floor. It was someone with cholera writhing in unbearable cramps.

The group who had shared rumors, hastily dispersed. Even those who said they did not believe the cholera was contagious, were suddenly in a great hurry to leave this dangerous neighborhood. After a few hours, the person upstairs with the horrible cramps was just a corpse. The other floors of the house were smoked. One used smoke balls, smoke cards (bought from Benjamin Leja and smelled quite good), raw coffee beans, or smoke men that were for sale in Tjäder’s tobacco shop at Brunkeberg. In the cramped yard stood a pot of tar that smoked the whole house. The air was saturated with the stench of the gutters lining the narrow street, odor from the cholera-sick, and fumes from the many smoke-devices. There was no such thing as fresh air.

The smoke balls were made by mixing 1 lb of powdered sulfur, 1 lb of resin, 1 lb of table salt, 1 ½ lb of tar, 3 oz of purified nitrate, 2 oz of purified camphor, and wheat bran and then forming it into balls the size of walnuts.

It was only in the evening that one got some air, as fresh as could be had in the cholera-infected city. The father took his family on a usual evening walk. They always returned home early. The evenings were already dark, as they were already in the middle of September.

When the family returned home, the evening meal was eaten, which did not always consist of easily digestible foods. The father took his usual vodka for the appetite. Old habits should not be interrupted. Immediately after the heavy meal, one went to bed. At the slightest feeling of nausea, camphor and elderflower tea were taken.

The disease grew alarmingly. From 8 am on September 10th to the same time the next day, 217 people died of cholera, 449 fell ill, and 1,661 remained hospitalized. But from that day on, both the number of the sick and the number of the dead decreased. And by the 12th of October, there were no more reported deaths.

Therese’s Life after the Epidemic

When the epidemic hit in the fall of 1834, the family Aspegrén lived in an apartment in a large house overlooking a town square – Järntorget. There was, of course, no indoor plumbing. There were rows of outhouses behind each large house and water was carried from the pump in the town square. The iron pump in the middle of Järntorget is still standing.

The view from Therese’s apartment at Västerlånggatan 78 (picture taken in 1976). The houses and the square are still the same and the public water pump is still in the middle of the square.

When the cholera epidemic hit, how did the family manage? Were the children allowed to go outside for walks? Therese’s mother was 41 years old and the children ranged in age from 1 to 15 years: Anna (15), Emelie (14), Christina (13), Lovisa (8), Therese (6), Ebba (3), Nils Wilhelm (2), and Henric Herman (1). (Sophia Magdalena must have died before 1833). With all the young children, the family had several live-in maids.

Despite taking all precautions and being pretty well off, Therese’s mother fell ill.  On the 13th of September, at the height of the epidemic, mother Gertrud died from cholera. The rest of the family survived.

In May of 1844, when Therese was confirmed in St Jacob’s church, the family was still living at the same address. But in the fall of that same year, she and her oldest sister, Anna, registered their move from Stockholm, as documented in the church records. Anna stated that she was leaving for Finland and Therese was leaving for Karlstad. Therese became a governess in the family of Otto August and Sara August Malmborg at Lilla Wåxnäs. Therese must have been busy as there were 9 children to take care of by 1845. The oldest was 11 years old. In 1847, Therese returned to Stockholm.  In later census records, Anna had returned to live with her father but Therese was nowhere to be found.

So Therese didn’t leave many footsteps in the digitized records, but one can still visit her childhood environment. Her childhood home, a house that was built in the 1600s is still standing, and is now…a Burger King restaurant!

Burger King opens in Old Town. The picture is a montage of a hamburger over the old water pump. The house in the background is where Therese and her family lived.