Augusta Holmqvist and Childbirth Fever

Kerstin and I are planning a trip to the Swedish west coast this summer. In July 1850, Augusta and her family went to Gothenburg where her brother August was to board the brig Mimer for a journey to Cape Town. But first, they decided to make an excursion by boat up along the west coast.

An excursion from Marstrand, 1850. Drawing by John Georg Arsenius (1818-1903)

“Here [ in Gothenburg] we spent two days and on the morning of the third, August and I, as well as Mr. Lindgren and Malla, traveled to Strömstad with the steamboat Freja while Mother stayed in Gothenburg awaiting our return.

At Marstrand, where the steamboat stopped for a short time, I met several Stockholm acquaintances, including Augusta Holmqvist and Lieutenant Claes Bergenstråhle.” (Augusta’s diary, July 1850).

Who were the acquaintances from Stockholm? Claes Bergenstråhle was one of Augusta’s friends from her teenage years in Stockholm, but Augusta Holmqvist was a name I hadn’t seen before.

Notice in the local paper on 17 July 1850 announcing that Mrs. Holmqvist with daughter (Augusta) and Mrs. Odencrantz (Augusta Holmqvist’s sister) with servants arrived from Stockholm and were taking in at Blom’s Hotel

Who was Augusta Holmqvist?

Jacobina Augusta Holmqvist was the youngest of 3 sisters. She was born in Jacob’s parish in Stockholm in 1832. Her oldest sister, Marie Charlotte, was born in 1822 and the middle sister, Johanna Emilia (Emelie), was born in 1823. The father, Johan Casper Holmqvist, was a merchant who also owned iron mills in northern Sweden (Sörfors and Gryttjen in the Medelpad province). In 1835, the family lived at Regeringsgatan 36 in Stockholm – the corner of Regeringsgatan and Hamngatan. On this location, the large department store, NK, was built in the early 1900s.

The view from Holmqvist's apartment, the corner of Hamngatan and Regeringsgatan
The view from Holmqvist’s apartment, the corner of Hamngatan and Regeringsgatan

As with all Augusta’s friends in Stockholm, Augusta Holmqvist’s family was wealthy. An eyewitness account of the Holmqvist family can be found in Marie-Louise Forsell’s diary. Augusta Holmqvist’s oldest sister Charlotte was Marie-Louise’s dear friend from studying for their first communion:

2 February 1843

”We went with Thilda Ekmarck and Hilda Myrin to dinner at Lieutenant Odencrantz’ in Castelli’s new house at Drottninggatan* [Lieutenant Mattias Odencrantz had recently married Augusta Holmqvist’s sister Emelie].   They own everything to make life happy and comfortable.  I imagine it would encourage young suitors to win Charlotte’ hand in marriage when they see what a splendid apartment Papa Holmqvist has gotten Emelie and how her dear Mattias seems to be swelling with contentment. It seems to me that they have everything to make them happy – except the ability to really enjoy all of this goodness that has befallen them.  For certain, they could not entertain their visitors. Adele Cassel, the fiancé of Gösta Odencrantz and who is usually outspoken, was completely quiet. This is the influence that Mama Holmqvist’s stiffness and quietness had on all of us.”

27 March 1843

”At around 8 pm, we went to Holmqvist’s  –  their carriage had been sent for us. It was, one could say, a small ball with a big supé. Even though the number of men was certainly over 30 and there were 20 young women, the dancing was meager. For example, the cotillion was made up of only 6 couples. But we made the best of it. Lieutenant Edholm really liked our dark-grey silk gowns and he was the only new one with which we danced. I felt sorry for Charlotte because she was plagued by the thought that we would all find it stiff and boring. Probably most thought it was.”

? November 1845

”Yesterday I wrote and declined to be a bridesmaid for Charlotte Holmqvist. I cannot in outfit compete with Ottiliana and Georgine Sparre and little Ahlberg ….”.

The newly rich families aspired to have their daughters marry into aristocracy.  Johan Casper Holmqvist managed well in this regard – all three daughters married noblemen. Charlotte even acquired the title of countess. And both Emelie and Augusta’s husbands became marshals of the royal court.

  • Emelie married Lieutenant Mattias Jakob Leonard Odencrantz.
  • Charlotte married Count Claes Otto Vilhelm Sparre af Söderborg.
  • Augusta married Lieutenant Patrik Oskar Reuterswärd. He later became a member of parliament and a businessman.

Augusta Holmqvist’s Short Life

Augusta Holmqvist married in November of 1852, a year and a half after our Augusta had run into her at the fashionable west-coast resort, Marstrand. The following year, she was blessed with a son, Carl Fredrik Casper Reuterswärd (1853-1932).

On 24 February 1855, she gave birth to a healthy daughter but acquired childbed fever also known as puerperal fever. Augusta Holmqvist died two weeks later on the 12th of March. She was 22 years old. Two days later, the little daughter was baptized Hebbla Johanna Cecilia Augusta by the famous pastor Wallin.

Puerperal Fever

Puerperal fever was commonplace in the 1800s. It usually started on the third day after delivery. The symptoms, besides fever, included headache, rigor, severe abdominal pain and distension. Some doctors noted that it appeared to be epidemic at some hospitals. It was also known that more women died from puerperal fever when they gave birth in hospitals compared to giving birth at home.

Remember that in 1855, the medical establishment had yet to accept the germ theory of disease, that is, that microorganisms or germs could cause disease. Although John Snow had just published a paper suggesting that cholera was caused by a microorganism and that boiling the water would prevent the spread of the disease, many still believed that bad air, miasma, caused the disease.

Tuberculosis, which our Augusta was afflicted with, was sometimes thought to be caused by repressed feelings and a sensitive disposition. It wasn’t until 1882 that Robert Koch proved that it was caused by a bacterium.

Ignaz Philip Semmelweis

Dr. Semmelweis is not as famous as John Snow or Robert Koch, or Louis Pasteur for that matter. But his research had an immense impact on the postpartum survival of mothers.

Dr. Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician who worked at the Vienna General Hospital in 1846. The hospital had two maternal clinics and he realized that they differed in maternal mortality rate due to puerperal fever (4% vs 10%). The only difference was that the clinic with the highest rate also served as a teaching clinic for medical students.

In 1847, a colleague of his died after having accidentally been pierced by a student’s scalpel while doing a postmortem examination. The autopsy of his colleague revealed the same pathology as that of women who had died from puerperal fever. Dr. Semmelweis hypothesized that maybe medical students carried some ”cadaverous particles” on their hands and which were transferred from the autopsy room to the birthing clinic.  He postulated that a solution of calcium hypochlorite might destroy the particles and ordered everyone to wash their hands in this solution before going to the birthing clinic.

The results were immediate. The death rate due to puerperal fever dropped to 1.9% within 3 months. The following year, there was 0% mortality during some months.

The medical establishment did not believe in his cleanliness hypothesis. Dr. Semmelweis was dismissed from his position and harassed. Because of his anger against the establishment, he was committed to an asylum where he shortly thereafter died. It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed the theory that germs cause disease that Dr. Semmelweis’ work was scientifically explained and accepted.

Dr. Semmelweis would be delighted to know that his keen observation and logical experiment were vital in establishing the germ theory of disease and that all children today learn to wash their hands with soap and water.


* Castelli owned the house at Drottninggatan 53. He had a store where he sold accessories and other fine goods. The interesting thing is that Mademoiselle Frigel, whose private school Augusta attended, lived in one of the apartments in this house. But according to the household examination books, there are no records of any Odencrantz or Holmqvist living at this address.

Grannarna i Kvillinge – i fotspåren på Fru Brandt

I min förra blogg började jag berätta om min karta över Augustas hemtrakter runt Kvillinge. Idag tar jag mig några cm västerut från Kvillinge kyrka på min karta, och hamnar med fingret på Lida gård.

1850 bodde här handlanden Eric Österlind. Han var svärfar till Augustas väninna Mina Stafström.

Dagboken 1851:

Den 27 Februari reste jag på Mina Stafströms bröllop. Dylika tillställningar äro sig alla lika, alltid ytterst tråkiga och sömniga. Himlen vet hvad der var för folk, ty mig föreföll det som hade jag bevistat en maskerad. Idel obekanta och ledsamma fysionomier, hvaraf jag slöt att societeten bestod af Norrköpingsbor. Herrarna rotade sig tillsammans i ett hörn af salen der de förblefvo hela afton, och fruntimmerna klädde stillatigande väggarna i förmaken, alldeles på Norrköpingsfaçon. Bruden såg rätt söt ut och hennes man var den personifierade stumheten. Klockan half tu fingo vi en ypperlig soupe, och sedan kronan blifvit afdansad och brudtärnorna dermed begåfvade, blef det ett complimenterande till höger och venster och slutligen afresa.


Nu bosatte sig inte det unga paret på Lida utan på Fiskeby gård, där Gustaf drev Fiskeby pappersbruk. Men redan 1854 dog svärfar och Gustafs lillebror Per Vilhelm Österlind övertog Lida gård.

Lida säteri 1802

Vi gör ett tidshopp tillbaka till 1802 på Lida. Då bodde här den pensionerade översten Jakob Erik Gripenwaldt.

22 januari föds en liten flicka på Lida. Hon är dotter till kusken Olof Hanqvist och pigan Maria Belin och döps till Eva Catharina. På Lida växer hon upp tillsammans med fyra syskon. Ibland kallas hon Carin, ibland Catharina eller Eva. Vid konfirmationen 1816 i Kvillinge kallas hon Karin.

1806 dör överstens hustru och 1817 säljer han sedan gården till Grosshandlare Eric Österlind. I mars 1818 flyttar överste Gripenwald och även familjen Hanqvist in till Norrköping. De flyttar in i kvarteret Rosen där kusken Hanqvist och hans fru fortsätter arbeta hos Gripenwaldt. Här försvinner Eva Catharina ur rullorna. Förmodligen fick hon arbete som piga, men vi vet inte var.

Så dyker hon upp igen i vigselboken i St Olai församling.

19 oktober 1823 gifter sig jungfrun Eva Catharina Hanqvist med skomakargesällen Clas Gustaf Brandt. För de som läst Saras blogginlägg förra veckan är Eva Catharina Brandt eller Brantan, ingen ny bekantskap.

Paret Brandt tar sig nu an Clas Gustafs brorson som fosterbarn, förmodligen för att han är föräldralös men kanske också för att de inte får några egna barn. Clas Gustaf Brandt blir nu skomakaremästare. Det går bra för honom och han köper en egen gård i kvarteret Bakugnen, inte långt från kvarteret Rosen.

1832 säljs gården på auktion enligt Norrköpings tidningar. Gick inte affärerna tillräckligt bra? Hade de lånat till fastigheten och inte kunnat betala? Vi vet inte.

1833 dör Clas Gustaf plötsligt, dödsorsaken går inte att utläsa ur dödsboken, men i Norrköpings tidningar står det att det var vådligt. Eva Catharina blir änka vid 31års ålder.

Bouppteckningen visar att skulderna betydligt översteg tillgångarna.  Det fanns skulder till flera textilfabrikörer, bland annat Johan Jakob Schubert och Arosenius. Vad betydde det? Köpte Brandts material hos dem? Eller handlade det om lån?

Men bouppteckningen visar även på att vi förmodligen hittat vår sömmerska. På tillgångssidan fanns inte mycket. Ett fickur och två silverteskedar och så en utdragssoffa för två personer samt några andra möbler. Men så står det där på sidan:  Ett sybord och två mindre sybord.

För fostersonen går det inte så bra. Vid två tillfällen 1837 efterlyses den 12-åriga gossen som rymt från sitt uppfostringshem.

Norrköpings tidningar i augusti 1837:

Gossarne Pehr Gustaf Brandt och Berth Fredric Lagerwall, klädde i hwita tröjor och byxor, hafwa olofligen bortgått från härwarande uppfostrings-inrättning. Den, som om deras wistande har eller får nogon kunskap, anmodas att gifwa det tillkänna hos Fattigfogden Pettersson på Arbetshuset eller Polisgewaldiger Nystrand.

Som Sara skrev i sin blogg så försöker nu änkan Brandt att livnära sig på att sälja blomfröer. En viss ersättning från kommunen får hon också för att hon tar hand om fostersonen. Det redovisas noga i tidningen vilka som får understöd!

I slutet av 1840-talet dyker hon upp i Augustas värld

Hon är resande sömmerska i Kvillinge. Nu förstår vi bättre varför hon rör sig ledigt i trakten. Hon bodde ju i Kvillinge i 16 år och lärde säkert känna bygden och familjerna som bodde på de större gårdarna. Lida, Skärlöta, Gräslinge, Krusenhof, Loddby, Tåby. Det var ju främst där man hade råd att anställa en sömmerska. Vanliga bondhustrur, torparfruar, soldatfruar och backstugusittare hade varken råd eller användning för fina klänningar. Men Eva Catharina Brandt måste med tiden blivit väldigt skicklig som sömmerska. Hon är ju så efterfrågad så man måste boka in henne i förväg. Och Augusta får ju beröm för sina vackra klänningar!

Loddby d: 21 Augusti 1850

Sedan i går är fru Brandt här och ändrar mig ett par klädningar. Lejdenfrost geck åt staden på eftermiddagen och Christian Norstedt  kom en stund derefter hit och berättade det han hört omtalas att jag varit i Strömstad och att jag der haft en charmant toilette.

Säkert var det så att hon fick mat och husrum av sina kunder på gårdarna i Kvillinge. De blev hennes vänner. Hon ber Augustas mamma hälsa till Augusta i brevet hon skriver.

Och Branta blir kvar i Kvillinge ända till sin död, då hon enligt kyrkoboken dog av svaghet, 66 år gammal.

Själv undrar jag om det var hon som sydde Augustas vackra rosa sidenklänning jag provade på 1970-talet?




Huvudbild: Fishermans wife sewing, Anna Ancher
Lida gård 1940, Östergötlands arkivcentrum
Girl sewing, Hugo Salmson, Atheneum
 “Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor”, Vilhelm Hammershoi’s, Statens Museum for Kunst,


Mrs. Brandt, the seamstress who left few threads to follow

A woman sewing. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel 1845.
A woman sewing. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel 1845.

Today, on the International Women’s Day, I thought about Mrs. Brandt. A sought-after seamstress who didn’t leave many historical threads to follow. All her handiwork is long gone – dresses and shirts all worn out. The only traces of her are a few sentences in Augusta’s diary and in letters between Augusta and her mother Anna.

Mrs. Brandt in Augusta’s diary and correspondence

Mrs. Brandt was never mentioned with a first name. She was simply referred to as Mrs. Brandt, Branta, or Brandtan.

Mrs. Brandt is here since yesterday, altering a few of my dresses.” (Augusta’s Diary, Loddby, 21 August 1850)

”We were at Krusenhof last Wednesday. Little Nann bought my red silk dress. Brandtan was there, sewing a whole outfit for their move to Stockholm, which is planned for Christmas and then, in God’s name, it is the end of that joy.” (Augusta’s Diary, Loddby, 28 November 1850)

”Soon after the New Year, I will take Branta here to help me sew Lejdenfrost’s shirts and also August’s. She is now with Thoréns in Qvillinge.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, Autumn 1852)

Branta was here for two days and August and she did not get along. She had said something about him that he was angry about. She left 10 Rdr that I put in your seashell.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, 27 November 1852)

Branta came out < ?> drunk and has now been in bed for 3 days. They have now taken her to Skärlöta to sew a wool dress for the wife and alter a coat that the wife inherited from her mother. We’ll probably berate her when she comes back; she’s really mean and wants to pit people against each other.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, Winter 1852 – 1853)

Branta asked me to send you her regards, also Malla.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, Winter 1853)

”If you could let me know when in June you are planning on coming home because then we will need Branta and she is now sought after in several places.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, Spring 1853)

”… my Branta has sewn 1 ½ dozen shirts. And put new breasts and collars on a dozen and finished 6 quilts for you. This is easily said than done. Branta is now sewing on a cardigan for me and then she will sew your mantilla, which is well washed, and a little else she will sew for me. I have 14 days before she goes to Tåby where she will be until June 5th when she will be at your disposition.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, May 1853)

 ”We, Branta and I, are now stuffing your quilts. There will be 4 single-size quilts and 2 for the people. Lina is sewing your everyday sheets and Malla does nothing but ironing.” (Letter from Anna to Augusta, Loddby, Spring 1853)

Who was this traveling seamstress?

Kerstin and I have discussed Mrs. Brandt many times. When we are making our own dresses, we comment on how Mrs. Brandt would have worked at a time before sewing machines.

This is how I envision Mrs Brandt, the traveling seamstress. Painting by Fritz von Dardel 1845.
This is how I envision Mrs. Brandt, the traveling seamstress. Painting by Fritz von Dardel 1845.

Mrs. Brandt was a traveling seamstress. She went from one family to the next, helping them make or alter clothes. And she helped with Augusta’s trousseau. Given this lifestyle and the fact that she was referred to as Mrs., she was probably a widow. A woman who had to make a living and stayed with various families as she did the work.

How do you search when all you have is a family name and an occupation?

Who was Mrs. Brandt?

Where do you even start searching for a seamstress whose last name was Brandt? And when that is all the information you have.

Google is of no help with so few unspecific keywords. Then there are the Household Examination Records kept by each parish, but then you would need to know in which parish she lived.

Kerstin and I discussed the dilemma this week. Should we just gang up on reading the household examination records for all possible parishes? Take one parish at the time. Mrs. Brandt would be in one of those church records.

Kerstin started with Kvillinge parish where Augusta lived. Then she read through all the records in Norrköping’s Hedvig parish. I spent an evening reading through all the records for Norrköping’s Johannes parish. By this time, we had found no Mrs. Brandt. I next opened up Norrköping’s S:t Olai parish household examination records and realized that the population was so large that the records had to be published in 7 separate books covering 4 city quarters: Strand, Norra, Dal, and Berg. Each book could have up to 400 pages of scribbly and crossed-over handwriting by some old pastor.

I was not going to read through those books. There had to be a better approach.

I racked my brain – what other archives existed that allowed you to search on names?


This was a long shot, would a seamstress appear in a local newspaper? I guess only if she died and her death was of interest to the readers. Would anyone care about a seamstress dying?

I decided to search within the Swedish Royal Library’s archive of daily newspapers. I limited the search to the years 1835 – 1870 and to the local newspaper, Norrköpings Tidningar. The search word was Brandt.

The search resulted in a lot of hits – traveling merchants named Brandt, some famous Swedish actress named Mrs. Brandt, a run-away delinquent boy with the name of Brandt, to mention a few. I read the results in chronological order. When I got to 1869, I found a good candidate! She was listed under the heading of Death:

Widow Katarina Brandt, 66 years, 11 months, and 22 days.

There was no more information. Just the single line with her name and age.

Back to the Church Records

With this information, I could now go straight into the chronological church records of Death and Burial. I just had to check every parish, but that was now a minor problem as I had a date and the records were chronological.

Sure enough, I found Catarina Brandt in Norrköping’s S:t Olai parish. The record affirmed what I had read in the paper. The only additional information was that she died of old age (66!!!), that her household examination record would be on page R22 in the household examination books, and that she actually died in Kvillinge parish and was buried there.

I of course checked the Death and Burial record for Kvillinge parish and found that she had been buried there. The only difference was the spelling of Katarina (K versus C) and that the cause of death was recorded as ”weakness”.

The Register of the Rest

With the information that her household examination record would be on page R22, I would now be able to find her in S:t Olai’s records. Page 22. But in which quarter: Strand, Norra, Dal, or Berg?

I checked page 22 in every book and didn’t find her. Then I realized that other entries had a prefix of S, N, D, and B. I assumed, and then confirmed, that they referred to the quarter. But Mrs. Brandt’s record was supposed to be on page R22 and there was no quarter starting with R.

What could R mean? In Swedish, I imagined it could mean Resterande (remaining) or Resande (traveling). I looked at the list of church books, but no book seemed to match. Then there was a book called Böcker över obefintliga (Books of  Non-existent). On top of the first page was the title: “R=Restlängd (Rest Register). I flipped to page 22, and there she was.

According to the parish, Mrs. Brandt did not live within the parish anymore and didn’t attend S:t Olai’s church. But she had also not registered a move to any other parish. She was obviously traveling or staying with other people, or both. A likely traveling seamstress.

There was some additional information on this record. It stated that she was born in Ringarum parish on 11 December 1802 (I checked the parish birth records but didn’t find her on that date. However, the pastor had such horrendous handwriting that I could have missed it – see image). Her last household examination page was N197. And there was a note that she was a widow for the second time in 1833.

Ringarum birth records for 1802

The Master Shoemaker – Clas Gustaf Brandt

Aha! Maybe Mrs. Brandt’s husband’s death was also announced in the paper, just like hers. I was back in the newspaper archives again. This time I focused on 1833.  I included earlier years too, just in case there were other interesting hits.

The death was announced:

”That the master shoemaker, Clas Gustaf Brandt, through a terrible accident, died on Sunday, the 9th of June at the age of 33, tenderly mourned and missed by the surviving spouse and friends, is hereby reverently announced.”

And then there was an earlier announcement in the paper, in 1830, about a few houses that would be sold at auction. One was the house in which CG Brandt and his wife were living. As I now knew the year and the address, House No. 8 in Strand, in the block named Bakungnen, it was easy to find them in the household examination book. There they were, CG Brandt born 1800 and his wife Eva Catharina Hanqvist, born 1802. So now I had her maiden name too!

Household examination record for CG Brandt and Eva Catharina Hanqvist.
Household examination record for CG Brandt and Eva Catharina Hanqvist.

Finally, there were a few announcements in the newspaper by Mrs. Brandt. There she used Eva as her first name and C. as a middle initial. In May of 1833, she advertised flower seeds that she was selling on commission. And after her husband’s death, she wanted to settle his affairs and asked his former customers to get in touch with her.

And then the trail goes cold

Women sewing. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel 1841.
Women sewing. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel 1841.

Sometime after her husband’s death, she must have realized that she had to support herself and that she had the skills to do it. That is when the trail goes cold. She eventually ends up in the Register of the Rest in the Books of Non-existent. But the fact that her death was announced in the paper, 36 years after her husband’s death, means that she was well known in the community.

So despite having only circumstantial evidence, I conclude that Augusta’s Mrs. Brandt was Eva Catharina Brandt. And the next time Kerstin and I visit Kvillinge cemetery, we will certainly look for her grave.

But today, I wanted to tell the story of this forgotten woman who made exquisite dresses for young girls’ first balls, sewed beautiful mantillas for brides, and filled bridal quilts with goose down – all hand stitched. And in between, she made shirts for men and altered old hand-me-down clothes.

Cheers to Mrs. Brandt!