Lovisa (or Louise) Edgren (born Dethmar) was a beloved teacher. Unfortunately, there is not a single portrait of her. When the family Edgren’s private school for girls closed in 1844, the students kept in touch with each other and with their former teacher through letters, reminiscing about this wonderful time in their lives.
Lotten Westman’s letter to Augusta, Stockholm, 18 December 1845.
“Lucky Augusta who gets letters from Mrs. Edgren! Greet her a thousand times from me. Tell her that I still worship her as warmly as when I said goodbye to her for the last time, and when I start talking about them, it is always an inexhaustible topic and at those times, I forget both time and place and it takes me back to the happy times when I was educated by them; when a smile and a friendly word by Mrs. Edgren sent me to the seventh heaven. Tell her all this, and say that if in the future, whether I get ever so happy or unhappy, I will never forget them. Oh, when I just think of them, I get overly joyous.”
Lovisa Dethmar was born in 1802 at Reckenburg, an estate close to Anholt in southwestern Germany close to the Dutch border. Her father, Friedrich Wilhelm Dethmar, born in 1773, was the pastor in Anholt and a writer. Lovisa had at least two sisters, Eugenia, born in 1806, and Adelheid Clementine Therese, born in 1809. One sister moved to England.
When Lovisa was young, she was sent to Dresden to study. She was already a great artist and good at playing the harp. During her studies, she got interested in the works of the Swedish poet Atterbom and decided to visit Sweden. It is fascinating that a pastor’s daughter, in the early 1800s, was sent away to study so far from home. Dresden was famous for its architecture and art treasures and maybe she was sent to Dresden to study art? Or did she study literature? The fact that she traveled to Sweden because of an interest in poetry shows signs of independence and determination. Maybe it was these personality traits that made her such an engaging and loved teacher.
It was in Sweden she met her future husband, Johan Fredrik Edgren. He was an educated man and also a pastor. They were married in Anholt in 1838 and then settled in Stockholm. Lovisa’s sister, Eugenia, decided to join them and the same year, the family opened their private school for girls in Stockholm.
The school closed in June of 1844 when Pastor Edgren was appointed pastor at Morup’s parish on the Swedish west coast. As the girls in the school bade farewell to each other and the Edgren family, Cecilia got many cards for her memory album. But from some correspondence between Augusta and Lotten Westman, we believe that Cecilia actually stayed with the Edgren family in Morup after the school closed in Stockholm.
Lovisa Edgren wrote her greeting to Cecilia in her native German. The owner of Cecilia’s Memory Album kindly provided me with a translation of the German text to Swedish. The English translation is my own.
In Swedish: ”Endast det rika sinnet älskar, endast det fattiga begär.” (Schiller)
In English: ”None but the wealthy minds love; poor minds desire alone.”
(The quote is from Friedrich Schiller’s Liebe und Begierde:
Recht gesagt, Schlosser! Man liebt, was man hat, man begehrt, was man nicht hat; Denn nur das reiche Gemüt liebt, nur das arme begehrt.
In Swedish: ”Dig, min Cecilia, blev ett så rikt sinne givet, även oss har det glädjat att leva tillsammans med Dig. Förhoppningsfullt var den korta tiden även för Dig ej förgäves ödslad. Detta önskar längtansfullt,
Din trogna väninna L. Edgren”
In English: ”You, my Cecilia, were given such a rich mind, we too have been delighted to have you with us. Hopefully, the short time was not wasted in vain even for You. This wishes longingly,
Your faithful friend L. Edgren”
Lovisa Edgren’s 38-year-old sister, Eugenia Dethmar, also wrote to Cecilia.
In Swedish: ”Dig ledsagar genom det vilda livet ett nådigt öde; Ett rent hjärta gav dig naturen, O! giv det så rent tillbaka!
Giv att världen möter dig så vänligt som du möter den, giv att hon dig gör vad du gör henne, så kan du bara bli lycklig.
Detta önskar dig din väninna E. Dethmar.”
In English: ”A merciful destiny shepherds you through the turbulent life; Nature gave you a pure heart, Oh! give it back so pure!
May the world treat you as kindly as you treat it, may it do to you what you do to it, then you can only be happy.
I pick a random page out of Cecilia’s memory album.
This one has a handwritten poem with the word Kärleks (Love’s) emphasized in larger letters. The page is signed with what I interpret as S. F. En. I am not sure about theS, but what else could it be? I wreck my brain; are there any friends of Cecilia and Augusta whose last name is En (it is a proper Swedish last name) or starts with En? I check the lists of confirmation friends, school friends, members of the secret orders – the Innocence and the Amaranth – that Augusta belonged to. I find nothing.
I then take another approach. I check to see if the poem might have been written by someone else and published. It takes some playing around with Google, like changing the preferred language and searching on various parts of the poem. It works and I find the source!
Oh how I would want to be (for wishing is allowed)
The flower, lush and lovely which sits there on the turf
How I would face the sun and happily open my purple mouth
To imbibe power, light, and warmth out of God’s Well of Love
The poem appeared in a book Lyriska toner (Lyrical Tones) by Wilhelmina and was published in 1843, the year before Cecilia received the handwritten page for her album. The title of the poem is En ung flickas önskningar (The Wishes of a Young Woman) and what was copied was the first of the poem’s five stanzas.
There is an introduction in the book, written by the pastor in Clara parish (1825-1831), Frans Michael Franzén. Besides being a pastor, Franzén was also a famous poet. I can see why Franzén was moved by Wilhelmina’s poems. He wrote similar poems that also ended up in girls’ memory albums. And even the bishop in Stockholm, Johan Olof Wallin, wrote poems that were likewise copied.
At the time, women writers often wrote under a pseudonym, and Wilhelmina simply published under her first name. Later, when she became a rather famous author and translator, she used her real name, Wilhelmina Stålberg.
That is when it hit me. The handwriting of the poem in Cecilia’s album looked like that of an older person. It was definitely not written by someone of Cecilia’s age, someone who had perfected their cursives, dipping the quill in the inkwell and making beautiful letters. If this was a poem that was known by pastors, could S. F. En belong to the clergy?
The answer was staring me in the face! En could mean that the last name started with E and ended withn, not starting with En. Cecilia and Augusta attended Edgren’s school, founded and operated by Pastor Johan Fredrik Edgren and his German-born wife, Lovisa Carolina Wilhelmina Dethmar. And the initials were J. F. and not S.F. Pastor J. F. Edgren had written the poem for Cecilia before she was leaving Stockholm in June of 1844.
Pastor Edgren later became important in Augusta’s life. He officiated the wedding between Augusta and Adolf Nordwall in Morup’s parsonage. I wonder if she also got a poem or if he recited any during the wedding ceremony.
Pastor Edgren’s wife, Mrs. Lovisa Edgren, also wrote a greeting to Cecilia. Hers was written in her native German and was more personal. From some correspondence to Augusta, we believe that Cecilia actually stayed with the Edgren family in Morup after they closed their school in Stockholm.
Mrs. Edgren’s 38-year-old sister also lived with the Edgren family. Eugenia Dethmar was born in Germany in 1806. She too gave Cecilia a page for her album – a poem and a wish, both written in German.
Rosalie Emelie Augusta Söderholm, our great-great-grandmother whose writings were our inspiration for Augusta’s Journey, was ranked 10 out of the 92 girls who were confirmed in St Jacob’s parish in May of 1844.
If you have followed Augusta’s Journey, you probably already know Augusta. But if you are new to our project, here are a few lines about Augusta Söderholm.
Augusta was born in Slaka parish outside Linköping in 1827. She was the youngest child of Anna Catharina and Johan Petter Söderholm. When her father died in 1835, Augusta’s brother-in-law, Gustaf Lejdenfrost, took care of the family at his estate, Loddby, outside Norrköping.
In the fall of 1841, 14-year-old Augusta was sent to Stockholm to get a first-class education. She would learn French, German, and some English, and she would meet families in high society. Augusta moved in with the Edgren family who ran a private boarding school in St Klara’s parish in Stockholm.
In 1844, Augusta also had to study for her upcoming confirmation. She was living in St Klara’s parish but we know that she was confirmed in another parish in Stockholm – St Jacob’s parish. Why?
Augusta’s close friend, Cecilia Koch, had also come to Stockholm to study. Both were confirmed in St Jacob’s parish. Was it a joint decision? Did they choose St Jacob’s parish because it was led by Pastor Abraham Zacharias Pettersson, a well-liked and respected pastor? Or did their parents’ have a personal connection with Pastor Pettersson? Or did the families with the highest status in Stockholm live in St Jacob’s parish? What seemed to be unique for this parish was that the pastor listed the children according to their perceived status. So for girls like Augusta and Cecilia, who were sent to Stockholm as teenagers to get educated and making their debut in society, this was probably the parish with the “right” families.
Augusta continued to study in Stockholm for one more year, now in a school run by Miss Andriette Frigel. During this year, she boarded with the family of Baroness Jaquette Ribbing.
After having studied in Stockholm, Augusta returned to her country home at Loddby and kept in touch with her friends in Stockholm. In the summer of 1847, she and her mother made the memorable journey through Germany down to Prague which she chronicled in her diary. After their return, she continued to write in her diary about how lonely she was at Loddby.
But in January of 1849, she returned to Stockholm to spend the social season going to balls, theatres, and concerts. She was 22 years old and she wrote in her diary about her suitors and her exciting and carefree life.
Then in July, she was back home at her “calm, quiet home.” Her brother had contracted tuberculosis and by the end of the year, Augusta was bedridden and coughing. For the rest of her life, she struggled with the disease. But she found love, a man who appreciated her intellect and who didn’t mind debates. Adolf Leonard Nordvall was a doctor of philosophy who also wrote wonderful love letters. They married in 1853 and had a daughter (our great-grandmother) in 1854. Their happiness didn’t last long – Augusta died a year later at the age of 28.
Cecilia Koch was ranked 7 out of the 92 girls who were confirmed with Augusta in St Jacob’s parish in Stockholm in May of 1844.
Two months earlier, Augusta had received a letter from her mother Anna. Augusta had been attending Mrs. Edgren’s school and boarding with the family Edgren, but now the Edgrens were moving to Morup on the Swedish west coast. Augusta and some of her classmates would be transferring to a school run by Miss Andriette Frigel. As Augusta would not board with her new teacher, the letter from mother Anna instructed Augusta to inquire about new boarding arrangements for the coming fall.
Loddby the 23rd, Saturday evening
My beloved child, I have now written to Mrs. Edgren and asked her where and with whom I shall let you stay; we will see if she knows a suitable place for you if you need to remain [in Stockholm]. It is truly a great sacrifice of me to let you stay up there for another year, I need you so much at home.
…It would be helpful and fun for both of you if Cecilia Koch made sure that she came to the same place as you – tell her that. Now ask Mrs. Edgren to find a good place for you and I will take care of the agreement when I come up. By the way, ask how much Miss Hellberg charges and find out what kind of person she is and with what kind of people she socializes, and if she can bring out into society those in her charge. It is very important to find a place that has a good reputation and where people are known for their honorable character. If you can find a place where they daily speak a foreign language, that would be good for you. Tell Mrs. Edgren that. If she knows of such a family and they could take you in, that would be very good. I think she knows many foreign families.
…Write to me soon and tell me what you know, also what Mrs. Edgren has said about you remaining in Stockholm if she thinks that’s what you should do. On Wednesday, I sent you your black everyday dress – I hope you have picked up the package. I hope you like it. There were also a pair of black silk gloves.
God bless you my own child and make you as happy as your mother wishes.
Well, Augusta did find a suitable family to board with – the family of Baroness Jaquette Ribbing. Not a foreign family but certainly one that met all the other wishes regarding reputation, character, and high society.
But what happened to Cecilia Koch who Augusta’s mother mentioned in her letter? And who was she?
Johanna Cecilia Mary Lovisa was born on February 14, 1828, to Michael Koch (1792-1869) and his first wife, Johanna Amalia Fröding (1801-1830) on their estate, Vågsäter, north of Uddevalla on the Swedish west coast. The Koch family was a powerful and wealthy family in Uddevalla. Michael Koch was a major in the navy. He had even sailed to the West Indies. Later in life, he would live in Uddevalla and contribute to the establishment of a cotton mill and a railroad.
Cecilia’s mother died in childbirth in 1830, leaving her husband with 2-year-old Cecilia, a 1-year-old son, and a newborn baby. As was common practice, Cecilia’s father remarried. He and his second wife, Emma Wilhelmina Iggeström (1809-1891), had 4 daughters and a son. The children Koch (those who survived to adulthood) had interesting lives and married well.
Attending Schools in Stockholm
When Cecilia became a teenager, it was time to send her to Stockholm where she would get a good education, be introduced into society, and attend balls and concerts with the unspoken aim of meeting some suitable and eligible young man. Augusta, who was a year older than Cecilia, had likewise been sent to Stockholm in the fall of 1842. Augusta was boarding with the Edgren’s but Cecilia was living somewhere else and just attending classes.
When Augusta started in Miss Frigel’s school in the fall of 1844, we don’t know if Cecilia was still in Stockholm. Augusta studied with Miss Frigel during the fall of 1844 and the spring of 1845. Then she moved back home to her mother at Loddby but stayed in touch with her friends through letters. There is a letter from Lotten Westman in Stockholm to Augusta, written on October 20, 1846, that mentions Cecilia:
You sent me greetings from Cecilia Koch. When you write to her, please send my sincere greeting. She is like a bright spot from our school days. I only knew her for a short time but I liked her so much. Greet her a thousand times. She is such a fortunate girl who gets to be with Mrs. Edgren. She must be so loved by all of those around her. My aunt had heard about it when she was in Varberg.
Does that mean that Cecilia didn’t continue studying in Stockholm but instead moved to Morup to continue studying with the Edgrens? It certainly reads that way. And it sounds like she was still living with the Edgrens in the fall of 1846.
The next letter that mentions Cecilia is from Augusta to Lotten Westman in January of 1847
Yesterday, I received a letter from Major Koch’s wife. Enclosed was the ring that Cecile always wore and which contained a lock of her hair. It was a dear memory of the untimely deceased childhood friend. She was too perfect to live here with us and, therefore, she also left us young. It was very thoughtful of Mrs. Koch to remember me.
Oh no, Cecilia died! I checked the newspaper and found her obituary. It stated that Cecilia had died at an age of 18 ½ years on October 23, 1846. She died peacefully at Vågsäter. I check her death certificate. She died from measles.
Measles epidemics were common and most started in coastal towns before moving inland. Gothenburg was one of those cities. A provincial doctor in the town of Vänersborg summarized the measles epidemic on the west coast of Sweden in 1846 as starting in the province of Bohuslän and arriving in Vänersborg at the end of October. It spread mainly through the schools and by December, most homes had reported cases.
Maybe Cecilia contracted measles while in school in Morup and died later at home? Morup is located on the coast, south of Gothenburg.
The 1846 measles epidemic was one of the worst in Gothenburg in the 1800s. Young children who had not been exposed during previous epidemics were vulnerable and around 10% of the young children in the city died.
I am back to reading Lotten’s letters. Lotten, Augusta’s friend from school, wrote long letters to Augusta, updating her on the latest gossip from Stockholm.
“You have to tell me if you once in a while get letters from Mrs. Edgren. Let me know how she and her husband and children are doing. Emma Almroth has had 4 letters from Mlle. Dethmar and also answered them.” (Lotten’s letter to Augusta, Stockholm, May 6, 1846)
Mrs. Edgren and her husband operated a school for girls in Stockholm between 1838 and 1844. Some students, like Augusta, boarded with the family Edgren. Mrs. Edgren was from Germany and her sister, Mlle. Dethmar, also lived with them.
Gossip About Engagements
“My dear, there are so many engagements here. At Mlle. Frigel’s school today, Ebba Almroth stated that Mlles. Schwanand Sjöstedt (the oldest) were engaged but with whom she didn’t want to say. It may well be true, but you know how girls gossip about engagements in Mlle. Frigel’s school.”(Lotten’s letter to Augusta, Stockholm, May 6, 1846)
When the Edgren school closed in 1844, many of the students, including Augusta, transferred to Mlle. Frigel’s school.
So who were the two girls, rumored to be engaged?
Mlle. Schwan must have been Elisabeth Schwan, born in 1828. She married Knut Cassel in 1850.
Mlle. Sjöstedt must have been Augusta Sjöstedt’s older sister Ophalia Carolina Göthilda, born in 1826. She married Georg Julius von Axelson in 1850.
If they both married in 1850, would they really have gotten engaged in 1846? Maybe the rumors were not true at all.
But who were Augusta’s and Lotten’s friends – Emma and Ebba Almroth? From Lotten’s letter above, it is clear that they first studied with Mrs. Edgren and then with Mlle. Frigel, just like Augusta.
Emma and Ebba Almroth
To find Emma and Ebba, I start with the 1835 census records in Stockholm. I find the Almroth family right away. Emma Almroth was born in 1829 and Ebba was born in 1831. They also had an older brother, Nils Leo, who was born in 1824.
The family lived at House No. 11 on Klara Västra Kyrkogata, a block away from Mrs. Edgren’s school.
The father, Nils Wilhelm Almroth was a professor of chemistry, a good friend of Professor Jacob Berzelius, and the director of the Swedish Royal Mint. On his Swedish Wikipedia page, there is also a sentence about Emma and Ebba:
“Their daughters Ebba and Emma Almroth traveled during the Crimean War and worked as nurses under the supervision of Florence Nightingale during the siege of Sevastopol.”
Was it true? Yes, but with the exception that they were not nurses but rather Christian volunteers.
I remember very little from my history classes about the Crimean War and what Florence Nightingale actually did. Time to read up on the Crimean War. Thanks to the Christmas present from my son this year – a massive book on 100 years of European history from 1815 to 1914, I find what I need. Thanks Jonas!
The Crimean War and Florence Nightingale
The Crimean war started in the fall of 1853 and ended in February 1856.
Russia, wanting more influence over the Balkan and ultimately access to the Mediterranean, invaded what is now Rumania, which was then under Ottoman control.
Together, France and Britain saw the Russian expansion as a threat to the trade route to India, the power balance in the Mediterranean, and the control over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In March of 1854, Britain and France joined the Ottoman Empire in declaring war on Russia.
France and Britain decided to attack Russia by invading Crimea. The aim was to destroy the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, thus reducing Russia’s naval power in the Black Sea. This strategy was also advantageous as France and Britain could easily send troops and supplies by sea. There were, however, additional military attacks on Russia elsewhere. For example, British warships entered the Baltic Sea and bombarded Bomarsund’s fortress on the island of Åland which at the time was under Russian control.
The Crimean war turned out to be a war where more soldiers died from disease than from battlefield wounds. It is estimated that out of the 258,000 soldiers who died during the war, 148,000 or 57% died of disease. Hospital conditions were horrific and the British military hospital in Scutari (Üsküdar) was overcrowded with sick and wounded soldiers. The London Times had a local correspondent who wrote about the incompetence of the staff and the outbreak of a cholera epidemic. Back in England, one of those who reacted to the news was 34-year-old, Florence Nightingale. On the 21th of October 1854, she and a staff of 38 volunteer nurses left Britain for Constantinople (Istanbul).
The book starts with a description of Ebba’s childhood:
“My father was the Director of the Royal Mint and also held the position of Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military School at Marieberg near Stockholm. He was generally acknowledged to be one of the leading scientific men of his time in Sweden. …
My mother died when I was ten years old. My grief was so great that I wished earnestly to follow her, I felt so lonely. …
My father took great pleasure in the education of my sister and myself. We attended the school of Frau Edgren, a German lady, wife of an excellent Swedish clergyman.
My school days were very happy. The teachers in Frau Edgren’s school did all in their power to instill the noble ambition into their pupils of a desire to excel in their studies.”
I almost jump out of my chair when I read Ebba’s description of Mrs. Edgren and her school! A published eyewitness account of Mrs. Edgren’s school!
Ebba’s biography continues with the events following her father’s death.
A French pastor visited the sisters and invited them to visit the Free Church of the Canton de Vaud in Lausanne, Switzerland. They left Stockholm in May 1854. In Lausanne, they met a British couple, the Rev. Dr. Blackwood and his wife, Lady Alicia Blackwood, who invited them to England. And so, in August of 1854, the sisters traveled with the Blackwoods to England. The same fall, Dr. Blackwood was appointed as Army Chaplain for the Hospitals of Constantinople and Scutari – the Crimean war hospitals. Ebba and Emma Almroth decided to accompany the Blackwoods and help out with the work among the sick and wounded. They left on the 6th of December 1854 and sailed from Marseilles to Constantinople where they arrived a few days before Christmas. Florence Nightingale and her staff had arrived just a month earlier.
The hospital in Scutari received wounded soldiers from the Crimea. In her book, Ebba describes how they visited the sick and dying but could do little for them. Many had frostbites with resulting gangrene which led to their deaths. The sisters helped the soldiers write their last letters to loved ones at home.
Florence Nightingale also asked Lady Alicia Blackwood and the Almroth sisters to look after the women and children who had accompanied the soldiers and lived “in the most abject misery” in dark cellars next to the hospital – around 260 women and babies. Ebba writes about some of the women that she overheard conversing in Swedish.
“I found there some Swedish women who informed us that they had accidentally been carried off with troops from the Åland Isles by the steamer which they had gone on board to bid farewell to some soldiers to whom they were betrothed.”
Ebba’s book, which is available online and written in English, is fascinating. It describes the sisters’ daily work during the war but also Ebba’s life after the end of the war. Once peace was proclaimed, the sisters and the Blackwoods took a steamer from the Bosphorus to visit Crimea and see the battlefields. They returned to England on the 6th of July 1856. Later, she married the Rev. C. H. H. Wright, a distinguished Hebrew and Oriental scholar. His work as a chaplain took them to Dresden, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Belfast. They raised five sons, one of whom became a prominent immunologist – Sir Almroth Edward Wright.
Throughout the book, she also writes about Emma and Ebba.
“At that time two young Swedish ladies – Emma and Ebba Almroth – were staying with us, who, equally eager to be useful, at once expressed their wish to accompany us.”
“Ebba Almroth had for some time studied the Turkish language, with the Armenian characters, which are easier than the Arabic; this frequently enabled her to speak with some of our native neighbors. She and her sister Emma, therefore, visited the Turkish school, kept by an old Imam in part of the mosque close to us.”
“Thus ended our Eastern sojourn; and before closing this narrative, it remains to state that our two Swedish friends, Emma and Ebba Almroth, so frequently mentioned, were both after our return to England happily married to clergymen.
Emma Moved to India
Emma married The Rev. Henry Bagnell, who had been the chaplain at Scutari during the time of the cholera epidemic. He later obtained an appointment as the Chaplain of Nagar in India. Emma is mentioned in the Mission Field, 1883:
”The Chaplain of Nagar, Mr. Bagnell, aided most zealously by his wife, who set herself to learn Mahratti for the express purpose of being useful for Mission work, was very anxious to evangelize the natives.”