Female photographers in Sweden: Mimmi Gustafsson and Mathilda Janson

It was relatively rare for women in Britain and North America to set up their own commercial studios in the nineteenth century.  In Scandinavia, in contrast, women seem to have embraced the business of photography from the earliest days and to have enjoyed commercial success on a par with their male counterparts.  This topic has undoubtedly been covered in articles and books, but I have yet to find much about it online.  I found two very brief comments about photography in Sweden in the 1894 digest of The Deseret Weekly (Vol. 48), published in Salt Lake City.  A column on “The Scandinavian Fatherland” contained the following:

It is estimated that nearly 2,500 people are engaged exclusively in the photograph trade in Sweden. [p. 126]

In Sweden a large number of women have devoted themselves to photography and with great success.  About 45 per cent of photographers are women. [p. 798]

No source is provided for those figures.

The carte-de-visite at the top of this page was in the same box of miscellaneous family photographs as a portrait in an earlier post: Couple with their grandson in Gnesen, Prussia (Gniezno, Poland).  The box came from Ohio, and I don’t know if all the photos originally belonged to one family, but it’s certainly possible they did.  The CDV above and just below was made by Mimmi Gustafsson in Stockholm.  Unusually, the year 1914 has been stamped in the lower right corner of the image, just above the name Margit:

Sisters by Mimmi Gustaffson 2

Sisters by Mimmi Gustaffson 3c

The inscription appears to say “Remember these girls.”

The austere but elegant cabinet card below was made by Mathilda Janson in Åmål.  It came to me from a dealer in western Wisconsin, not far from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Woman in black by Mathilde Janson 1

Woman in black by Mathilde Janson 2



18 thoughts on “Female photographers in Sweden: Mimmi Gustafsson and Mathilda Janson

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  1. I have an early 20th century photograph of my great grandparents taken by Mathilda Jansin. Thank you for this inteoarticle on female photographers in Sweden.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susan, that’s great! I didn’t find any information about Mathilda Janson, but I didn’t look very hard. If you’re on Facebook, there’s a group called Swedish History in English, where the members are very knowledgeable (some are in Sweden). Given your Swedish heritage, you might find it interesting.

      You can see many other portraits by Mathilda Janson online in Sweden (https://www.rotter.se/index.php?cf30=Mathilda+Janson&cat_id=0&Itemid=645&option=com_mtree&task=listall&searchcondition=1&link_name=Mathilda+Janson) and a few, such as this one, on Flickr:

      Liked by 2 people

  2. How interesting that these Swedish women were embracing the art of photography so fast! It seems it was something that was accessible to them. My great-grandmother – active around the same time (born 1880), was also an avid photographer – though not commercial. I have been wondering about her and how come she could take so many photographs and with such quality as well. This adds a piece to the puzzle, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so interesting about your great-grandmother, Thérèse. I’d love to know why Swedish women were so much more active in commercial photography than women in other countries. I should try to put more photos by women on the blog. I have a few from the UK in my collection, but only one or two from the USA. Isn’t that strange? I hardly ever see them for sale.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There must have been social or economic barriers here. The same was true in painting. It was rare for a woman to have a commercially successful painting studio until well into the 20th century. That may have been true in Sweden as well (I don’t know), but such a bias doesn’t seem to have existed there against women photographers.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I just did a search on women photographers in Sweden and found an article/essay, stating mainly that this part of history remains to be written. In the 1800s there were about 400 women photographers working in Sweden, but many in their husbands’ business and therefore not under their own name.
    There is a summary in the beginning and also at the end of the essay. Perhaps it interests you!
    The link is a tad long… 🙂
    I hope it works:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great article, thank you so much! (Your comment with the link went into the spam folder, but your second comment didn’t.) The article focuses on three photographers whom I hadn’t heard of: Bertha Valerius (1824-1895), Rosalie Sjöman (1833–1919), and Lotten von Düben (1828-1915). Lotten von Düben is best known for her portraits of Sami people and the landscape where they lived. So interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I absolutely love your blog. It is unlike anything else on the Internet! You do the world a huge service by archiving and researching these photographs from a world that now feels so very far away. The photos and stories are fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a kind and generous comment, Jadi! There are so many great websites for visual history, with more appearing every day. At the same time, there will always be more stories to explore. I love it when a post resonates with a reader. Thank you so much!


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