Karolina Widerström

Karolina Olivia Widerström (10 December 1856 – 4 March 1949), was a Swedish doctor and gynecologist. She was the first female physician with a university education in her country. She was also a feminist and a politician, and engaged in the questions of sexual education and female suffrage. She was chairwoman of the National Association for Women's Suffrage and a member of the Stockholm city council.

Karolina Widerström
Widerström, Karolina ur Cederschöld; En banbryterska (1913).jpg
Karolina Widerström
Born(1856-12-10)10 December 1856
Helsingborg, Sweden
Died4 March 1949(1949-03-04) (aged 92)
Alma materKarolinska Institutet
Occupationdoctor and gynecologist
Known forthe first female physician with a university education


Karolina Widerström

Karolina Widerström was the daughter of the gymnastics teacher and veterinarian Otto Fredrik Widerström and Olivia Erika Dillén. The family moved to Stockholm in 1873. As an adult she lived together with educator and headmistress Maria Aspman (1865-1944).[1]


Women were officially admitted to the universities in Sweden in 1870. Her father wished for her to be a gymnastics teacher like himself. In 1873–1875, Karolina Widerström was a student at the Royal Central Gymnastics Institute, and in 1875–1877, she was the assistant to Professor Branting. She was also active as a physiotherapist. In 1879, she received a degree at Wallinska skolan and in 1880 a degree in medical philosophy at the university at Uppsala. In May 1884, she received a medical degree at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

Medical careerEdit

Widerström wanted women and girls to know more about their own bodies, to dress more healthily, and to receive the same rights and possibilities as men. She was especially active within gynecology and women's health. Her best-known work within her field was Kvinnohygien ('Women's hygiene'), which was first published in 1899, and reprinted in seven editions until 1932.


Concerned for women's health issued, she was a strong supporter of the Swedish Dress Reform Association and a vocal force in writing medical articles advocating against tight laced corsets, which at this point in time was a serious health issue.[2]

From about 1900, Widerström was active in the struggle to abolish the so-called reglementation of prostitutes, that is to say the forced registration and regular examination for venereal diseases of prostitutes, a system highly debated among women's rights activists at the time, which organized in the Svenska Federationen to oppose it.

Political engagementEdit

Karolina Widström was elected to the Stockholm city council in 1912 for the liberals, where she served until 1915. She was elected chairwoman of the Swedish Society for Woman Suffrage in 1918, one year before the women suffrage was granted in Sweden in 1919, and became its last chairwoman when she stepped down after the organisation was dissolved in 1921, when the purpose of the organisation was fulfilled and both genders exercised the right to vote in the 1921 election.

See alsoEdit

  • Charlotte Yhlen, first female Swedish physician who graduated from a university (though in this case, abroad)
  • Hedda Andersson, second female physician in Sweden
  • Emmy Rappe, first educated Swedish nurse
  • Astrid Björkman, Sweden's first female chief physician and hospital manager
  • Anna Stecksén, first Swedish woman to defend a doctoral thesis in medicine


  1. ^ Blomberg, E. (ed.) 2021. En qvinna läkare! Doktor Karolina Widerström. Stockholm. ISBN 9789198548716
  2. ^ Bagerius, Henric.. Korsettkriget : modeslaveri och kvinnokamp vid förra sekelskiftet (Första utgåvan, första tryckningen). ISBN 978-91-27-15169-7. OCLC 1112090542


  • Lena Hammarberg, Karolina Widerström – sexualreformator och föreningskvinna
  • Ny svensk historia: Oscar II och hans tid, 1872–1907, Erik Lindorm 1936 s.231
  • Sveriges befolkning 1890, (CD-ROM) Riksarkivet 2003
  • Rösträtt, biografier
  • Lundberg, Anna (2008). Läkarnas blanka vapen: svensk smittskyddslagstiftning i historiskt perspektiv. Läkarnas blanka vapen: svensk smittskyddslagstiftning i historiskt perspektiv. Sid. 85. ISBN 978-91-85509-08-9

Further readingEdit