Fredrikke Marie Qvam 1843-1938

In 2013 we celebrated the fact that one hundred years ago it was determined that women aged 25 and older would have the general right to vote on equal footing with men. Many of the pioneers in the struggle for female equality have been commemorated and honoured. At the forefront of these women we find the name Fredrikke Qvam.
Fredrikke was born in Trondheim in 1843, and her family name was Gram. Her paternal grandfather, Jacob Schavland Gram, was a representative in Storting [MoP], and he gave his name to the legendary Gram city house (earlier Kjøpmannsgata 34, now in Sverresborg museum). His son David Andreas (father of Fredrikke) had studied at university and it is claimed that he was amongst the friends of Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. Fredrikke's mother was called Louise Augusta, maiden name Bing. Bing was also a well-to-do merchant family, with many gifted members and strong liberal philanthropic traditions. Fredrikke was born and grew up in the Bing city house at Kjøpmannsgata 8. This house still stands (2013), although in a moderated form. The mother's family could allegedly be traced back to Inger Rømer (Lady of Austrått, died 1555), and the knowledge of the relationship to this strong female character became part of Fredrikke Qvam's self-awareness and education. The Bings and the Grams suffered major losses due to the large city fires that ravaged Trondheim just before Fredrikke was born in 1843.
Fredrikke had two younger siblings, a sister and a brother. Her time in Trondheim was disrupted around 1850 when her father took over a large property in Innherred, further north from Trondheim. After this the ties to Trondheim loosened. But she lived with her mother's family in Trondheim for some months in 1860/61 while preparing for her confirmation. Fredrikke was very much aware of the two Trondheim families she hailed from. In 1905 she actively worked to dispel vile rumours spread about her grandfather’s alleged avarice. Later in her life she also contributed knowledge about and insight into what it was like to grow up in Trondheim.
In 1865 Fredrikke married Ole Anton Qvam (1834-1904), who had been her tutor. He was a lawyer, and particularly after 1876 became involved in national politics. He belonged to the radical wing of the Liberal party. This led to a partly unsettled life, which came to a head when he was appointed as the so-called "Prime Minister in Stockholm" 1902-03. Fredrikke and Ole Anton had four children, but only their daughter Louise (1866-1944) lived long. She became one of the first female doctors in Norway.
The family lived at the stately manor Gjævran near Steinkjer. In the shadow of her husband, the statesman Ole, Fredrikke took a stand for her own values and attitudes at an early stage in her life. Her most obvious organisational effort is that she took the initiative to found Norske Kvinners Sanitetsforening [the Norwegian Women's Public Health Organisation] in 1896. Key elements in the work of this organisation were combating disease, institution building, medical-services planning and schooling of women. She also took part in establishing a number of other organisations, such as Norsk Kvinnesaksforening [the Norwegian Organisation for Women's Rights] and Norske Kvinners Nasjonalråd [Norwegian National Council of Women]. As mentioned above, she was in the front line of the suffrage movement. Fredrikke was a very active corridor politician and lobbyist, and had great influence. She also had a strong reputation internationally. Her involvement in issues went beyond
the struggle for women's rights. For example, she spoke out strongly against the international slave trade.
In 1911 she received the King's gold medal for meritorious service, and in 1915 she was named Knight, First Class, of the Order of St. Olav.
She remained the chairperson of NKS until she was 90 years of age! Even after this she was alertly following social debates, and her advice continued to be sought. This important organiser, strategist and tactician eventuall took her final bow in 1938.
Recommended reading: Magnhild Folkvord: Fredrikke Marie Qvam: Rabaldermenneske og strateg. [Fredrikke Marie Qvam: Tumultuous strategist]. Samlaget, 2013.

Author: Einar Rædergård