When Gerhard Schøning School celebrated its 225th anniversary in the autumn of 2008, extra attention was given to Hilchen (Helene) Sommerschild, who for the occasion was called Norway's first female teacher!
Hilchen's maiden name was Thode, and her father is spoken of as a ship's captain. Her mother's maiden name was Gram. Hilchen was advanced in years when she married the officer Peter Henrich Sommerschild in 1790. He was stationed at Stod close to Steinkjer, where he was a company commander in the infantry. They had three sons before Peter died in 1798. The next year Hilchen returned to Trondheim with the three boys.
In addition to being a determined woman, Hilchen must have been quite gifted. During her marriage she had lived in a home with many books. Even if her formal schooling had been sparing, she had managed to learn French.
The middle school in Trondheim had been established in 1783 with pupils of both genders. In 1801 a separate middle school for girls was established, and here Hilchen Sommerschild was employed as læremoder [matron teacher]. This school was the first of its kind in Norway, so she may rightly be called the first female teacher in the first school for girls in Norway (Gerhard Schøning School can trace its roots back to Realskolen [Middle school] (Borgerskolen [School for citizens]) from 1783, and thus celebrated an anniversary in 2008).
The "matron teacher" had many duties, both in terms of education and upbringing. She would need to master practical/aesthetic subjects (such as music and arts and crafts) and theoretical subjects (languages, geography and so on). Her duties also included supervising the cleaning of the school. Therefore, it may have been practical that her free housing was next to the school! Starting in 1803 the matron teacher had an assistant in the school, Rebecca v. d. Lippe Garmann. This young vicar's daughter also joined the Sommerschild household and probably was helpful and supportive on a day-to-day basis. In spite of tight finances, the foundation was laid for all three sons to achieve good careers: A vicar, an officer and a businessman/broker.
In 1826 Hilchen Sommerschild retired from Pikerealskolen [the middle school for girls] after 25 years. When she died, she had reached the not inconsiderable age of 75.
Recommended reading: Wilhelm K. Støren: Trondhjems borgerlige realskole [Middle School for Citizens of Trondheim] 1783-1956. Trondheim 1956.