Celebrating spring and graduation

Today, students all over Sweden, get to wear their student hats for the first time. In Sweden we call it “mösspåtagning,” and it’s a sure sign spring is here. Tomorrow, we celebrate Walpurgis night/Valborgsmässoafton, and all the bonfires will have choirs wearing their student hats, singing to welcome spring.

Looking back to the beginning of the 1900’s, when my great grandmother Olga graduated from her education at the Govan Parochial Hospital in Glasgow, and the following year was accepted to the Swedish mission in China, the number of students in Sweden was considerably lower than it is today, not to speak of the ratio male/female students.

Statistics made accessible in the calendar “Almanack för alla” of 1903. The student hats look the same today as they did year 1900.

Statistics from the year 1900 tell us there were 796 male and 49 female students who graudated back then. At the time, there were about 5 million inhabitants in Sweden. 2021 we were 10,4 million inhabitants, and the number of students were 48 000 male students versus 45 000 female. We have surely come a long way since my great grandmother Olga started out.

I think Olga was very brave, going to Scotland at the turn of the century, together with but one close friend, learning English without any previous knowledge. She first went to a housekeeping school, but felt it was very harsh and diffcult and thus left to start off working at a hospital where they cared for the poor. Learning medical skills as well as a new language must have been hard for a maid with very little previous eduaction.

It’s certainly very inspiring to think about her strong will to make this work and how she managed to get very good reviews after spending three years at the hospital, taking all the courses she could, working on her English and spending her precious free time at the Glasgow Seamens Friend Society, helping the sailors with spiritual issues at their boarding houses and reading during Christian services. She was a very devoted and hard working person.

I don’t know if Olga really celebrated her graduation. It must have been both a happy and a sad occasion, as she was to leave her life in Scotland to go back to Sweden, not knowing if she was going to be accepted to the mission in China.

One of Olga’s certificates from Govan Parochial Hospital in 1904.

But an uncertain future is part of every student’s life and this year, students in Sweden are at least able to celebrate Walpurgis, something that has been cancelled the last two years due to Covid-19. If you would like to see how one of the nation’s finest choirs celebrate spring – have a look here:

As for Olga, perhaps she celebrated Walpurgis. She was, after all, the daughter of a peasant/fisherman, and in the 1900´s this was a day of celebration for the working class. Walpurgis was brought to Sweden from Germany and the bonfires were there to chase away witches, predators and supernatural entities before the peasants let their live stock out to graze after the long winter.

Today, we celebrate Walpurgis to welcome spring and the light that floods Sweden during summertime. And today, just as over a 100 years ago, Walpurgis is a very wet festivity. Lots of alcohol is consumed and this year will probably be wetter than ever, as there has been a two-year pause and everybody is just longing for a big party.

Happy Valborg and congratulations to all students putting their hats on today!

14 thoughts on “Celebrating spring and graduation

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    1. Thank you Liz! I’m not surprised you don’t keep up with our educational system 😉 I don’t think I know much about the systems around the world either. The ones one knows about are those where one has spent time, or those, like the American system, that is frequently the subject of movies, I would say 👩‍🎓

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      1. You’re welcome, Therese. When I worked at various colleges, I’d learn about other countries’ education systems when a student would present a transcript and request transfer credit. I saw them from Canada, the Philippines. the UK, and Eastern Europe. None from Sweden!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I see, that must have been very interesting! In that case, I am a bit surprised, as it’s not unusual for Swedish students to spend a college year abroad and the USA is a very popular destination for this. Myself, I went to Australia 🙂 Back then many Ozzies actually believed ice bears roamed the streets here in Sweden😄. Exchanges do foster lots of understanding between people and countries. Do you remember if there was any system you thought was particularly interesting?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I worked for nontradtional programs designed for adults, so the students with foreign transcripts were resident aliens or naturalized citizens. I found the UK model of having students complete what in the US are general education requirements prior to application to university.

            Liked by 2 people

  1. Love hearing about your great grandmother, Olga, and her life with the school and the hospital while moving between Sweden and Scotland. Your great grandmother was very brave going into the unknown to learn while being kind and devoted with her helping with the Glasgow Seamen’s Friend Society (love the link)! Beautiful choir singing, too! Happy Spring! 🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🌞! It was funny, because I just had a look if there was any information about that Seamen’s society and was actually surprised to see it still exists! I have read about other missionaries from Sweden – mainly men – who also went to Scotland to learn prior to being sent out as fullfledged missionaries. This Seaman’s society seems to have been a place many of them thought they could contribute to. Especially helping the Swedish or nordic sailors with medical and moral issues as well as prayers. The sailors appreciated meeting people speaking their own language and coming from the same cultural context. They probably felt a bit “at home” with the missionaries. I know Olga met some of the male missionaries in Glasgow who later became her colleagues in China. Thanks for your kind words! Happy spring!!🍀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Thérèse,

    WoW wonderful Sweden National Students’ HAT Day.

    Also interesting your grandmother attended Glascow Hospital, Scotland. So she must have spoken at least two languages. Helping the Seamens’ Friend Society.

    Can now see where you inherited your amazing genes!

    Over past two years – We assist the seafarers here as they could not have shore leave or unable to return home port. The ships were in a big mess and seafarers treated very badly. So here in Sydney I organised to obtain donations of books – dvds cds & magazines – over 22,000 items. Things have improved now there is a huge vaccination program here in Australia to help these folks.

    Hope you are well. Thinking of you.

    Pray the war in Ukraine finishes very soon. So tragic.

    love Jaz xo xo xo xo


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Jaz, what wonderful work you are doing, helping the seafarers! Far too many people have been caught in the “in betweens” during this pandemic. So happy to hear things are improving and vaccination is being administred. Keep up the good work!💪
      Yes, Olga spoke Swedish, English and then learned Chinese as well – even though she did not get to go to the missionarie’s language school in China. Her medical skills were acutely needed when she arrived there, and she had to go straight to Dagny (my other great grandmother) to help her with her pregnancy (!). She had to learn Chinese while working at the missionary stations – probably not very easy, but she succeeded and became very well liked by the Chinese.
      Thank you for reading and sharing, Jaz! I too, feel very worried about the war in the Ukraine, so much suffering and so many lifes lost 😥.
      Take care, love Thérèse ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another very interesting post, Thérèse! I didn’t know anything about Walpurgis. I was surprised how few students there were in Sweden in 1903, and also that there were more male students than female in 2021, as I think the reverse is true here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brad! It seems there are more males than females graduating college, but the reverse is true for higher education. A quick look at the statistics for 2021 tells me the ratio there is 64% female graduates vs 36% male. Happy to have added to your knowledge about traditions in Sweden 🙂 Perhaps you find some students amongst your cartes de visite from the early 20th century?!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, graduation portraits became popular in the early decades of the 20th century. In the 19th century they were relatively rare, and almost always male. When I see a late-19th century studio portrait of a woman in a graduation gown, I always try to buy it. 🙂

        Happy Valborg!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. That’s great! I think the women who graduated back then had so many obstacles to conquer, and so few role models to go by. They are all very inspiring 😊! I think I have seen a female student photo on your blog a while back! Happy Valborg!🍀

          Liked by 2 people

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