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Commemorative Plaques set up for Women’s Rights Heroes

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Commemorative Plaques set up for Women’s Rights Heroes

Austurvöllur square

Photo: Páll Stefánsson

The City of Reykjavík is today using the occasion of 100 years of women’s suffrage to honor the memory of prominent women.

Two new plaques will be unveiled today, one in commemoration of the midwife Þorbjörg Sveinsdóttir, and the other in honor of women’s rights pioneers Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir and Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason.

The aforementioned plaque is at Skólavörðustígur 11, and the latter is on Templarasund.

The City of Reykjavík is also presenting public readings of works by notable female poets and authors today at the ‘literary benches’ located at Skólavörðustígur and Austurvöllur.

The plaques at the old clothes washing station at the hot springs in Laugardalur park have also been renewed and improved and will be unveiled today.

Þorbjörg Sveinsdóttir (1827-1903), midwife, was Reykjavík’s first official midwife and performed the role from 1864 until 1902. She delivered a large number of Icelanders into the world, including Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. She lived in a cottage called Tobbukot, where Skólavörðustígur 11 now stands. She was a founding member of the Icelandic Women’s Association, which was the first of its kind, in 1894. She was passionate about human rights and women’s education.

The plaque in honor of Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir and Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason is at Templarasund, the thoroughfare between Alþingi and the place where the House of the Good Templars (Gúttó) once stood. Bríet took to the stage at Gúttó on December 30 1887, giving her “speech on the situation and rights of women.”

That speech is widely considered to have marked the beginning of the women’s rights movement in Iceland.

Bríet was one of the four women who took a seat in the Reykjavík City Council in 1908 for the first time ever—following women being granted the right to participate in local municipal politics that same year.

When women were granted the right to vote on this day in 1915, Bríet was one of the two main speakers at the celebrations at Austurvöllur. The other speaker was Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, head of the Reykjavík Ladies’ School, which was established in 1875.

Ingibjörg was voted into parliament in 1922—the first female MP in Iceland—for a women’s political party and she sat for them until 1930. During that time she was a champion for the rights of women and children. She was especially vocal in encouraging the government to build a public hospital for everybody, Landspítali as we know it today, which women had collected donations for in commemoration of getting the vote.

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