Agnes Magnell was an architect who was also the first woman in Sweden to attend a Swedish technical college. She was accepted as a student in the department of architecture at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in 1897, a full 20 years before women were officially given access to the courses offered there.
Agnes Magnell was born in Uddevalla in 1878. Her mother, also named Agnes Magnell, was an author, an illustrator, and an artist. Her father, Carl Magnell, was also a an artist, and a military captain. Agnes Magnell had three siblings: one brother and two sisters. Her sister Carin “Kaju” Magnell (later married as von Koch) was also an active artist and became a furniture designer. In 1894 Agnes Magnell studied architecture at Tekniska skolan (now Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design). Her instructors at Tekniska skolan encouraged her to submit an application for the architecture course offered at KTH. However, it was clearly stated in the KTH statutes that their course were only available to “young men” and this meant that Agnes Magnell was forced to seek special dispensation in order to be eligible to apply.
Agnes Magnell’s father, Carl Magnell, wrote to King Oscar II, seeking permission for his daughter to attend the architecture course as an ordinary student. Agnes Magnell was duly given this permission and, after passing her formal entrance exam in 1896, she was accepted into the department.
In 1897 Agnes Magnell thus became the first woman to attend KTH. She was not, however, given equal status to her male classmates and was instead labelled a “special student”. This meant that although she might complete the course, fulfilling the same conditions as those required of her male counterparts, she would not receive a formal qualification in architecture. It was not until 1921 that women gained equal access to KTH’s courses and thereby were able to gain official qualifications.
Agnes Magnell completed her course in 1900. She then began to work as an architect at AB Vattenbyggnadsbyrån, a company in the hydropower sector. She designed and drafted power station facades and water towers. An example of her work is Sala water tower, completed in 1903. That same year Agnes Magnell married Otto Eskil Smith, a civil engineer. After a couple of years of working together she began to focus on running the family household and increasingly devoted herself to her art.
Agnes Magnell had been artistically active both before and during her student years, selling several children’s portraits as well as illustrations she created for various books. She is best known for her silhouette work and during the 1920s and 1930s she held several exhibitions of her artwork. These included exhibitions at Lilla utställningen, Årstaklubben, Galerie Moderne Silkeborg, and at Liljevalchs art gallery in Stockholm.
Agnes Magnell died in 1966. She is buried in Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.