Amelie von Braun was a leading and inspirational figure within Christian Sunday school for children. She was also a spiritual preacher at a time when the clergy was a male domain.
Amelie von Braun was born in 1811. She was the daughter of lieutenant colonel and later postmaster Kristian von Braun and his wife Justina. She was the second eldest in a family of nine children, seven of whom attained adulthood. She had no formal education as the family’s limited finances were dedicated to the military pursuits of the boys. One of her brothers, Wilhelm von Braun, later became one of the era’s most popular poets. His light-hearted poetry was distributed as broadsheets in great numbers.
Amelie von Braun’s life took a very different direction from her brother’s. According to the few memorial accounts we have of her youth she experienced a religious awakening at an early age which then found expression in Christian activism. She remained unmarried and lived at her parental home as an adult. Her father’s work meant that in 1827 the family moved from western Sweden to Gotland, and then in 1843 they moved yet again to Karlshamn in Blekinge. At this point Amelie von Braun was almost 30 years old and it was in Karlshamn that her outreach activism began. She began her Christian charity work amongst the poor children of the town in 1843. Every day she would gather the children in one of their homes in order to teach and educate both them and their parents. This work resembled both the itinerant schools and social welfare efforts, which were just emerging in Sweden at this time. Christianity lay at the core of Amelie von Braun’s teachings as she earnestly desired to impart the Christian faith to the poor. It was her belief that the path out of poverty lay in a lifestyle informed by the Christian faith. This was a conviction common among the revivalists of the 19th century.
Amelie von Braun was one of the first people to start a Sunday school in Sweden. She ran a Christian Sunday school for children in Karlshamn for several years. Sources disagree as to which year she opened her Sunday school. According to her own letters, which have been studied by the church historian Therese Tamm Selander, it appears that she ran the school between the years 1848 and 1856. The Sunday school reached far and wide: in 1853 she had 250 children enrolled as pupils. The majority of the teaching involved children learning Bible stories. Amelie von Braun viewed her work with these children as preventative. She believed that if the children did not gain a good Christian education they might end up choosing the wrong path in life.
Amelie von Braun was an agent of Christian revivalism during a formative part of religious developments in 19th century Sweden. She worked strictly within the parameters of the Church of Sweden, reflecting her belief that religious revivalism should take place within the framework of the evangelical-Lutheran state church. She was active at a time when revivalism began to become centralised and take on a more fixed organisational form, although she herself was not part of this organisation. One of her probable sources of inspiration for working with the children of poor families was Emelie Petersen at Herrestad, whom she visited on several occasions. She was supported by the mission leader Peter Fjellstedt in running her Sunday school.
In 1855, the year that her mother died, Amelie von Braun’s life took a new turn. She widened her network of contacts in the church revivalist movement and the following year she travelled to Stockholm and Uppsala, where she was received by Count Gustaf and Countess Ewa Lewenhaupt, as well as the priest Oscar Roos and his wife Bertha, all of whom were involved in the revivalist movement. The following year the same two couples largely funded her journey throughout Dalarna during which she gave public talks. She referred to this in her own letters as a “missionary journey”. Her intention was mainly to oppose the splits arising within the revivalist movement by those who operated outside the church, such as the Baptists. She also travelled to Dalarna in 1857. There is a lot of similarity between her Dalarna visits and the work undertaken by men who served as envoys for Evangeliska Fosterlandsstiftelsen (Swedish Evangelical Mission), a national organisation which worked on behalf of church-based revivalism. Amelie von Braun’s travels through Dalarna received a mixed reaction and during the last years of her life she tended to focus on spiritual preaching nearer her hometown. She gave public talks at revivalist meetings in eastern Blekinge and Småland to audiences made of up members of several parishes. At these meetings she was surrounded by a group of men who supported her and prayed for her, and who were probably mainly farmers. At this time only men could become priests within the state church, which meant that the clergy was basically a male domain in the 19th century. Amelie von Braun was one of the few women who broke this pattern by publicly appearing as a spiritual preacher. This was only a short-lived activity, however, as she died in 1859 aged 47.
Amelie von Braun wrote throughout her life. Towards the end of her life writing was one of her main activities. The two best-known articles which were published while she was alive were both published in the revivalist journal Wäktaren. A compilation of all her work was posthumously published in Christendomslifvet i vår tid, 1860, as well as De falska profeterna jemte andra efterlämnade skrifter, 1868. Despite this she is mainly remembered for her work with children. Amelie von Braun’s example served as a role model and source of inspiration during the rapid expansion of the Sunday school movement in the first half of the 20th century.
Amelie von Braun died in Karlshamn in 1859. She is buried in Carl Gustaf’s cemetery in the same town.