Anna Dorotea Wessman, who was the wife of a wig-maker, was a member of the wig-makers’ guild. She was also Moravian devotee.
Anna Dorotea Wessman was born in Stockholm in 1717. She was the daughter of Nils Christian Gnosspelius, a wine merchant, and Maria Elisabet Hartman. She belonged to the Moravians and she was a member of their congregation Brödraförsamlingen in Stockholm, along with Sara Holmsten and Christina Charlotta Hjärne. When she was 21 years old Anna Dorotea Wessman got married to Carl Christoffer Halling, a wig-maker. Both of her sons died as infants whilst her two daughters survived into adulthood. Her husband was a pietist and appears to have reproached Anna Dorotea for her frivolity:
“I desired and was attracted to worldly and inane things although I was often rather anxious. […] My late husband was a pietist and he was a serious and deep-thinking person of the highest order […] I did not understand this and I was instead full of fun and happiness, […] I tried to cheer him up but this was in vain and then I was sad and angered […] My dear husband was not satisfied with me and said that I was too thoughtless.”
This made Anna Dorotea Wessman fear the final judgement: “A few nights later I dreamt that I saw a whole list of my sins and hell and the abyss opened up before me. I became so frightened and lost that I cried and called out for help”.
After ten years of marriage Anna Dorotea Wessman’s husband passed away and she inherited the right to his wig-making business. The wig-makers’ guild ensured that she was supplied with an apprentice and in 1749, with the blessings of the Moravian congregation in Stockholm, she married Peter Wessman, her apprentice. The couple had four daughters and one son, who sadly died young. Anna Dorotea Wessman had a hard life: “These years have often been quite bitter ones, my external circumstances have many times made me extremely sad, making me weep and ask the Saviour what future lay ahead for my poor children and call out for help.”
As was the custom amongst Moravian devotees Anna Dorotea Wessman wrote her life story. She was 86 years old and ill when she composed her work and it appears that all of her children had died by the time she was writing: “all 7 are largely in the care of the Saviour”. She herself died two years later.
Anna Dorotea Wessman’s account of her life is typical of certain aspects of Moravian piety. The voice of judgement generates remorse about sin, strongly condemning carelessness and the desire for worldly things. What is lacking in Anna Dorotea Wessman’s account is her portrayal of how she is freed from her remorse by looking into her thoughts or through her dreams of the crucified, suffering and bleeding Christ. This tends to be the norm in women’s life histories but is largely absent in those of men. Her life story is also typical in that it talks of the trivial everyday: the Moravians just like the pietists believed that everyday life was a testament to God’s work in the world.
Anna Dorotea Wessman died in 1787.