Margareta Momma was a writer and a publicist of the 18th century. In modern terms she can be seen not only as Sweden’s first female journalist but also as one of the first in Europe.
There are no definitive accounts of Margareta Momma’s origins but it is highly likely that she grew up in the Netherlands. The fact that she wrote exceedingly well in French may indicate that she had some French connections. Margareta Momma probably met the man who became her husband, Peter Momma, in the Netherlands. In the mid-1730s he was in Amsterdam to study printing. Momma was a pioneer within his field who refined and developed book printing within Sweden. The couple married in 1735 and settled in Stockholm, where Peter Momma ran a successful printing press using techniques and ideas he had learned in the Netherlands. He also set up a papermill and a foundry, and imported books from abroad. Momma’s printing press was charged with organising printing for Riksbanken in Tumba, for which he was made bank commissioner, a top official position at Riksbanken. The family belonged to the upper echelons of Stockholm society. The couple’s three children, Peter Jr. Momma, Wilhelm Momma, and Elsa Fougt all became involved in the printing and publishing trade in various ways. However, only Elsa Fougt successful. The Momma family enterprise included publications of periodicals and newspapers, which is where Margareta Momma played a role.
In 1738, appropriately enough in connection with the opening of parliament, the Momma office released a periodical in Stockholm entitled * Samtal emellan Argi skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers skugga nyligen ankommen til de dödas rjke. The publication for instance ran an open dialogue with Olof Dalin’s well-known Then Swänska Argus, 1732-1734. Both of these publications are examples of a new popular genre which came to Sweden at this time, the printed essay. These dealt with moral philosophy, politics, and social phenomena in a light-hearted and more or less fictionalised form. The essay journals were inspired by international publications of the same type, such as the iconic British journals like The Spectator and The Tatler. As regards Swedish essay publications, we know that the various publications maintained dialogues with similar Swedish and foreign publications and that they often included translated pieces. The same was most likely true of Margareta Momma’s publication, but it is more difficult to identify role models for it than it is for the likes of Then Swänska Argus. A possible role model for Samtal may be the French publication La Spectatrice, 1728-1729, particularly in regard to its emancipatory contents, or the British publication The Female Tatler, 1709-1710. It is clear that Samtal* was also inspired by another popular genre, namely conversations between the dead.
The introduction and fictional framework of Samtal is comprised of a letter, written in French by a widow who is the daughter of a priest, which helps to create a favourable ethos for the publication and also creates a background story for the ensuing dialogues with the dead. The lead character, referred to as the shadow of an anonymous woman, lives in the kingdom of the dead and meets a range of other shadows: the shadow of the dead journal Argus, an envoy from the Ottoman empire, and others. The publication shows evidence of its creator’s wide reading and insights with regard to current political debates and the early Enlightenment, whilst the text is characterized by containing arguments both for and against various issues. The arguments allow the reader to form their own viewpoint, although it is clear which main ideas are being supported as they are corroborated using rhetorical ingenuity. The arguments made are often radical in nature: advocating on behalf of the intellectual abilities of women and their rights to education, arguing against slavery (here Samtal is seemingly unique among its contemporaries), advocating religious tolerance, while even taking a stance on the current toxic and raging issue of whether Sweden should enter into the war against Russia. The periodical’s clear anti-war stance led to the involvement of censors and the scoring out of certain parts of the publication. Fictionalising different forms of dialogue in a publication was a popular and effective method to confuse the censors when politically sensitive issues were concerned. The involvement of the censor was probably the reason why the publication ceased in 1739.
Margareta Momma’s journalistic activity continued for a time into the 1740s. She and her husband edited the Stockholm Gazette from 1742 onwards, a publication released in French and which is usually viewed as the first modern news publication in Sweden. The inspiration for and format of the publication was largely taken from other French-language gazettes in the Netherlands. The first edition contained an announcement that the publication would focus on news from both urban and rural Sweden as well as from abroad. It was also implied that this would be done with the greatest possible level of impartiality. As far as the balance between Swedish and foreign items was concerned the greatest attention was given to political and military news from abroad, whilst news specific to Sweden mainly concerned cautious coverage of the Swedish court and appointments to it, amongst other things. There is no evidence that Margareta Momma continued her written output after the mid-1740s.
Margareta Momma died in 1772, shortly after her husband’s passing. Surviving occasional poems testify to the Mommas’ network and central position within their contemporary literary system. The widow Momma is described as pious, virtuous, honourable, and wise. Unsurprisingly her written output is not mentioned; few women gained recognition for their efforts in this sphere at that time.