Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was one of the early female journalists in Sweden.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was born on 19 April 1876 in Trollhättan. Her father, Sven Olof Hallman, was a naval captain who died when Anna was still a young girl. Her mother, Adelina Birgitta Christina, was thus left to single-handedly raise her five children. One of Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian’s older siblings was Pehr Olof Hallman who later became an architect and city planner. Following her father’s death she herself was put into the care of – and possibly even adopted by – her paternal aunt, Thekla Katarina, and her husband, a hospital doctor called Gustaf Birger Knös. They lived in Vadstena.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian attended the Vadstena girls’ school from 1882–1889. She then enrolled at the Linköping girls’ school for the 1889–1890 academic year, and finally at Statens normalskola för flickor (state-run girls’ school) for the 1893–1894 academic year. Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was 18 when she completed her schooling in 1894. She then set off, alone, on foreign travels undertaking “private study trips to Germany, France, and Great Britain”, as it was summarised in the Publicistklubbens matrikel of 1901. “She was a Bohemian by blood, despite stemming from a family with a long-established heritage”, as Nils Styrbjörn Lundström wrote in a commemorative article in 1934. According to Lundström she spent a lengthy period of time living in Paris, during which she was sometimes a “young Swedish student” and other times employed as a washer-woman in order to earn a living.
During her Parisian period Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian became friendly with a group of Armenian refugees, one of which was a young author by the name of Stephan Sissak-Bardizbanian. They later married. The Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II instigated several major massacres of his Armenian subjects during the mid–1890s and Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian’s friends were active within the opposition movement. They spread ideas of assassinating the sultan. Some of them suggested that “la blonde vièrge” should perform the deed by worming her way into the sultan’s harem. However, Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian refused. She considered the mission to be a hopeless one and viewed her Armenian friends as famished and unrealistic.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian returned to Sweden in early 1897. She then began to work as a journalist. Between March and September she was employed as the editorial secretary at Östgöta-Kuriren in Vadstena. She transferred to Svenska Dagbladet in the autumn of 1897. The newspaper had changed ownership earlier that spring, wherewith the entire editorial board had been relieved of their positions, leaving a great need for new staff. The new editorial board – which included the likes of Verner von Heidenstam, Oscar Levertin, and Hjalmar Söderberg at its head – was also keen to thoroughly overhaul the newspaper seeking to develop “a major cultural paper” coloured by a liberal approach. In 1898 Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian joined the Publicists’ club.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian headed overseas again in the spring of 1898. This time her destination was England. There, on 5 May in Manchester, she married Stephan Sissak-Bardizbanian. The marriage did not last, however. By August she had returned to Svenska Dagbladet, now using the surname of Sissak. From that time onwards she employed the byline of Cendrillon (Cinderella) for a long series of reports she filed. Some of her earliest texts, such as “Hos japanske jonglörer”, dated 8 September, already bore what became her typical trademarks: she had a personal style, full of fantasy, with an eye for details – particularly of the exotic kind – and a well-developed sense of irony.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was pregnant when she left her husband in August. However, this did not appear to prevent her from working right up until giving birth, although she must have been thinking about her impending life change when she wrote the article “Leksaker. Ett kapitel för smått folk” just a few days before Christmas 1898. She also published a long report on a visit to the Turkish envoy Minister Chérif Pacha and his wife, Princess Eminé, at Kommendörsgatan. The tone of the report was light-hearted and positive, which is quite remarkable given that Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was well-aware of the Ottoman sultan’s harsh policies against his Armenian subjects. Perhaps political commentary was not considered suitable in her more lightweight reports. She continued to submit a number of texts to Svenska Dagbladet in early 1899. She also wrote book reviews for the Nordisk revy för litteratur och konst, politik och sociala ämnen journal. From mid-February she fell silent for a few months, however, presumably during the period her child was born and the beginning of her life as a mother. Her son was baptised Staffan, presumably in reference to his father, and for a time was placed in the care of relatives. He was later adopted by one of Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian’s sisters.
By early April Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian had fully returned to her journalistic work again and in the ensuing months she published a long series of reports of various types. These included lively accounts of her visits to the theatre and behind-the-scenes conversations with the director Harald Molander, as well as an unusual church service at the Djursholms chapel led by the preacher and peace activist Nathanael Beskow, and an account of an unusual Walpurgis night spent at Skansen in the snow. Once summer had arrived in Stockholm she went on a test-run in Sweden’s first motorised bus. Another young journalist, Johan Levart, who would later publish a series of novels based on the newspaper world, was also on this motor-vehicular maiden voyage. One of his novels, Ljusets riddarvakt from 1904, features Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian as an exotic and slightly seductive Madame Alrazian, who wrote light-hearted pieces on “women’s concerns” for the fictional "Nationella Dagbladet" newspaper.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian’s texts sometimes hint at her interest in contemporary political issues, such as women’s suffrage and other civil rights for women, as well as – an issue presumably very close to her heart – the importance of being able to lead a life beyond the norms of convention. Nils Styrbjörn Lundström’s 1934 article describes Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian as a “completely modern kind of person, perhaps altogether too modern for the turn of the century. People were not quite ready for women with boyish haircuts, who smoked cigarettes in public, and went out alone to restaurants or arranged to meet their male acquaintances there.” However, Lundström also described how well he remembered “what I believe was our country’s first female journalist, in the modern understanding of the term, as a marvellous and good friend. She performed the not always easily-managed role of being a single woman amongst exclusively male colleagues in a remarkable way.” Ivar Anderson’s Svenska Dagbladets historia mentions “Mrs Sicksack” – as Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was known by the errand boys – as “an exceptional reporter, a jaunty and happy colleague”.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian suddenly stopped working at Svenska Dagbladet in early September 1899. It remains unclear as to why. On 29 August her final article for the paper was published, which was a review of an exhibition of furniture designed by Swedish artists such as Ferdinand Boberg and Prince Eugen. She signed off the article as Anna Sissak, not with her usual Cendrillon. From early September she was instead employed as editorial secretary of Djursholms Tidning. She published a number of semi-fictitious columns in the paper during the ensuing autumn, under the byline of Catharina: these were reports on the theatre, and from an auction, interviews with actors, and a very positive review of a newly-opened restaurant, Then Gyllene Wåfflan, which women could frequent unaccompanied in the evenings. During October and November she also worked as the Stockholm correspondent for Upsala Nya Tidning, again using the byline of Cendrillon. According to Publicistklubbens matrikel she was also a correspondent for several provincial papers during that same autumn of 1899.
The archaeologist and Dagens Nyheter colleague Ture J:son Arne had described how he met Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian in 1902 on the big demonstration march for general suffrage that was held that year. He then met her several times at the Café de Versailles in Paris over the following years. She used to spend her evenings there in the company of the painter Christian Krohg, who was a “fatherly” friend of hers. Christian Krohg himself recounted his first encounter with the striking independent young Swede in Paris in an article in Verdens Gang, from 1903. She had come to the French capital in search of her husband in order to obtain a divorce from him. She never found her husband, however, and following a period spent in Paris she then headed to the USA. According to T. J:son Arne she apparently spent some time within New York’s newspaper world.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian returned to Sweden in the spring of 1905. She then settled at a guesthouse in Sigtuna. Little detail of her final 15 years of life is known. A 1947 interview with one of her former friends reveals that she was still living in Sigtuna in 1911. There are some reports that she received encouragement and help from Verner von Heidenstam and Ellen Key whom she had already known for a long time. Nils Styrbjörn Lundström notes that she ended up joining theosophical circles and that she travelled to Switzerland shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. She apparently fell ill afterwards. A postcard within Ellen Key’s correspondence collection reveals that in late March 1919 Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian was in Locarno, the Swiss side of Lago Maggiore, where she was in the final stages of tuberculosis. At that time she was engaged in writing a book for which she sought Ellen Key’s help in getting published should she manage to complete it. Ellen Key marked the postcard with a hand-written “Yes” underlined in red ink. However, as far as is known, the book was never finished.
Anna Sissak-Bardizbanian died on 18 April 1919. She would have turned 43 the next day.