Anna Stenberg was a Social Democratic party politician and she was the first woman to serve on Malmö town council.
Anna Stenberg was born in Brönnestad parish, Scania in 1867. Her father’s name has not been recorded and she was abandoned by her mother at a young age. Anna Stenberg was brought up by foster parents in Röshult, a small place northwest of Hässleholm. It was, however, in Malmö where she lived as an adult that Anna Stenberg became active as a municipal politician representing the Social Democratic party. Towards the end of the 1880s Anna Stenberg was working as a nurse at Malmö hospital, the so-called asylum for the mentally-challenged. There she met the man she went on to marry, Lars Olsson Stenberg. He was working at the same place as a hospital orderly. They got married in 1892 and had three daughters together before Lars Olsson Stenberg died, just four years later. Her job at the hospital exposed Anna Stenberg to a lot of suffering, poverty, and harsh conditions and this all served to engender a desire to improve people’s situations. Her engagement with the Malmö workers’ movement gave her major opportunities to introduce change.
When the Malmö kvinnliga diskussionsklubb (women’s discussion group) held their first meeting in 1900 Anna Stenberg joined the group and a few years later she became its chair. Discussions tended to revolve around organising women, women’s suffrage, and the societal conditions they lived under, along with issues of education and child-rearing. The group became affiliated to the Malmö Arbetarekommun (workers’ cooperative) which became established in 1901. Anna Stenberg was one of the few women elected onto the workers’ cooperative and she served as a board member on three occasions: 1907–1909, 1912–1913, and 1923–1926. Further, she was also involved with the board of the Malmö workers’ library and reading room. The aforenoted discussion group eventually became Malmö socialdemokratiska kvinnoklubb (Social Democratic women’s club). Following the 1908 conference held by the Social Democratic women’s clubs in Stockholm it was decided that a ward of 17 Scanian groups would be established. Anna Stenberg took on the post as chair from 1915–1916, during which time she created an extensive network of contacts within the workers’ movement in Malmö. As opportunities arose for women to play an active role within municipal politics after 1910 Anna Stenberg became the first woman elected to sit on the Malmö town council. Thus she served as a representative of Sveriges Socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Social Democratic workers’ party of Sweden) from 1911–1918. When another election was held in 1919 following the ending of income-based rights to suffrage she was re-elected. Anna Stenberg remained on the Malmö town council until 1926.
Following her election onto the town council Anna Stenberg earned less and faced restrictions on her chances to work as a butter-seller. Instead she decided to become an independent vendor at the Malmö Södra market hall. Her political activism also involved supporting the struggle for women’s suffrage, which she did for several years as a member of Malmös Förening för Kvinnans Politiska Rösträtt (association for women’s suffrage). Anna Stenberg also forged other contacts with other women of the bourgeoisie by attending the Malmö Damsällskap educational courses.
There were only ever a maximum of six female members of the Malmö town council throughout the 1910s and 1920s, compared to 54 male representatives during the same period. Anna Stenberg was one of these women put up for election by her party. Female representatives were clearly awarded posts in authorities and boards which dealt with children, the elderly, and the poor. Anna Stenberg was a typical example of this. In addition, she – like many of the other women – served within several authorities and boards at the same time. These included the poor relief agency, Malmö town public baths, later known as Kommunala varmbadhuset, the Håkanstorp schoolhouse, Malmö town reform school, the Allmänna sjukhuset (general hospital) administration, the Östra sjukhuset administration, the Flensburg care facility, Föreningen för vård av kroniskt sjuka och konvalescenscenter (society for the care of the chronically ill and convalescent centre) later known as Malmö sjukhem och Malmö stads nykterhetsnämnd (Malmö hospice and Malmö town temperance agency). She was also involved with the Hjälpsamhet organisation, Freja N:r 2 kvinnliga sjuk- och begravningskassan (women’s sickness and funeral benefits), as well as the Malmö sjukkassors centralfortsättningskassas samorganisation (sickness benefits central benefits federation). The confidence that she inspired in others is evident in the fact that she was also elected onto the board of the local savings bank.
In her role as municipal politician Anna Stenberg proposed that the town’s housing situation should be investigated and a housing inspectorate be introduced. She also supported women’s gymnastics and sports clubs’ access, at certain times, to the large swimming pool at the communal indoor swimming facility, the funding for cookery demonstration courses for housewives and female factory workers, as well as the establishment of a vocational school for female servants. Her most famous motion was the one to establish four public toilets for women. This motion passed in 1912 and four small stone-built constructions, with mullioned windows and pyramid-shaped roofs known as the ‘Stenberg buildings’, were erected.
Anna Stenberg retained several of her posts within various authorities and boards even after her role in the town council ended in 1926. At the age of 65 she moved to the Dahlgren foundation in Malmö, where she lived until 1956. She died that year, aged 88. Her grave lies at the St Pauli mellersta cemetery in Malmö.