Astrid Ljungström, known under the pseudonym Attis, was one of the first notable Swedish female reporters, in particular known as a war and foreign correspondent. Her journalism reflected great respect for facts and precision and she had a confident and personal writing style.
Astrid Ljungström was born in 1905 and grew up on her maternal grandparents’ farm in the agricultural environment of Bohuslän before attending a girl’s school in Gothenburg. In 1925 she married Einar Ljungström, a naval captain in the navy reserve and a private in the air force, and they moved to Stockholm. He died only two years later in an air crash. After her husband’s death Astrid Ljungström moved to Paris to study art, but she gave up her studies in order to work for the Swedish-American news office in Stockholm from 1928 to 1931. In 1931 she travelled to Europe again, this time to continue her art studies in Jena, Munich and Vienna. As a result of the growing political unrest in Europe she returned to Sweden in 1935 and, thanks to her experience at the news office and her years abroad, she got a job with Nya Dagligt Allehanda where she stayed until 1938, when she began to work for Svenska Dagbladet.
In Nya Dagligt Allehanda Astrid Ljungström had already, in addition to her general reporting under the synonym Attis, written a lot of causerie-style articles and columns on women’s issues and the plight of women in Germany, which she herself had experienced. It is noteworthy that she began to use the word “Nazism” from the year 1936 onwards, instead of the then prevalent term “National Socialism”.
Astrid Ljungström was first employed by Svenska Dagbladet in the “Home and Household” section. The newspaper employed ten female journalists at the time, who were all specialised in different areas. This resulted in the paper sometimes being pejoratively called “Svenska Dambladet” (the Swedish Ladies’ paper). Here too Astrid Ljungström used the daily space allotted to the female readership for writing articles on women’s roles in the home and in wider society: professional women, women in foreign countries, the significance of women in the political sphere and, particularly, their role in preparation for the impending war. She also wrote a series of 20 articles which included a course on how to use a gasmask.
Astrid Ljungström had had regular contact with Finland since her childhood, and as the Russian bombs began to fall on Helsinki in the autumn of 1939 she asked to be sent there as the official newspaper representative. In December that year she reached the Finnish front and thus began a long career as a foreign and political correspondent. Astrid Ljungström covered the Winter War and the Continuation War of 1941-1944 in Finland, and was later awarded the Finnish Order of the Lion for her reporting on the Finnish struggle against Russian domination.
During the war years Astrid Ljungström also travelled to Munich and Berlin in order to report on the Nazi environments there, now supplying political analysis on Svenska Dagbladet’s commentary page entitled “Under strecket”. The trial of Vidkun Quisling in Oslo in 1945 gave rise to a series of long, daily articles on the front page, and in the post-war years she travelled through the occupied countries in order to report on reconstruction and denazification. After the Korean War she undertook a long investigative journey to the Far East, which resulted in a book entitled Korea, ofredens land, 1956, in collaboration with the photographer Anna Riwkin-Brick.
It was a world scoop when Astrid Ljungström and her colleague Kurt Andersson from Swedish Radio were the only journalists on the spot in Budapest during the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 as Russian tankers rolled in to seize the city. Their reports were used and quoted by the global press.
As a woman and a reporter it also fell to Astrid Ljungström to cover all royal events across Europe, such as royal weddings, funerals and state visits. On those occasions she often worked side by side the sometimes rival colleagues Barbro Alving of Dagens Nyheter and Maud Adlercreutz of Aftonbladet, and sometimes they even had to share both accommodation and a typewriter.
Paradoxically Astrid Ljungström was known for her stylish and elegant appearance, and she travelled with many suitcases regardless of her destination. A picture of her included in a historical overview of Svenska Dagbladet reveals a noticeable likeness between her and the great movie star of the ear, Greta Garbo. Astrid Ljungström was certainly just as shy as Garbo and as protective of her private life.
Astrid Ljungström spent her last years at Svenska Dagbladet focusing on her youth’s specialisations, namely art and antiquities. After her retirement in 1970 she wrote for the paper Antik & Auktion until her death, and she also published several books on the same theme.
Astrid Ljungström died in 1987.