Carolina Christiansson was Sweden’s first woman zoological taxidermist. She worked at Uddevalla museum, later Bohusläns museum, for half a century.
Carolina Christiansson was born on 10 October 1832 in Herrestad parish outside Uddevalla. Her parents Margaretha Olsdotter and Anders Svensson were crofters. Carolina Christiansson grew up with several siblings in poverty in the Bohuslän countryside.
Bohusläns museum opened in 1861. The year after, it changed names to Uddevalla Museum but is currently using the old name again. The museum’s board consisted of seven people, of whom three were women, and all belonged to the Uddevalla middle class. Like many other museums at that time, there was a reaction to living at a time of change, with the need to preserve memories of the olden days while it was still possible. It was in this context that Carolina Christiansson was to become a “museum caretaker”. However, special circumstances lay behind the appointment going to a woman. It was first given to her husband Niklas Christiansson in 1864, and he became taxidermist and conservator at the museum. He died however the same year, and the appointment once again became vacant. When it was advertised anew it pointed out that the job was one “for which women as well as men could sign up as applicants”. Carolina Christiansson applied and was given the appointment. After that she was to shape the work at the museum for the next 50 years.
Carolina Christiansson’s education before her time at Uddevalla Museum is unknown. Considering her origins, it can be assumed to have been basic. Before acceptance as the museum’s taxidermist, the museum saw to it that she was given a training in taxidermy. The curator of the zoological section at the Gothenburg Museum, August Wilhelm Malm (best known for the Malmska whale exhibited at the museum) taught Carolina Christiansson for a few months before her accession to her new post. In the years after that, she made recurrent study visits to Gothenburg to increase her professional knowledge and skills.
Taxidermist and conservator were unusual professional titles, and also titles that were not coded gender-wise. The work of a zoological taxidermist consisted of preparing fish, birds, insects, and mammals for the museum’s collections. The animals were delivered mainly dead but sometimes even living animals arrived at the museum and were sometimes kept in the museum’s yard. Carolina Christiansson also prepared and mounted animals for private customers. In the museum’s collections there remain traces of her activities in the form of prepared and mounted animals and birds, domestic as well as exotic.
Nowadays, Uddevalla Museum focuses mainly on cultural history but at the end of the 1800s, the focus was on natural history. This was also true of the Gothenburg Museum and later even the Vänersborg Museum. Impressions and objects from foreign parts were prioritised, not local cultural history. One important element was therefore the collection of wild and exotic animals. This was an important part of Carolina Christiansson’s work. In the museum’s collections today can be seen a koala, a turtle and a monkey conserved by her. As taxidermist she was more or less a warden, since widely varying assignments were included. Overall, she was the practical driving force at the museum and one of the foremost representatives for the museum’s early history.
In 1912, Carolina Christiansson retired, at 80 years of age. Her retirement was celebrated by the museum’s board and she was awarded a gold medal of the first order. Carolina Christiansson had been widowed when she was only 32 years old, in 1864. She had at that time two small children, Gerda born in 1860 and Carl born in 1863. Only Carl would survive to adulthood. He too worked at Uddevalla Museum. Later he became the editor of the New York Herald’s European edition in Paris.
Carolina Christiansson died at 92 years of age in 1924. Her grave is in the Northern Cemetery in Uddevalla.