Charlotte Garneij was one of the thousands of young mademoiselles in nineteenth-century Sweden. Charlotte Garneij and her family members left an unusually extensive archive of material which reveals the everyday lives and education of young women in the early nineteenth-century.
Charlotte Garneij was born in Ölme, Värmland in 1782. She was raised in Kristinehamn following her family’s move to that town in 1788. Her father, Johan Carl Garneij, was known throughout Sweden for his metallurgy. His book, published in in 1791 and entitled Handledning uti svenska masmästeriet, was described as “one of the most remarkable [books] of Swedish mining literature”. Johan Carl Garneij initially served as chief blast-furnace master in Nora bergslag and subsequently, from 1779, in Värmland. He was awarded the title of national ‘director’ of cast iron blasting in 1791 thanks to the success of his book, a title he retained until his death in 1808.
Charlotte Garneij’s father married twice and she was born to her father’s second wife, Maria Helena Berg. The family also included two children from her father’s first marriage, supplemented by another two daughters who were born later. The family was well-off and maintained a large household. The family home was located within the Vågen area of Kristinehamn where it was one of the more important homes. Although the family owned the property from 1785 onwards they did not actually occupy it until 1788. There was also another property in Bonderud, which lay just outside of the town. The main building on that property was locally known as ‘Lerslottet’ (the mud castle) due to its clay plaster façade.
We have gained an insight into the life of the family and how they lived through the four-volume Garneij archive which is held in Värmlandsarkivet in Karlstad. The archive material is particularly relevant to Charlotte Garneij who was probably the author of most of the surviving family documents. These include a large collection of cooking and baking recipes, which date from 1808, along with menus and guest lists from the years 1801–1830. The collection also includes extensive examples of poems and ballads from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. The index to the archive also lists such items as wedding invitations and funeral announcements and invitations to “assemblées”.
In the spring of 1801 Charlotte Garneij’s older sister Agneta got married and she and her new husband, Niklas Kolmodin, moved to Stockholm. Charlotte Garneij accompanied the newlyweds to the capital. It is not known how long she was in Stockholm as she never registered as resident there and remained listed in Kristinehamn. Nevertheless Charlotte Garneij’s time in Stockholm is well documented as she kept a small diary for those few months. Charlotte Garneij was 19 years old at the time and was tasked with helping her sister with household chores as well as child-minding (her new brother-in-law had a young child from an earlier marriage) and other domestic requirements. This primarily entailed being her sister’s companion in an entirely unfamiliar environment.
Although the diary barely numbers 50 pages it still offers an unusual insight into the everyday life of a teenaged girl living in the Swedish capital. The small family resided at Mariaberget in Södermalm. Charlotte Garneij wrote of the many walks they went on, shopping at the bakery and porcelain stores, daily social visits, along with many other things pertinent to life in a bourgeois home. This stay in Stockholm, which enabled Charlotte Garneij to serve as her sister’s companion, also formed part of Charlotte Garneij’s own training to serve as a hostess and the expected future awaiting her as a wife. It was not long before she found a German teacher who provided her with books to read which they would then discuss. Some of these books were in French. Charlotte Garneij also attended music concerts performed in the park of Kungsträdgården, she went to the theatre, she undertook day trips to Djurgården and Kungsholmen and summarised most of her activities in her diary. As the summer progressed her diary increasingly began to contain her reflections on life.
Although Charlotte Garneij carried on reading and writing following her return to her home in Kristinehamn she seems not to have continued keeping a diary. In the autumn of 1804 the family suffered a catastrophe: half of the town was lost in a huge fire and this included the family home. A new house was built on the same plot but the fire had entailed a major financial setback for the family. Charlotte Garneij’s father died in 1808 and this left the family in precarious circumstances. Charlotte Garneij’s mother was eventually, a few years later, authorised to receive a widow’s pension from the ironworks association and this presumably saved her and the family from destitution. The family also exploited their social capital by using their home to provide boarding facilities for girls from 1810 onwards. Thus they entered into an enterprise running an early form of girls’ finishing school, which lasted for a number of years during the 1810s. It was profitable. That the family was running a school business also explains the presence of ballads and recipes in the surviving family archive: they form testaments to some of the activities undertaken at the Garneij girls’ finishing school. It appears as though Charlotte Garneij was the leading figure in the enterprise, albeit it was a family venture.
Charlotte Garneij, despite being just one of the thousands of mademoiselles in Sweden at the time, was nevertheless a woman who could read and write and who, along with her mother and her siblings, contributed to the education of other young women long before the emergence of formal girls’ schools.
Charlotte Garneij died from typhoid at the age of 59 in 1842. Both the death and burial registers listed her as “mamsell” (mademoiselle).