Ebba Boström was the founder of the Samariterhemmet (Samaritan home) in Uppsala, Sweden’s second Christian welfare institution.
Ebba Boström was born in 1844 and grew up at Östanå manor in Roslagen. She came from a noble family on her mother’s side, whilst her father was a judge. Two of Ebba Boström’s sisters married into the noble von Bahr family. One of her brothers, Erik Gustaf Boström, became prime minister of Sweden from 1891-1900. Her other brother, Filip August Boström, was governor of Södermanland from 1887-1908.
Ebba Boström was drawn into the new evangelical revival movement when she was 38 years old. She experienced a spiritual awakening during communion at Blasieholm church in Stockholm. Following this experience she travelled to England in order to study health care. She was very impressed by the Anglo-Saxon Free Church movements. Queen Sofia had hoped that Ebba Boström would run the newly established Sofiahemmet (Sofia home) in Stockholm. However, after her return to Sweden and after a brief period of working at the Serafimerlasarett (hospital), Ebba Boström fell seriously ill. Upon her recovery, which she interpreted as an answer to her prayers, Ebba Boström distanced herself from modern medical science for a long time.
In 1882 Ebba Boström was summoned to Uppsala in order to become the director of Sedlighetsföreningens (morality association) Magdalenahem (Magdalene home) for prostitutes. That same year she bought a property of her own where she set up a ‘salvation enterprise’ at her own expense. Ebba Boström spent 20 years developing her philanthropic centre, which comprised a children’s home, a reform school for female servants, and a hospice. When the hospice was opened in 1893 it included a newly-established ‘sisterhood’ numbering 17 sisters. They were modelled on the women of the New Testament who followed Jesus and assisted him through their own personal means.
Ebba Boström was not afraid to go beyond her own limitations: she was the only Pietist in her family, and a healer, who increasingly aligned herself with the Swedish Church towards the end of her life. In 1899 she bequeathed her life’s work to the Samariterhemmet foundation, with the archbishop as the chair of the Samariterhemmet board. However, the most obvious change was in her relationship toward medical science. For ten years she had not used any medicine at the hospice, not even wet bandages. The only thing that counted was healing, and the Lord God as healer. She gradually allowed the use of doctors as consultants, and finally doctors – including surgeons – were appointed to the hospice, where an operating theatre was built. Doctors at the Samariterhemmet had less authority than at any other similar institution at that time. Ebba Boström stuck by her fundamental belief that the Bible spoke directly to you and that it was infallible. The doctors had to work according to her conditions, and the most important of these remained intercessory prayer. With the passage of time her contact with theologians transferred from Baptists and missionaries to professors at the faculty of theology at Uppsala, and this was to all intents and purposes to the advantage of the Samariterhemmet. Ebba Boström’s strained relationship with Ersta, the first Christian welfare institution in Sweden, remained unchanged.
She retained her internationalism and her view of the church as a global church – views she had adopted in England – until she died. As a female leader she was not just the manager of a business but also a spiritual leader who had a heavier cross to bear than the other sisters did. Within the sisterhood her primacy was emphasised through the use of various symbolic actions. Care, openness, and authority were all characteristics of her leadership style.
At this time it was only with the Salvation Army that women could outrank men in positions of authority. At the Samariterhem men were included in the wider circle. Those men that Ebba Boström indirectly led seemed to accept her leadership. She was one of few women at that time who successfully earned respect.
Her social standing was also significant, not least through her connections to the royal family. The same respect was not accorded to Lotten Munck, the Samaritan sister whom Ebba Boström hoped would succeed her upon her passing. Lotten Munck was eventually out-manoeuvred and replaced by male leadership.
Ebba Boström died in 1902 and is buried at the Gamla cemetery in Uppsala.