Elisabeth von Bahr made financial and practical contributions towards improving women’s social conditions, particularly within the spheres of education and employment.
Elisabeth von Bahr was born in Stockholm in 1838. Her parents were Gustava and Erik Samuel Boström. Her father was a chief district judge and originally hailed from Piteå. Not much is known about Elisabeth von Bahr’s education but it is likely that she was home-schooled. Her younger sister, Ebba Boström, who would go on to establish the Samariter hospice in Uppsala, is known to have had a conservative upbringing and this presumably also applied to Elisabeth von Bahr. When she was 21 years old, Elisabeth von Bahr married the chief district judge Carl Fredrik Oscar von Bahr. They had six children together.
During the second half of the nineteenth century the issues of co-educational schools and educational opportunities for women increasingly fell under the spotlight and Elisabeth von Bahr took a great interest in these matters. She began to get actively involved in them a few years before she lost her husband in 1900. At this point four of her children were adults, two of her daughters had died as young children. Her son Johan was forging ahead in his career and was working as registrar at Uppsala University and as the CEO of Uppsala’s “drätselkammare” (the town’s administrative board), and he was soon to become the mayor of Uppsala. Her son Erik was a doctor at Samariterhemmet and a regimental doctor. Her daughter Eva von Bahr was making good progress in an academic career at Uppsala University. Johan August Lundell shared Elisabeth von Bahr’s educational interests and they contributed to setting up a school called Upsala enskilda läroverk in 1892. She was on the school board until her death. This co-educational school was one of the so-called reformed schools, which meant that it followed modern pedagogical methods. Just like the Palmgren school in Stockholm, Elisabeth von Bahr’s school implemented freedom of choice and modern methods in language learning. A separate domestic science training was started, which detached from the school in 1895 and became Fackskolan för huslig ekonomi under the direction of Ida Norrby. Elisabeth von Bahr was also part of this school’s management team.
When a woman became a widow in this era she often lost a major part of her income or was even left completely penniless. In Uppsala the Upsala Myror association had been set up to help these women. The association focused particularly on widows of military officers, functionaries, and businessmen. In 1902 the Stiftelse Upsala Myror (Upsala Myror foundation) was set up and paved the way for the so-called Elisabethhemmet, named after Elisabeth von Bahr. Elisabeth von Bahr had been one of the instigators of this enterprise from the outset and the first part of the home opened in 1911. This was marked by a celebration attended by Prins Gustav Adolf, amongst others. The building which housed Elisabethhemmet can still be seen and today (2017) it serves as a private hospital.
However, it was not just people from the upper echelons of society whom Elisabeth von Bahr worried about. When Hildur Ottelin set up Rickomberga egnahem AB in 1904 both Elisabeth von Bahr and her daughter Eva could be found amongst the shareholders. Elisabeth von Bahr often attended the company meetings and at one of these she met Elsa Eschelsson, who was on the company board for some time.
Elisabeth von Bahr remained active until her death in 1914. She is buried in Uppsala gamla cemetery.