Emma Jacobsson was the wife of the governor of Gothenburg 1934-1950, and is famous for having founded and run the company Bohus Stickning.
Emma Jacobsson was born in Vienna in 1883. Her family was Jewish and a part of the intellectual community which included the author Stefan Zweig and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. At the time it was unusual for girls from well-off families to be given the opportunity to study. Emma Jacobsson was determined to educate herself, however, and her father, Franz Clemens Stiasny, who was the head of the national board of trade and a manufacturer of gloves, agreed to it. Although she wanted to be an artist Emma Jacobsson decided to study natural sciences and gained a doctorate in botany. During her studies she met Malte Jacobsson, the man she would marry, who was studying philosophy at the time. They got married in 1912 and moved to Gothenburg.
In 1934 her husband was appointed governor of Gothenburg and Bohuslän. As the governor’s wife Emma Jacobsson had to abandon her academic career and focus on official representational duties. She kept her scientific and aesthetic interests alive through her friendships with Estrid Ericsson, the founder of Svenskt Tenn, the architect Josef Frank, the nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, and artists such as Tor and Vera Bjurström.
It was in relation to her role as the governor’s wife that Augusta Teng and Helga Karlsson from Fågelviken in Bohuslän first got in touch with Emma Jacobsson in 1936. They asked her whether she could find some paid work from home for the wives of the regional stonemasons. Unemployment was rife and the families were suffering. Emma Jacobsson saw it as her duty to help them. Clara Cavallin, a retired teacher and acting head of Högre Samskolan as well as a good friend of Emma’s, began to run courses in textile work. Initially the students produced stuffed animals and Christmas decorations. The first knitting course to produce smaller knitted wear, such as mittens and socks, was held in Fågelviken in 1938.
The knitting took off and in the autumn of 1939 the Bohus Stickning association was founded, and their first constituted meeting was held in October 1940. A committee was appointed with Emma Jacobsson as its chair. Knitting courses were held at various places in centre and northern Bohuslän. Once the courses ended a representative was appointed to provide a link between the knitters and Bohus Stickning’s head office, located at the governor’s residence in Gothenburg. During the first six years courses were held at 36 different places and 483 knitters were trained. In addition to making a profit Bohus Stickning also served an important social function in that the knitters benefited from the courses, the monthly coffee meetings with the representative, and even a week’s holiday along with other knitters.
The first apparel produced was sold in Gothenburg. When the first collection of mittens was ready in 1939 Emma Jacobsson travelled to Stockholm to sell the Bohus Stickning wares to Trikå AB Oscar Baeckman. She was well-received because the items were all high quality goods. Given the ongoing world war, domestic producers made important provisions for the local population.
Initially the smaller and plain goods were knitted using rya-wool, obtained from the Wålstedt Textilverkstad in Dala Floda, as well as other places. Subsequently wool from a particular breed of sheep from Dalarna came to be used. It was the high quality of the basic material which led to high-quality products and Emma Jacobsson, who had been brought up in the old Viennese handicraft tradition, was well aware of this. The need for wool increased as the items produced became ever larger and patterned. At its height there were about 40 farms nationwide which delivered wool to the knitters. By 1939 Emma Jacobsson had already taken on Maria Boije af Gennäs, the head of AB Inhemsk Ull in Ekenäs, Finland, as a fulltime business partner. Inhemsk Ull dyed and spun the fine yarn which they delivered to Bohus Stickning right up to 1969, with the exception of the 1942-1944 war years when it was impossible. In 1942 Greta Wahlman and the Kristinelund angora spinning mill in Södra Valbo near Gävle took over the supply of yarn. A particular yarn called eja (Emma Jacobssons Angora) was produced, consisting of 70 percent fine wool and 30 percent angora, and remained in production until 1967.
The retail of Bohus Stickning goods was undertaken by shops such as Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) and Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm, Gillblads and Ferdinand Lundquist in Gothenburg, Ohlssons Tyger in Malmö and various handicraft associations. Many of the customers came with the “America boat”, which made port stops in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Emma Jacobsson was a perfectionist, in regard to the material, the design, the manufacture, the final product, the display, the retailing and the marketing of her goods. She ran her company with scientific precision.
In 1950 Emma Jacobsson and Bohus Stickning embarked on a new era. The governor retired and thus the company had to move premises. This was accomplished by moving to specially furnished premises at Guldheden where humidity and light control was possible, with regard to the sensitive woollen material. Emma Jacobsson, who had just divorced her husband, began to receive an income for her work from that point onwards, but the company continued to be managed without private financial aims.
During the 1950s Bohus Stickning became internationally renowned. The company’s products were sold in Denmark, England, Switzerland, Mexico, the West Indies, Canada and the USA. The goods also began to be sold at ever increasing domestic locations and at tourist destinations such as Tällberg and Abisko. Royalty, fashion designers, film stars, authors and artists all wore items made by Bohus Stickning: these included Helena Rubenstein, Juliette Greco, Ingrid Bergman, Eartha Kitt, Princess Grace of Monaco, the journalist Barbro Alving.
In 1964 the World’s Fair was held in New York where Bohus Stickning had its own showcase as part of the Swedish pavilion. The world’s fashion capital also took an interest and an exhibition was held at Maison Suédoise in Paris in 1967. Despite all this success and a continual increase in retailers both in Sweden and globally, sales began to decline. New fashions and new materials took over and outrivalled Bohus Stickning, which was purely a handmade product. In addition, access to high quality wool was diminishing throughout the 1960s. The knitters’ salaries had not kept up with pay rises either. Emma Jacobsson tried to remedy this by various means, including selling on commission, improved marketing and seeking a replacement for herself. In 1969 she saw no other way forward than to close up shop. In order to safeguard Bohus Stickning for posterity its wares and patterns were donated to museums. Emma Jacobsson also began to write up a history of the company.
Emma Jacobsson died in 1977 aged 93. Her ashes were spread at a memorial garden.