Gerd Ribbing was a journalist and wrote for Dagens Nyheter (DN) for many years. She introduced a modern advice column to DN and for many years provided personal advice in answer to readers’ questions.
Gerd Ribbing grew up in Spånga. She was the first child of Karl Teodor Rehn, an accountant, and his wife Anna Kristina Eriksson. She was educated at Högre lärarinneseminariet (advanced teacher training programme) in Stockholm from 1907 to 1910 and also studied abroad at the Universities of Oxford and London. In 1912 she married Olof Wærn, a lawyer, and became a housewife. Their marriage ended in 1926. She then married Colonel Olof Ribbing and this marriage lasted until the colonel’s death in June 1964.
Gerd Ribbing’s career as a newspaper writer began at a relatively late point in her life. She was 42 years old when she was hired by Dagens Nyheter in 1932 once the newspaper had decided, after long hesitation, to introduce a page specifically aimed at family news. Many years later she described how she had reacted to the news that the newspaper was specifically seeking a gentleman as the editor for the family page. She quite coolly applied directly to the editor-in-chief Sten Dehlgren for the post. She was offered a trial period of a month in November 1932, but then went on to contribute to the newspaper until she retired in 1966, almost 77 years old.
In addition to her work as editor of the family page Gerd Ribbing began to write causerie-style articles under the name Joy for a brand-new vignette called “På Stan” (in town). The readers appreciated her style and tone and after a while she began to write daily causerie-style columns. However, Gerd Ribbing’s actual pioneering work was in starting a readers’ letters column in 1937, where she answered readers’ letters on relationship issues and personal problems. She drew inspiration from papers such as The New York Times and from what is called “Agony Aunt columns” in Anglo-Saxon countries. There were similar columns in certain weekly journals, but they had never before formed part of a Swedish daily. Initially there was a certain amount of criticism that material of this nature was awarded space in a newspaper the like of DN, but it was nevertheless a success. It soon began to appear several times a week and Gerd Ribbing’s input to “På stan” was reduced to a weekly article. The success of the advice column is also evident in that it is still part of DN nearly 30 years later, as well as in the fact that Gerd Ribbing started a similar column in Damernas Värld in 1943. In the latter she mainly answered questions from younger readers, mainly teenage girls.
The interest that Gerd Ribbing’s advice columns generated was not only down to the fact that such readers’ question columns had previously been unusual. Another major contributing factor was Gerd Ribbing’s style. Her tone was direct and sharp, almost harsh. There was no question of mollycoddling the letter writers. The writers – women and men of all ages – sought personal advice on relationships, marriage, intimacy, and manners. Gerd Ribbing liked discussing problems of principle in her answers. She could be hard on both female and male correspondents, but her criticism largely concerned what she perceived to be an overadherence to traditional and old-fashioned roles or expectations, as well as ignorance, particularly with regard to sexual matters.
The success of this column led to Gerd Ribbing publishing a selection of her answers in book format, first in Snabba svar, 1938, and later in Mellan fyra ögon, 1946. The role of women in society was a recurring theme in Gerd Ribbing’s responses; she polemically promoted strong independent women in direct opposition to the obsolete views of her readers. In the foreword to the second collection of letters she describes how the letters had illuminated for her that far too many women were in positions of dependency, forced into marrying, and stuck within obsolete constructs. Her foreword ended with a declaration that something must be done to “dredge out this begging river of longing which dares nothing and wants nothing more than this: to have the help of a husband to live because they [women] quite simply do not know how to live on their own? The women’s movement seen from below is like this. It is a subverted women’s movement, on which nothing can be built.”
Gerd Ribbing also wrote two Spanish travelogues during the 1950s and two biographies of Queen Sofia Magdalena. For the latter she was awarded the 1961 Svenska litteratursällskapet (Swedish literary society) in Finland’s Gustavian prize. Based on the questions she had been asked at DN she also published a book of etiquette called Sätt och vet, 1949, which was very successful and was published in several editions.
Gerd Ribbing died in 1979, aged 98. She is buried at Spånga cemetery.