Greta Bergström was a public educator and influential domestic science teacher during the post-war years who was active throughout Sweden and beyond. Through her work she contributed in particular to women’s vocational education in the domestic sphere.
Greta Bergström was born in 1909. She was the second child of Gustaf Lagerlund and Rut Emilia Fransén, who lived in Ringarum parish in Östergötland. Her father was a priest and her mother the daughter of a priest. The family intended to educate their children but the death of Greta Bergström’s father when she was only three years old left the family in financial difficulty. Despite this her mother still managed to finance Greta Bergström’s education. She completed eight years at a girls’ school and thus gained the basic qualifications required in order to apply for teacher training in the rural domestic science programme at the vocational school for domestic science in Uppsala. Admission to the programme required practical experience, in addition to academic qualifications, and Greta Bergström obtained this by spending a total of two years in rural agricultural homes as well as by working as a cook. She then gained a place at the vocational school for rural domestic science at Brogård near Uppsala. When she began her teacher training programme in 1931 Ingrid Osvald-Jacobsson was working as head teacher and warden at Brogård and she became an important mentor and friend to Greta Bergström. Six months after Greta Bergström had graduated, Ingrid Osvald-Jacobsson asked her to return to Brogård as a teacher. Greta Bergström spent four years teaching at the school. In 1937 she married Erik Bergström, a bank worker, and they moved to Stockholm. The couple had three daughters, born between the years of 1939 and 1946.
Greta Bergström found employment with Kooperativa Förbundet (KF, the Swedish Co-operative Union) in Stockholm. She became secretary of the Kooperativa kvinnogillesförbund (Cooperative Women’s Association) in 1939. At that time the cooperative was a male-dominated organisation. Women’s consumer interests were channelled through the women’s associations and Greta Bergström was tasked with writing books and course material for courses these associations ran. Towards the end of the 1930s and start of the 1940s Greta Bergström, along with colleagues from Brogård including Ingrid Osvald-Jacobsson and Edith Klarin (who later became the first woman in Sweden to gain her doctorate in nutritional physiology), also contributed by producing teaching material for rural domestic science and residential care training. During the 1930s Greta Bergström was a familiar voice on Sveriges Radio as she gave radio lectures on optimising women’s housework.
Greta Bergström’s job with KF became her longest employment. She spent a total of 15 years working partly with the women’s association, and partly with KF’s housewives’ department and test kitchen, where household products and foods were tested. KF’s test kitchen served as a link between producers and consumers and in 1951 they published the popular cookbook Vår kokbok. The test kitchen was one of Greta Bergström’s initiatives and was closely associated with Hemmens Forskningsinstitut (HFI). Greta Bergström was a member of the first HFI board, which was largely populated by school kitchen and rural domestic science teachers from the vocational school in Uppsala. Her link to HFI became significant for her continued professional engagement.
Greta Bergström decided to leave the Cooperative in 1954 after KF was restructured. She returned to domestic science education, which was an expanding field at the time. Following six months as a domestic adviser to Stockholm city Greta Bergström was appointed to a newly established post within Överstyrelsen för yrkesutbildning (KÖY, national board for vocational training). She was chief consultant and assistant to the head of agency Ingrid Osvald-Jacobsson, her former colleague from Brogård. The agency was responsible for reviewing domestic vocational schools and for advising them on premises, furnishing, and teaching curricula, amongst other things.
In 1964 the vocational schools were merged with high schools and Överstyrelsen became Skolöverstyrelsen (national school board). At this point Greta Bergström resigned from her post as she was unhappy with the outcomes of the training reforms which she believed introduced constraints on the domestic science programme. She then transferred to a position at Statens institute för konsumentfrågor (today Swedish Consumer Agency), previously HFI. Her job in the information office of the agency was similar to the role she had played at KF and at Överstyrelsen för yrkesutbildning, namely using her place within a central organisation to create a contact network with schools, teachers, and study organisations and to be responsible for the generation and production of teaching materials for them.
During her work for KF, as well as her role as Swedish representative within the international committee for domestic science education, Greta Bergström created a significant international network. In 1961, in tandem with her work at Överstyrelsen, she was tasked by FAO, the United Nation’s agricultural branch, to develop vocational training for women in Tanzania. Her task was to train the national instructors who in turn taught their nation’s female poplation about domestic science. In other words, this new task resembled her former job at Brogård and in Stockholm’s vocational schools. Greta Bergström’s first visit to Tanzania lasted for a year and a half and resulted in the cookbook entitled Karibo Mama. The book got a lukewarm reception from the press but was more successful with the women’s organisations, where Greta Bergström was already well known. In addition to the book she also wrote an official report on the living conditions of women in developing countries, based on her own experiences. In 1966 Greta Bergström returned to Tanzania at the behest of the FAO and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in order to set up a vocational school called Buhare Home Economics College. This school was intended to develop rural Tanzania and its agricultural practises, and over time it became an important institution, which was eventually absorbed into the Tanzanian government in 1971. The success and good reputation of the school made Greta Bergström well known and well liked in Tanzania.
Greta Bergström retired in 1975. Two years prior to that she had lost her husband. However, retirement did not mean that she gave up her interests. For instance, she remained chair of Svenska nationalkommittén för hushållsundervisning and in 1975 she took on yet another challenge abroad – this time in India – to generate an overview plan for that country’s vocational training for women.
Greta Bergström’s efforts were informed by her ability to take initiatives and by her curiosity. She was imbued with a deep interest in pedagogy and a strong belief in vocational training within the sphere of domestic science, for which she always saw new possibilities.
Greta Bergström died in Nacka in 1992.