Hedvig Malmström was a gymnastics instructor and the first chair of Föreningen GCI.
Hedvig Malmström was born in Stora Tuna, Dalarna. Her father was an inspector at the Domnarvet lumber mill. However, the family moved to Värmland and Hedvig Malmström grew up in Karlstad, where she attended Karlstad högre elementarläroverk för flickor (advanced school for girls). Following graduation she made her way to Stockholm, where she enrolled on a course at Tekniska skolan för kvinnliga lärjungar (the technical school for female apprentices, later Konstfack: school of arts, crafts and design) from 1881–1882. She was noted for her skill in making decorative models. In the end she never worked within the sphere of industrial arts but chose instead to train as a gymnastics instructor.
From 1883–1885 Hedvig Malmström studied at Gymnastiska centralinstitutet (GCI: the institute of gymnastics, later school of sport and health science) in Stockholm where she gained qualifications allowing her to work both as a gymnastics instructor and a physiotherapist. Following graduation she, like many other female gymnastics instructors intending to set up their own gymnastics institutes, spent time working for a well-known gymnastics instructor, Major Thure Brand, in order to learn his internationally respected method of gynaecological massage which led to employment opportunities. Following a period spent practising in Stockholm she made her way to the Finnish town of Vasa where she, along with a fellow colleague from her time at GCI, opened her own gymnastics institute.
In 1889 Hedvig Malmström was drawn to go to the German city of Dresden, where she became responsible for the women’s section of the Johan Oldevig gymnastics institute. From 1883–1917 his was one of the world’s most frequented physiotherapy centres. In the autumn of 1891, however, she left Dresden to travel to the USA instead. There she was employed by the school board in Sacramento, California, as a teacher of Swedish gymnastics in the public schools. In 1893 she moved to San Francisco, where she ran the Swedish Medical Gymnastic Institute together with fellow gymnastics instructor Harald Öhrvall.
Given that Hedvig Malmström had gained good medical skills during her training and in her professional life – skills which she complemented with further studies – she was able to graduate from Coopers Medical College in San Francisco (now called the Stanford University School of Medicine). At the end of 1896 she gained her medical doctorate. She was then appointed as an assistant at one of the college clinics whilst also running her own surgery in San Francisco which specialised in women’s and children’s illnesses. Her companion, Harald Öhrvall, similarly gained his doctorate in medicine at the same institution the following year and was appointed junior doctor at the Californian women’s hospital.
At the turn of the 1900s Hedvig Malmström returned to Sweden. However, her American qualifications were not accepted for employment purposes as a doctor. She was instead employed at GCI to direct and lead teaching at the physiotherapy polyclinic.
When an association of female gymnastics instructors was set up – Föreningen Gymnastiska centralinstitutet – in 1902, to support the status of GCI-trained women within the employment market, Hedvig Malmström became the association chair. She held this post for ten years. She was also active within the sphere of women’s rights outside the workplace and, amongst other things, she represented Svenska Kvinnornas nationalförbund (the national association of Swedish women) at the international women’s association congress in Toronto in June 1909. Hedvig Malmström was a political conservative and served as member of Moderata kvinnoförbundet (the Moderate party women’s association) board in Stockholm, amongst other things.
In order to secure and organise women’s participation in gymnastics at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games the Kvinnliga Gymnastikföreningen Sverige (women’s gymnastics association of Sweden) was set up in autumn 1911 and Hedvig Malmström served as its chair. The women’s gymnastics display was the only Olympic Games event on the programme that was run and organised by women.
In 1916 Hedvig Malmström returned to the USA, where he taught at Wellesley College, the private women’s high school near Boston, whilst also working as a doctor at the school. In 1920 she returned to Sweden again. For the next two decades, she divided her time between a private practise as a physiotherapist and at Stockholms allmänna gymnstikavdelningar (SAGA) (Stockholm public gymnastics departments) which focused on making gymnastics accessible to everyone.
Hedvig Malmström died in Stockholm in 1950. At the time of her death she was still active within the world of Swedish gymnastics. Her grave lies at the Norra Cemetery in Solna.