Ingrid Gärde Widemar was a lawyer and liberal politician, and she was also the first female member of the Swedish Supreme Court. She was a driving force in the campaign for equal rights and became well-known for her controversial book Hatt och huva, 1945.
Ingrid Gärde Widemar was, as she herself put it, “born a member of Folkpartiet [the People’s Party]”. Her father, Natanael Gärde, who had quickly risen to the position of judge and was responsible for legislation, had been a founder of Folkpartiet. When the prime minister C. G. Ekman called him in 1926 and asked him whether he would serve as a consultant cabinet minister it was his daughter Ingrid who answered the call. Natanael was appointed justice of the supreme administrative government court in 1928, and justice of the Supreme Court the following year, and finally minister of justice in Ekman’s second ministry from 1930 to 1932. Ingrid Gärde Widemar followed in her father’s footsteps not just as a politician but also as a lawyer.
Upon completing her school and legal training at Stockholm College, where she was the president of the Kvinnliga Studentföreningen (the female students’ association), Ingrid Gärde Widemar became a notary at Stockholm magistrates’ court. In 1938 she married the lawyer Sven Widemar and they had four children together.
By 1930 Ingrid Gärde Widemar had already joined Liberala Kvinnor (the liberal women’s association) and in the 1940s she also became a member of Yrkeskvinnor’s Klubb (YK) (the career women’s club). The question of equal rights soon became her priority and she was tasked by the president of YK, Karin Kock to find out how the so-called competence law had impacted the status of women and their ability to hold official positions. She presented her results in the much-discussed book Hatt och huva. Ingrid Gärde Widemar also fought against the joint taxation of married couples and for married women to retain their family names. Along with Alva Myrdal, among others, she co-authored Boken om Kerstin Hesselgren, 1968, who was her main rolemodel.
From 1945 Ingrid Gärde Widemar ran her own legal agency and, after Folkpartiet’s record-win in the 1948 election, she gained a seat in the second chamber of parliament. From 1953 to 1960 she had a seat in the first chamber and from 1961 to 1968 she was again a member of the second chamber. Ingrid Gärde Widemar was very active during her years in government and worked hard for many of the issues she was strongly concerned about. She was thus vastly experienced in formulating laws when she was appointed justice to the Supreme Court in 1968 and thereby became the court’s first female member. Her father had died just two months earlier and never knew of his daughter’s appointment. It was unusual for lawyers to be appointed as justices and Ingrid Gärde Widemar was only the fourth to be appointed, while the fact that she had come straight from parliament also gave rise to certain criticism. Carl Lidbom, then legal counsel at the department of justice, believed that the minister of justice, Herman Kling, had appointed her “due to her long-time contribution to parliament”. Ingrid Gärde Widemar retired in 1977.
It is telling that, despite her career success, Ingrid Gärde Widemar was often mentioned by the press in regard to her appearance and charm. Female debaters were seen as an inconvenience but despite – or perhaps because of – this she assiduously carried on campaigning. Ingrid Gärde Widemar was a worthy successor to Kerstin Hesselgren “whose legacy she embodies well in the fight for equal rights and freedom”, to borrow Brita Åsbrink’s commemorative words.
A biography of Ingrid Gärde Widemar was published in 2005, just a few years before her death in 2009, entitled Stjärna på en liberal himmel.