Karin Adamsson was a pioneer within the field of sexual education. She was the only woman who was ever imprisoned for criminal offences against the stiff sexual legislation of her day. She also, along with her husband Nils Adamsson, set up a nationwide chain of health-care shops.
Karin Adamsson was born in Stockholm in 1883 into an itinerant working-class family. Their moves around Sweden depended on where her father, who was a mechanic, could find employment. Karin Adamsson spent the last four years of her public school education at Västerås, after which she then attended a finishing school for one year. In 1889 she moved to Stockholm where she worked, amongst other things, as a shop assistant for a time.
Karin Adamsson joined the Södermalm Social Democratic party youth club in 1905 and her new acquaintances there included Zeth and Gullan Höglund, with whom she became lifelong friends. A few years later, in 1908, Karin Adamsson was one of the founding members of the Södermalms kvinnogille (women’s guild). She was the guild’s first chair and became a good friend of Anna Johansson-Visborg, who was chair of section 15 of the Brewery Workers’ Association as well as a chair of Kvinnogillesförbundet from 1907–1938.
Karin Adamsson had a thirst for knowledge and attended evening courses at the Stockholm borgarskola (citizens’ school). She lived in Berlin for the year in 1910, working at a factory and mastering the German language. Upon her return to Sweden in early 1911 she met Nils Adamsson, who – having set up his first health-care shop in Falköping a few years earlier – had just opened his second branch in Centralpalatset near Tegelbacken in Stockholm. Karin Adamsson was initially employed there as an assistant and subsequently as manager of the section dedicated to women’s care. It was not long before she and Nils Adamsson moved in together and lived in a so-called common-law marriage.
During the decades leading up to 1900 many young Socialists had been imprisoned for a variety of criminal offences: lese-majesty, blasphemy, and the distribution of speeches or publications which were deemed disorderly or immoral. These individuals were viewed as rebels who sought to upset established society whilst their supporters considered them to be political prisoners. A new law was created following the talks given in 1910 by Hinke Bergegren, a young Socialist, on “Love without progeny”. This law came to be known as the contraception law or Lex Hinke and made it a crime to both inform people about methods of contraception and to sell such methods. By introducing an addendum to the legislation on the freedom of information it became illegal to even produce written material on contraception. It was, however, not illegal to use contraception – otherwise large numbers of the bourgeoisie would have been liable to prosecution – but informing the illiterate about contraception became an offence and remained such until 1938 when the law was repealed.
Shortly after the law had been introduced Nils Adamsson was condemned to two months’ imprisonment through ‘Lex Hinke’ on account of a leaflet he had produced containing information on contraception. The following year Karin Adamsson suffered the same fate. Her crime was to be the publisher legally responsible for a text called Lifsglädje och sympati i belysning af könsfrågan. This text included a section which closely resembled a summary of sexual education as well as information on contraception and how to use it. A price-list of items which could be purchased or sent for through a postal order from Nils Adamsson’s health-care shops was also included. Karin Adamsson was legally condemned – according to the new addendum in the legislation regarding freedom of information – on a charge of disseminating material which was considered “harmful to public order and morality”.
Karin Adamsson was locked up in the women’s prison in Östermalm in early 1913. She was released two months later having served her full sentence. In October that same year Karin Adamsson had her first child with Nils and a few months later the couple married. Karin Adamsson remained politically active and when the Social Democratic Workers’ party (SAP) split in 1917 she joined the Swedish Social Democratic Left Party. This party, in 1921, became the Swedish Communist party (SKP). For a time she led the party’s women’s division in which she, along with others, energetically worked against the contraception laws and the strict application of abortion legislation – these laws primarily impacted on working-class women. In 1928 she authored a leaflet entitled Kvinnans gissel: obegränsad barnökning. Några maningsord till Sveriges kvinnor.
Karin Adamsson, like her friends Kata Dalström and Zeth Höglund, belonged to the section of the SKP which was critical of its Moscow leadership. The so-called ‘Höglundists’ were banned in 1924 and thus rejoined SAP in 1926. Karin Adamsson joined the Bromma-Västerled Social Democratic association in which she held positions of responsibility for several years.
Karin Adamsson was both a successful and a hard-working businesswoman who, with her husband Nils, set up AB Nils Adamsson sjukvårdsaffärer. Following a few years of financial difficulties, partly due to the restrictions on trade imposed during the First World War and several bankruptcies, the business stabilised thanks to Karin Adamsson’s organisational skills. The business quickly became a chain of shops which at its peak had fifty shops nationwide. In 1925 she was one of the founding members of the Svenska sjukvårdsaffärernas riksförbund (national association of Swedish health-care shops) and was a member of the board for many years. The association’s aim was to clean up the industry and improve its standing. Nils Adamsson increasingly withdrew from the business throughout the 1930s and upon his death in 1939 Karin Adamsson formally took over the running of their business, serving as its CEO until her own death in 1955. She was then succeeded by her son Sölve.
Karin Adamsson retained her connection with the Södermalms kvinnogille throughout her life and became an honorary member of the guild. She was also a proud member of Frihetskämparnas förening (The Freedom fighters’ association) which was set up in 1946 by people who had formerly been imprisoned as a result of their political activism.
Karin Adamsson died in March 1958 and is buried at Bromma cemetery.