Laura Fåhræus was a philanthropist and governor’s wife who was active in Gothenburg, primarily during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Laura Fåhræus was born in Stockholm in 1803. She was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Mårten Sturtzenbecker and Petronella Laurentia, née Enander. Laura Fåhræus married her cousin Olof Fåhræus when she was 20 years old. They had eight children together, only three of whom survived into adulthood. From 1826–1840 Olof was the district head of the western customs district based in Gothenburg. At the end of that period he became a cabinet minister. In 1847 he was appointed governor of Gothenburg and Bohus county and thus Laura Fåhræus became the governor’s wife, which entailed formal representative and hostess roles at various public occasions. It was in fact for her efforts within charitable work, particularly the setting up of Sällskapet för uppmuntrande af öm och sedlig Modersvård hos fattigare, med flere barn försedda mödrar (society to encourage the tender and ethical treatment of poor mothers with more than one child) that Laura Fåhræus was best known.
The society was founded in response to the new poor-relief laws enacted in 1847 which accepted that the poor had a right to state support. This was a controversial approach as many believed that poor relief should be based on voluntary action and Christian love. There was great misapprehension that giving poor relief a mandatory aspect would increase abuse of the same relief. Many trusts and associations had been established in order to relieve poverty in other ways. Poor relief, it was felt, should be directed towards the “undeservedly poor”, namely those who were poor through no fault of their own. Further, it was believed that poor relief should engender a drive to seek employment and striving towards higher morals amongst the poor.
In 1849 Laura Fåhræus sent out an appeal directed at the better-off ladies of Gothenburg, challenging them to undertake measures on behalf of the deserving poor. The appeal led to the setting up of Sällskapet för uppmuntrande af öm och sedlig Modersvård hos fattigare, med flere barn försedda mödrar. Membership of the society rose quickly to one hundred members and its activities expanded. Members made home visits to poor mothers who received instruction in household management and childcare. Further, the society sought to find employment that these mothers could carry out within the home. This was important given that childcare was central to the society. The items produced by these mothers were then sold through the society at annual bazaars. The society rarely handed over cash to the mothers they were supporting even though it was impossible for these women to live off the small income they generated.
Laura Fåhræus was chair of the society from its inception in 1849 until 1864. She was also responsible for exhibiting the products the women of the town created. The intention with this income was to set up a fund for a hospital to care for the terminally ill. Laura Fåhræus also sought to generate handicrafts for another charity, namely a refuge for former female prisoners located in Stockholm, but which would also benefit the whole country.
Laura Fåhræus died in 1875. She is buried at Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.