Lilly Arrhenius Beyer was an author and a polemicist who was heavily involved in social housing matters and consumer issues. She was also active in the Cooperative association and in Stockholm town council.
Lilly Arrhenius Beyer was born in Karlstad in 1904. Her father was Georg Samuelson, who served as ‘landssekreterare’ (an official of the county office), and Karin Arrhenius, who was a physical education instructor. Lilly Arrhenius Beyer was the eldest of five siblings. In 1930 she married Nils Beyer, a journalist. The couple settled in Stockholm where their daughter, Katrina, was born in 1937.
During the 1930s Lilly Arrhenius Beyer trained as a social worker. Further to her efforts as a price regulator for the Stockholm wartime crisis board she also frequently engaged in the ongoing debates on contemporary burning social issues and, like Alva Myrdal, she was a strong proponent of the concept of functionalism and of the establishment of housing cooperatives. Lilly Arrhenius Beyer felt that the focus should lie on women’s roles within the home, believing that it was women who were hardest hit by poor housing. She wanted to see housing policies aimed at cooperative living “along the lines of what is being done in Russia”. She championed collective food preparation and washing facilities as well as children’s nurseries and play areas for older children. She claimed that all these aspects would free women from the most draining chores within the home and thus allow them to devote themselves to actual family life in their spare time. Lilly Arrhenius Beyer also viewed housing cooperatives as a means of providing accommodation for single mothers.
From the late 1940s onwards and throughout most of the 1950s Lilly Arrhenius Beyer’s work as a housing consultant gave her extensive insight into housing matters. However, she was also engaged in other social and consumer issues. Her polemical articles, mostly published in Tidevarvet but also in Morgonbris, often had provocative headlines, such as “Skapa nyttighet åt alla! Intimare samverkan mellan slöjdföreningen och arbetarkvinnorna!” (Create universal utility! Closer collaboration between the handicrafts association and working women!) and “Matens värde – och kvinnans. Fabriksmaten revolutionerande!” (The value of food – and of women. Prepared meals are revolutionary!).
In response to an exhibition of the German artist and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz Lilly Arrhenius Beyer emphasised her belief that artists were duty-bound to represent human ideals which socially active citizens could then benefit from in their localities. When working as a reviewer of the arts she put the emphasis on women’s place within society. She championed, for example, Albin Amelin, a pro-Communist artist, as a role model due to his portrayal of women who had lived challenging and hard-going lives. In Lilly Arrhenius Beyer’s opinion Amelin summarised these women’s lives in an honest fashion in their faces. Lilly Arrhenius Beyer could also be harsh in her judgements. When reviewing a 1930 exhibition of Albert Engström's (who was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Art) drawings of Swedish people she claimed that the world he depicted in his work was devoid of modern social problems and that the contemptuously portrayed suffragettes would hardly have existed during the nineteenth century. Engström’s illustrated world revealed that the sole role of women was to “obey their husbands, have children, and be delightful”.
Lilly Arrhenius Beyer’s many books on home life and home furnishings were also based on the concept of the mutual influence of humans on the constructed environment. In her Det levande hemmet: en handbok om heminredning och hemtrivsel, from 1952, the illustrations accompanying her text were suggestive black-and-white photographs in contrast to the beautiful colour photography of other interior design publications. She also referred to her book as a handbook for a series of radio programmes on home furnishings and a happy home life.
She also published a couple of books under the pseudonym of Anne Sofie Berg which discussed becoming blind at a mature age, something she herself experienced. She sought to arouse compassion for the blind through her books whilst also revealing that a great misfortune, such a losing your sight, could awaken new forces in a person. Her books also describe mourning everything she had lost, not least the ability to keep up with the polemics surrounding consumer issues in the emerging welfare state.
Lilly Arrhenius Beyer died in Stockholm in 1993.