Lovisa Åhrberg was a self-taught medical doctor who had her own surgery.
Lovisa Åhrberg was born in Uppsala in 1801. She came from a simple background but both her mother and her maternal grandmother were healers and provided treatments for various health problems, although neither of them was formally medically trained. Lovisa Åhrberg followed in their footsteps. She moved to Stockholm during the 1820s and she became employed as a maid for a certain family there. Further to performing her maid’s duties she also provided successful health treatments. She became known for her skills and this led her, during the 1840s, to set up her own surgery at Lilla Vattugränd in Stockholm.
The historiography on Lovisa Åhrberg – who was known as Jungfru (Miss) Åhrberg by her contemporaries – mainly recounts the help she provided to the poor and needy who did not have the means to pay for official healthcare. Her name and positive reputation meant that people from all walks of life sought her help. Her enterprise expanded and she treated a large number of patients every day. Although formally trained doctors tended to be sceptical of her efforts they became less vocal after 1852 when Lovisa Åhrberg received a medal from King Oscar I in recognition of her civic services. The author Fredrika Bremer expressed her admiration for Lovisa Åhrberg in her novel Hertha as an example of public recognition the healer enjoyed.
Bo S. Lindberg’s survey of the history of surgery and surgeons in Sweden states that Lovisa Åhrberg applied varying fees to her patients. Poor people only paid small sums whilst the well-off paid handsomely for their treatment. The survey reveals that ‘Jungfru Åhlberg’s’ reputation for healing extended far beyond the capital city. Blekinge-Posten, for example, published a tribute to her services in 1881.
All her hard work in providing health services took its toll on Lovisa Åhrberg’s own health. She had gone almost completely blind by the time of her final years spent working as a healer – or as she was contemporarily known, a barber-surgeon.
Lovisa Åhrberg died in Stockholm in 1881. She is buried at Norra begravningsplatsen (The Northern Cemetery) in Solna.