Maja Schmidt was a leading figure of the Swedish ‘lotta’ (Women’s Voluntary Defence Service) movement, primarily in her role as head of the national ‘lotta’ corps.
Maja Schmidt was born in 1879. She was the eldest of four children born to Viva Södergren and her husband Jesper Södergren. She grew up in Skaraborg. In 1901 she married Lieutenant Tell Schmidt.
She and her family moved to Visby in 1922 when her husband was appointed military commander on Gotland. It was there that Maja Schmidt first came into contact with the then newly-established ‘lotta’ movement. During the 1925 Whitsun holiday the Stockholms landstormsförbund (militia association) arrived in Gotland to run a major military exercise, entirely financed through fundraising by the association’s women’s group. In the spring of 1926 the Schmidt couple, in conjunction with the governor of Gotland Gustaf Roos and his wife Elisabeth, called a meeting in order to create an organisation in Gotland which corresponded to Stockholms landstormsförbund and its women’s group. The women’s group chose the name Gotlands Nationalbevärings kvinnoförbund (Gotland national guard women’s association) and appointed Maja Schmidt as its chair. For the ensuing two years Maja Schmidt was involved in establishing local sections of the association across Gotland and in helping these groups to support the men’s sections both practically and financially. Maja Schmidt later claimed that the island’s serious engagement in voluntary defence work and the women’s fundraising activities was a response to the major cuts made to the national defence budget during the 1920s and their impact on Gotland’s military defences.
In 1928 Maja Schmidt’s husband was given a ‘övergångsstat’ (temporary position) in Stockholm and so she made her way to Föreningen Stockholms Landstormskvinnor (Stockholm women’s national guard society, now known as Stockholms lottakår). As its founder and chair, Tyra Wadner, left the capital shortly thereafter Maja Schmidt replaced her.
As chair of the Stockholm section Maja Schmidt became a prominent figure in the rapidly expanding national ‘lotta’ movement. It was the Stockholm section which coordinated the local branches and when a national women’s council was set up under Landstormsförbundet Maja Schmidt also became its chair. Nearly ten years later, when these women became disaffiliated from the landstorm movement to form an independent organisation known as Riksförbundet Sveriges lottakårer (national association of Swedish ‘lotta’ corps) she was once again elected chair and remained in post until the summer of 1945. Maja Schmidt was thus in charge of the ‘lotta’ movement for most of its early phase and throughout the crisis period which saw rapid growth in membership and a significant expansion in activities.
Maja Schmidt is often described in the ‘lotta’ movement retrospectives and anniversary publications as a warm and happy person who had a special knack for speaking to and enthusing members, as well as the public and royal personages. She was further said to be in command of an exceptional memory and able to learn both the name and area of activity of each ‘lotta’ she met.
Money was collected before Maja Schmidt’s 65th birthday on behalf of a fund named after her, which was to provide an annual income for her through its accrued interest.
Maja Schmidt died in 1972, aged 92. She is buried beside her husband at Berga cemetery near Mariestad.