Ragnhild Brolinson worked as a teacher at both public schools and girls’ schools, as well as in ‘småskoleseminarier’ (junior school teaching programmes) at various places throughout Sweden. She was the first person in Sweden to teach home economics at a public school and the first to train to train other teachers in the same field.
Ragnhild Brolinson was born in 1847. She was the second child of Claes Adolph Brolinson, a factory manager, and his wife Johanna Eugenia Pettersen. There appears to have been a strong tradition of education within the family, whose ancestors included clergy from Uppland. The family also appears to have had access to a considerable capital, which could be used to fund Ragnhild Brolinson’s studies. She started her education at a girls’ school in Uppsala. Ragnhild Brolinson’s mother, Johanna Eugenia Petterson, died when Ragnhild was in her early teens. This resulted in Ragnhild and her brother Claes being placed as wards of their paternal uncle. The siblings thereby ended up in Stockholm in the early 1860s. Ragnhild Brolinson received private language lessons and also attended a preparatory course to enable her to continue her education at the newly-established Kungliga Högre Lärarinneseminarium (HLS: advanced teacher-training programme) in Stockholm. In 1863, at age 16, she applied to and was accepted to the programme and thus became part of HLS’s third corps of students. Due to illness Ragnhild Brolinson had to extend her studies, and did not graduate until 1868.
Ragnhild Brolinson set out on her teaching career when she was 21 years old. She initially only held short-term posts in various different parts of Sweden. She first worked at a private school in Oskarshamn, and then in Karlstad, before remaining at Landskrona elementary school for nine years. Further to her work at the school she also had ties to the junior school seminar which was set up in that town in 1870 by her colleague Evald Lundegård, a fellow educator. This was the first time that Ragnhild Brolinson trained teachers, something which she would continued to do on behalf of the junior school enterprise when she became director of the junior school seminar in Uddevalla. By the early 1880s she was seeking a more secure livelihood. She applied to the public schools department in Stockholm, which employed her as an ordinary teacher, initially at the Adolf Frederik school where she worked for three years, and then at the Maria school where she remained for 26 years.
Ragnhild Brolinson’s return to Stockholm in 1883 meant that she could settle down in a familiar place where she had a reputation for being a good teacher, and already had a useful network of contacts within teaching circles. In 1889 she had a significant meeting with Anna Hierta-Retzius who head-hunted her for a new post — to investigate how school cookery-classes were taught in England in order to introduce the subject in Sweden. Ragnhild Brolinson travelled to London that same year, aided by funds from the Lars Hierta Memorial Foundation. In Kensington she attended English teacher-training in home economics, and experienced school cookery-classes as taught in English state-run schools.
The point of introducing school cookery-classes to Sweden was — as previously in England — to improve social conditions for working class girls by teaching them to cook nutritional food and enabling them to practise good housekeeping on a tight budget. These educational efforts were being introduced in several European countries at the same time that Ragnhild Brolinson travelled to England. Other pioneers of school cookery-classes, such as Ingeborg Walin and Ida Norrby, undertook similar trips to Germany, Belgium and Great Britain. All these international experiences were significant to the establishment of school cookery-classes in Sweden.
In 1891 Ragnhild Brolinson led the first cookery-class for girls at the Maria school. The classes consisted in budgeting, theoretical presentations on nutrition, as well as practical cooking. She also ran the first training courses for school-cookery teachers at the same school. This was a three-month course and there were three students. One of these was Ingeborg Schager, who later became the director of Statens Skolköksseminarium (the state-run school-cookery training programme), and made important contributions on behalf of school-cookery teachers and the establishment of home economics as a subject in Sweden. Before the second course began the course length had already been extended to six months and class size expanded to include six students. Although Ragnhild Brolinson only spent a few years teaching home economics her contribution was formative for the subject’s introduction and establishment in Sweden. Subsequently Anna Hierta-Retzius handed over the pioneering effort in the Maria school to HLS who in turn, transformed it into Högre lärarinneseminariets hushållskola (the domestic sciences school of the advanced teacher-training programme), which changed its name in 1926 to Statens Skolköksseminarium.
When she was 65 Ragnhild Brolinson retired from many years’ of working for Stockholm’s state-run schools. Retirement did not mean, however, that she stopped teaching. Instead, she continued as a substitute teacher in the state-run schools until she was in her 80s. Her entire life was played out within the sphere of school-teaching, and she is particularly remembered in Landskrona and in Stockholm — the two places where she trained and worked for the longest time. Posthumous tributes to her described her as a teacher who was able to run well-disciplined classrooms where the interests of her pupils were raised.
Ragnhild Brolinson died in 1940. She lived to be 93 years old. She is buried at Arnö kyrkogård.