Tekla Åberg was the school principal at the school she started and ran, Tekla Åbergs högre allmänna läroverk för flickor in Malmö. It was the first grammar school for girls outside Stockholm where girls could matriculate.
Tekla Åberg was born on 26 October 1853 in a wealthy family in Åmål. Her father, works owner Johan (Janne) Åberg, was one of the wealthiest citizens in the town. He donated considerable sums of money to the poor in the town. His wife, Brita von Oldenskiöld, was an officer’s daughter. Tekla Åberg had many siblings, but several died as infants and their mother died in childbirth in 1857. Their father, who remarried a widow with five children of her own, had however bad luck. After unlucky speculations, guarantor commitments, and sinking iron prices, he was ruined and had to go bankrupt in 1864. Everything had to be sold by auction. He seems anyway to have succeeded in starting again, and when he died at the age of 60 in 1877, he was listed in the church resident registration as “chief accountant in the Sparbanken savings bank”.
The many children in the Åberg family were taught at home by governesses. Some of Tekla Åberg’s exercise books have been preserved: essays in Swedish, translations to English and French and exercises in mathematics and geometry. In 1875, Tekla Åberg moved to Mariefred, where she ran her own school in her home and also gave private lessons to individual pupils. In 1884, she signed on for the Latin section at the Wallinska skolan in Stockholm. Two years later, Tekla Åberg matriculated as a private pupil, and when she took her final examination she was 32 years of age.
In the autumn of 1886, Tekla Åberg accepted an appointment as a governess at Örbyhus country estate north of Uppsala, and there she stayed for two years, while she applied for a more qualified appointment. At the beginning of July 1888, she came into contact with the Fredrika-Bremer-Förbundet’s bureau. It acted as a labour exchange for women with qualified professions. That was where a girls’ grammar school in Malmö, Else Mayers högre läroverk för flickor, had turned when searching for a new principal. Almost without breathing, Tekla Åberg has described how she hurried to Malmö and negotiated with the School board. Thereafter, things happened rapidly, and as soon as the 27 July, there were reports in the newspapers that the school had a new leader.
This was when Tekla Åberg’s career took off in earnest, and this school became her life project. She came to be one of all the (usually unmarried) women who dedicated their entire lives to girls’ betterment and education. Being unmarried and without inheritance, she was compelled to support herself. She became in actual fact the only professional daughter in the family.
For a long time, the school struggled with problems of finding suitable premises and was therefore located for several years at three different places in Malmö. Some of the pupils were in lodgings, usually in the school’s own premises. The economy was also a great problem during the first years. Despite this, the school soon acquired a good reputation and the number of pupils grew from 27 girls to over 500 towards the end of Tekla Åberg’s time as principal. The school was first a secondary school called Tekla Åbergs läroverk för flickor, but in 1896, it was extended by four years of high school, and the name was then changed to grammar school (“högre läroverk”).
The girls first took their examinations at the boys’ grammar school in Malmö (latinskolan), but in the spring of 1900, the school was permitted to examine its pupils itself, since it had been granted a so-called special permission by the king (Kungl Maj:t).
Tekla Åberg’s own engagement in the school was intense. She took care of the entire administration herself for a long time, and herself filled in all the marks. The problem with premises was noted by the city’s leadership. The municipal council granted the school a plot of land where a new building could be erected with money organised by means of a limited company that was founded just for that particular purpose. The school was opened in 1904 with pomp and circumstance; even the Stockholm magazine Idun published a long reportage.
Tekla Åberg kept close contact with her siblings and their families. She also participated frequently in the middle-class social life in Malmö, further cultivating her taste by attending concerts, exhibitions and museums in Copenhagen and listening to lectures in Malmö and Lund. Tekla Åberg came from contexts that enabled her to carry herself well in varying company and create a social network. Despite all the difficulties, her energy and purposefulness enabled her to cope. Her school became very successful, and was well-known for several generations. She was independent, not employed by anyone, and she was able to design her school’s activities as she wished. For her contributions, she was awarded the medal Illis quorum in 1913.
The school remained “Tekla Åberg’s” right up until 1940, and currently the beautiful building belongs to the Malmö Opera.
Tekla Åberg died of heart disease at the home of one of her sisters in Stockholm on the 17 November 1922. She lies buried at the Northern Cemetery in Solna.