Vera Sandberg was the first woman to qualify as an engineer at Chalmers tekniska institut (institute of technology) in Gothenburg. She received recognition for this achievement both during her lifetime and posthumously.
Vera Sandberg was born on a farm in Ljungby, Småland in 1895. Her father died when she was nine years old and so she was brought up by her mother. Her mother was the foster daughter of the owner of the Långasjönäs papermill, north of Karlshamn, and she had taken over the running of the mill following his death.
Vera Sandberg attended Karlshamns elementarläroverk för flickor (girls’ school) from 1905–1912 and then spent a year in the section of Sävsjö praktiska skola (practical school) for those seeking to enrol at state-run technical schools. Following her success in the entrance exams she, then aged 19, began studying at Chalmers tekniska institut in the department of chemistry and chemical technology in the autumn of 1914. Her acceptance at the school made the newspapers of the day and was also used in advertising for Sävsjö praktiska skola.
At this time training opportunities within the sphere of technology were undergoing both a quantitative and qualitative transformation. The Swedish parliament awarded major subsidies to Chalmers and accepted its name change from teknisk läroanstalt (technical school) to tekniskt institut in the spring of 1914. These decisions were taken following a drawn-out power struggle with the Kungl. Tekniska högskolan (KTH) (royal college of technology) in Stockholm which had heavily protested the initial name suggested for Chalmers, namely Chalmers tekniska högskola. There had already been a number of women enrolled at KTH as ‘extraordinary students’, largely within the spheres of chemistry and architecture.
Vera Sandberg was, however, the first female student to enrol at Chalmers tekniska institut. Despite the school’s transformation it still followed traditional and long-established structures, largely inhabited by men alone – this delimitation was so self-imposed that it had barely been recognised before Vera Sandberg broke down the barrier. The Chalmers publication, Rasp, contained a poem which ran: “Eve is a technician. Death and misery! Adam no longer holds the key to mystery”. The following year an anonymous (albeit attributed to Vera Sandberg) response was published: “I came to Chalmers with my female logic and female smarts, but now I am clear-minded and erudite. Oh how sorrow engulfs my heart. Neither woman nor man am I”. An additional, more obvious verse followed: “I create sulphate, don’t cook or wash dishes, but value my wishes as the world will be ours when women are free”. Vera Sandberg completed the tough three-year course in 1917, once again making her newsworthy: “That such a young girl has mastered the engineer’s course in such a short time is testimony to her unusual diligence and talent”.
Vera Sandberg then took a job with a chemical company in Partille, where she rapidly advanced to head of the laboratory. She then worked at the family paper mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1919. That same year she published an article entitled “Ingenjörsyrket såsom kvinnligt verksamhetsfält” in an anthology called Kvinnliga yrken och deras förutsättningar. Her article affirmed that women had little access to technical training and that her studies at Chalmers had been forced. Despite women being able to gain qualifications a number of professions still remained largely inaccessible to them, such as the road- and water works, whilst others offered better conditions. “The female engineer’s most natural and rewarding technical career option lies within the field of chemistry. By careful diligence and patience she may be able to challenge a man”. She explained that although they also faced competition from university-trained chemists women were, however, able to work in more practical than academic spheres. Further, the training did not make one a fully qualified chemist and it was good to undertake further training abroad.
Vera Sandberg did this herself. She undertook study trips to Germany during the early 1920s. The difficulty in finding employment may also have been due to the economic depression of the era. For example, Vera Sandberg applied for a variety of government posts, including at the naval administration, which probably went to civil engineers who had gained their qualifications at KTH. In the autumn of 1922 she applied to study and sit exams at Uppsala university even though she was not in possession of a school-leaving certificate. One of the mathematics professors felt that her extensive knowledge of the natural sciences and technical subjects did not outweigh her lacks in the humanities and the faculty of philosophy advised against her admission, which led His Majesty the king to reject her application. In 1923 Vera Sandberg gained her school-leaving certificate from Högre realläroverket in Gothenburg so that she could then attend Stockholm college. For this she was awarded a stipend from Fredrika-Bremer-Förbundet (association). Vera Sandberg then spent the years 1925–1937 in various posts, the longest being at Sieverts Kabelverk in Sundbyberg.
In the spring of 1937 Vera Sandberg married fellow Chalmers engineer Ragnar Resare. They had known each other since their days in Gothenburg and he had just become a widower the previous year. The couple had no children together but Ragnar Resare had had five sons in his first marriage. Vera Sandberg moved in with him in Storfors and cared for the large family. She did not then return to her professional career but worked within the family paper mill. Following her husband’s death in 1950 she settled in Stockholm where she died on Christmas Eve in 1979.
Vera Sandberg was a pioneer within the sphere of female engineers. Although she was an original she was also reminiscent of other earlier women who sought technical qualifications. These studies tended to begin in chemistry and it was not unusual for the career path to come to an end when raising a family became a priority. The amateur theatre group at Chalmers tekniska högskola has been named after Vera Sandberg, whilst Vera Sandbergs allé in Gothenburg and Vera Sandbergs gata in Ljungby both commemorate her. A statue of Vera Sandberg is placed in Vera Sandbergs allé, Gothenburg.
Vera Sandberg is buried at The Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm.