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Axel Lille

Axel Johan Lille
Born March 28, 1848, Helsinki. Died June 28, 1921, Helsinki

Bachelor of Arts 1872 and Master of Arts 1873, Bachelor of Civil and Canon Law 1879, Licentiate and PhD 1882, Imperial Alexander University
Studies in Strasbourg a Leipzig 1879–1880

Permanent assistant 1919–1921, Åbo Underrättelser
Press attaché 1918–1919, Stockholm
Executive director 1917–1918, Kaupunkien yleinen paloapuyhtiö (fire insurance company)
Editor-in-chief 1914–1917, assistant 1917–1921, Dagens Press
Journalist 1902–1905, Stockholms-Tidningen
Editor-in-chief 1900–1901, Dagligt Allehanda
Editor-in-chief 1882–1900 and 1906–1914, Nya Pressen
Journalist 1873, Wiborgs Tidning
Journalist 1870–1874, Vikingen

Founder and chairman 1906–1917, Swedish People’s Party in Finland
Member of Parliament 1917, Swedish People’s Party in Finland
Representative of the Burgher Estate in the Diet of Finland 1884–1900
Trustee, 1879 Nyländska afdelningen (Uusimaa Student Nation)

Honours and eponymously named awards
The Axel Lille Medal 1956–, The highest honorary medal awarded by the Swedish People’s Party in Finland.
Honorary member 1888, Nyländska afdelningen (Uusimaa Student Nation)

Picture : K. E. Ståhlberg / Helsinki City Museum
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Swedish nationalist from Uusimaa

When he enrolled at the Imperial Alexander University in 1866, Axel Lille also joined what was then an illegal student nation. Two years later, when student nations were legalised once more, it continued its operations under the name Nyländska afdelningen (Uusimaa Student Nation). At the student nation, Lille gained his first experience of the work of a journalist and the exercise of political influence. A powerful group of pro-Swedish activists, Svecomans, had gathered around Professor Axel Olof Freudenthal at the student organisation. Lille joined this group, and soon he became one of its leading figures. He worked as an assistant on the editorial board of Nyländska afdelningen’s newspaper, Nylands Dragon, where he learnt the fundamentals of newspaper work. He also began to publish a satirical magazine called Myggan. Lille engaged in more professional newspaper activity when the first purely pro-Swedish newspaper, Vikingen, was founded in 1870. Lille was instrumental in the establishment of the newspaper, joined its editorial team and worked as its editor-in-chief in 1874, the final year of its publication. The newspaper took a strict Swedish nationalist line, which ultimately led to an unsustainably small circulation. The newspaper, no longer financially viable, was forced to close. The paper’s name came from the name given to pro-Swedish activists in common parlance: ‘the Vikings.’

The first issue of Vikingen during Lille’s term as editor-in-chief appeared on January 3, 1874. Source: the National Library’s digital collections.

Lille’s pro-Swedish sentiments took a different course to those of his mentor. While Freudenthal focused on questions of race, Lille emphasised the cultural differences between the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking sections of the population. Aside from questions of language, Lille was interested in individual freedom, constitutionalism and economic liberalism. Moreover, he became a strong opponent of Russification.

Lille graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1972, after which he continued his studies by switching to law. He graduated as a Master of civil and canon law in 1879 and completed his PhD in 1882 with his doctoral dissertation Försäkringsväsendet, dess historiska utveckling och nationalekonomiska betydelse. Lille nevertheless achieved his greatest acclaim outside the academic world as a prominent political figure.

Lille was influential at Nyländska afdelningen throughout his time as a student and beyond. He was chosen as Freudenthal’s successor as curator in 1879, and he continued in that role until 1888. When speaking at the student nation’s annual party in 1902, Lille was among the first to explicitly present the idea of Finnish independence at a public occasion. Some months later, he considered it best to go into voluntary exile in Sweden, from where he returned in 1906, after the political climate had changed.

A portrait by Albert Edelfelt of Axel Lille as the curator of Nyländska afdelningen. Source: Nylands nations vid Helsingfors universitet konstsamling


  • Max Hanemann, Axel Lille. En levnadsteckning (A Biography’), Helsinki 1931
  • Lars-Folke Landgrén, ‘Lille, Axel Johan’, Biografiskt lexikon för Finland (online publication). Accessed November 2, 2015.
  • ‘Axel Lille’, Wikipedia. Accessed November 2, 2015.
  • ‘Lille, Axel’, Uppslagsverket Finland (online publication). Accessed November 2, 2015.
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