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Axel Olof Freudenthal

Born December 12, 1836, Siuntio. Died June 2, 1911, Helsinki.

Bachelor of Philosophy, 1859, Master of Philosophy, 1860, Doctor of Philosophy, 1865, Imperial Alexander University
Studies in Uppsala, 1861–1862, Copenhagen 1862–1863

Professor of Swedish Language and Literature, 1878–1904, Imperial Alexander University

Acting Professor of Swedish Language and Literature, 1876–1878, Imperial Alexander University
Lektor, Swedish 1868–1878, Helsingfors svenska lyceum (Swedish-medium school)
Docent, Medieval Scandinavian Languages and Antiquities, 1866, Imperial Alexander University

Member, Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 1876; Chairman, 1888–1889
Founder member, Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland (Swedish Literature Society in Finland), 1885
Founder member, Svenska Folkskolans Vänner (Friends of Swedish elementary schooling), 1882
Founder member, Svenska Landsmålsföreningen (Swedish student cultural body), 1874
Curator 1868–1880, Nyländska afdelningen (Uusimaa student nation), Inspector, 1884–86

Nyländska afdelningen memorial, 1913
Riemumaisteri (honorary master’s degree conferred fifty years after a first degree), University of Uppsala, 1910
Honorary member, Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (Society of Swedish Literature in Finland), 1909
Cross of the Order of St Anna, 3rd class, 1904
Honorary member, Svenska Landsmålsföreningen (Swedish student cultural body), 1900
Cross of the Order of St Stanislaus, 3rd class, 1897
Honorary member, Nyländska afdelningen, 1880, Imperial Alexander University
Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, University of Uppsala, 1877

Photo: Nylands Nations konstsamling
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton


The Swedish-speaking nationalist movement in Finland arose in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the Finnish-language nationalism of the Fennoman movement. Supporters of the Swedish-speaking nationalist movement were given the name Svecomans. The movement’s early ideology and agenda were drafted primarily by Axel Olof Freudenthal.

Freudenthal began his battle for Swedish in 1858. This was the year in which he gave an impassioned speech at the then-proscribed Nyländska afdelningen (now Nylands Nation, a ‘nation’ or fraternity for Swedish-speaking students from the Uusimaa region at Helsinki University. He proclaimed that Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority should act as a link between a future sovereign Finland and the Nordic countries.

The student movement was at the centre of the Finnish language strife in the 19th century. Finnish nationalism held increasing sway among students from the 1850s on. By contrast, Swedish-language nationalism mainly built support among students who were from the southern Uusimaa region. Freudenthal became the leader of the movement. When the ‘nations’, i.e., student fraternities based on regional background, were legalised again in 1868, Freudenthal was elected as curator of Nyländska afdelningen. While other nations adopted Finnish to a large extent in the late 19th century, Nyländska afdelningen decided to remain staunchly Swedish speaking. With Freudenthal at its helm, the association had become the core of the Svecoman movement.

Freudenthal was never really a politician. He made his influence on the language question felt mainly through research and culture. His nationalism drew inspiration particularly from Sweden, especially the Scandinavian scholar August Sohlman. However, other parts of Europe also offered plenty of precursors for a variation on the theme of Germanic nationalism.

Language, nationality and race were closely intertwined in Freudenthal’s thinking. Freudenthal countered J. V. Snellman’s idea of one Finnish nation with his own idea: Finland had two different nations, one speaking Finnish and the other Swedish. In accordance with the race theories of the time, at his most radical Freudenthal reasoned that the Finnish-speaking part of the population had to be inferior to the Swedish-speaking one.

Freudenthal’s brand of Svecoman thought bore a distinct sense of Viking romanticism. He was involved in establishing Vikingen, the first openly Svecoman paper in Finland, and later actively contributed to it. The paper was one reason why the Fennoman press began calling Swedish-speaking Finns and Swedish-language nationalists ‘Vikings’.

Freudenthal was one of the founders of the Svecoman movement and early on he was also its chief ideologue. However, not all of the Svecoman movement agreed with him, especially on matters of race. Even though his most radical ideas met with resistance, Freudenthal’s role in the origins of Swedish-language nationalism in Finland is beyond dispute.

Axel Olof Freudenthal served as curator and inspector in Nyländska afdelningen. Painting: Erik Johan Löfgren. Image: Fredrik Forssell. Nylands Nations konstsamling.​
Axel Olof Freudenthal served as curator and inspector in Nyländska afdelningen. Painting: Erik Johan Löfgren. Image: Fredrik Forssell. Nylands Nations konstsamling.​


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