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Honorary Doctorates

Selected eight recipients of honorary doctorates from our faculty

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Born June 4, 1867, Askainen. Died January 27, 1951, Lausanne, Switzerland
Honorary doctorate 1919

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Born April 26, 1865, Pori. Died March 7, 1931, Stockholm
Honorary doctorate 1923

Otto Manninen
Born August 13, 1872, Kangasniemi. Died April 6, 1950, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1927

Frans Emil Sillanpää
Born September 16, 1888, Hämeenkyrö. Died June 3, 1964, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1936

Ilmari Kianto
Born May 7, 1874, Pulkkila. Died April 28, 1970, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1957

Lennart-Georg Meri
Born March 19, 1929, Tallinn. Died March 14, 2006,Tallinn
Honorary doctorate 1986

Esteri Hellen Vapaa-Jää
Born August 24, 1925, Kärkölä. Died November 22, 2011, Espoo
Honorary doctorate 1994

Mirkka Elina Rekola
Born June 26, 1931, Tampere. Died February 5, 2014, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 2000

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Tero Juutilainen and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Esteri Vapaa-Jää—From Handkerchiefs to Art History

Esteri Vapaa-Jää was originally interested in pursuing a medical career, but after the Second World War all the places at the Faculty of Medicine were reserved for men returning from military service. She found another career at the Helsinki Craft School. The shortages caused by the war went on long after the last battles had been fought, which necessitated particular ingenuity from craftspeople. For example, during her studies, Vapaa-Jää found herself considering novel uses for handkerchiefs.

Vapaa-Jää was qualified to teach craftwork after graduating, but she chose not to become a teacher at this point. Instead she turned her attention towards the world of fashion, and her first job was at the La Robe fashion house in Helsinki, where she could become familiar with Helsinki society and the latest trends in fashion.

Esteri Vapaa-Jää is also remembered as a fashion expert. Photo from the Helsinki University Museum.

Fashion was a source of endless fascination for Vapaa-Jää, and she also wanted to explore its international aspects. She left her job at La Robe for some time and went to study in England. After returning to Finland, she continued studying art history and English.

The shortages caused by the war abated in the 1950s, when the Finnish economy recovered and banks began lending money for various projects. As a result of this small economic boom, it was decided that the Helsinki Craft School should have its own building, and Vapaa-Jää was asked to join the project. The building was completed in the late 1950s, and Vapaa-Jää was hired as a teacher. While working as a teacher over the following years, she also studied for her university degree, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts in 1964 and nine years later as a Master of Arts. She was appointed principal of the Craft School in 1968.

The Craft School had earlier been an independent school, but in an effort to turn it into a proper institution of higher learning, it became part of the University of Helsinki; Craftwork teaching continued at the Faculty of History and Languages until 1975. The incorporation of the Craft School into the University of Helsinki was not merely a structural change; rather, the teaching content was also revised to bring it in line with other university subjects. Vapaa-Jää played an active role in planning and implementing the new study programme. As head of craftworks, she continued her work on improving craftwork teaching for many years after the actual reform had taken place. Esteri Vapaa-Jää was given an honorary doctorate in 1994 by the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki for the work she had done on behalf of craftwork.


  • Salo, Ulla-Maija, Vapaa-Jää, Esteri. National Biography of Finland Online Publication. Accessed August 20, 2015.
    Available for free through the Nelli Portal.
  • Salo, Ulla-Maija, Esteri Vapaa-Jää. Obituary published in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat . Accessed August 20, 2015.
  • Virtamaa, Asta (editor), Vuosisata käsityönopetusta 1881–1981 (’A Century of Teaching Craftwork 1881-1981’), The University of Helsinki, Helsinki 1981.
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