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Zachris Castrén

Zachris Castrén
Born December 12, 1868, Oulu. Died January 31, 1938, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1891, PhD 1899 (philosophy of religion, ethics), honorary professorship 1928, University of Helsinki

Curator of the Pohjalainen student nation 1899–1904
Curator of the Pohjois-Pohjalainen student nation 1907–08
Chairman of the student union 1899–1903
President of the Finnish Youth League 1899–1909
Docent in practical philosophy (philosophy of religion) 1903
Acting editorial secretary of Valvoja 1893–94, editor-in-chief 1906–08, 1914–19
Director of the Helsinki Adult Education Institute and its Finnish language division 1914–38
Founding member of the Young Finnish Party, member of the party’s central committee 1906–13 and member of parliament 1909
Member of the central committee of the Finnish National Progressive Party and chairman of its programme committee 1925–26
Vice-chairman of the Federation of Municipal Officers 1919, Chairman 1920–36
Vice-chairman of the Intellectual Employment Union 1922–34

Picture: Portrait in the Opistotalo building of the Helsinki Adult Education Institute / artist Kaapo Wirtanen 1938
Written by Olli Siitonen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Pioneer of Adult Education

Zachris Castrén belonged to the board of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation from the beginning of the 20th century until his death almost 20 years later. In addition, he was chosen to the leadership of the Helsinki Finnish Adult Education Institute. Castrén approved of so-called ‘Tannerite’ socialism, which aimed to improve standards of living, but he opposed revolutionary activity. He felt that efforts to completely eradicate class divides would eventually lead to the birth of a socialist dictatorship.

As a well-known pacifist, Castrén rejected violence; rather, he believed reform would spring from the nation itself through educational work. He attempted to effect a peaceful solution to the 1918 Finnish Civil War as a member of a club led by K.J. Ståhlberg. When the war ended, Castrén appealed to the victorious Whites to spare the Reds. Dr Castrén, a champion of republicanism, opposed the systematic destruction of the losing side, as recognition solely of the interests of the victors would create the potential for a mood of reprisal.

After the war Castrén became involved in trade unionism, when he was elected vice-chairman of the Federation of Municipal Officers in 1919 and chairman one year later. In 1922 he became vice-chairman of the Intellectual Employment Union (later the Federation of Clerical Employees’ and Civil Servant’s Organisations). Interest groups had already played a part in social liberal plans for civil society in the 19th century. The basic idea of such organisations was for them to work in tandem with the parliamentary system.

In 1939, the eponymously named Zachris Castrén Foundation was established in connection with the Adult Education Institute. In existence to this day, its main task is to distribute grants to students for further studies outside the Adult Education Institute.

Helsinki Finnish Adult Education Institute, Helsinginkatu 26.


  • Muiluvuori, Jukka, Castrén, Zachris, National Biography online publication, SKS, (Accessed 29 September 2015).
  • Klinge Matti (ed.) Helsingin yliopisto 1640–1990. 2. osa Keisarillinen Aleksanterin yliopisto 1808–1917 (‘University of Helsinki 1640–1990. Part 2. Imperial Alexander University 1808–1917’). Otava, Helsinki 1989.
  • Zachris Castrén 1868–1938, Helsingin työväenopiston johtaja, kansanedustaja (‘Director of the Helsinki Adult Education Institute and Member of Parliament’), Online publication of the Helsinki Adult Education Institute (Accessed 29 September 2015).
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