Minna Canth (1844–97), who is widely acknowledged as Finland’s first significant female writer, was born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson in Tampere. Her versatile oeuvre includes short stories, novellas, plays and journalism; she wrote mainly in Finnish but also in Swedish. She championed women’s rights and feminism, and drew social issues into her writings and discourse.
She and her husband, Johann Ferdinand Canth (1836–79), lived in Jyväskylä and had seven children. After his death, she became a businesswoman, taking over a draper’s shop in Kuopio. This allowed her the financial independence to provide for her family while also participating in the literary and social-activism scenes; her home became a place where intellectuals and artists gathered.
In a column on the website of Finland’s national broadcasting company Yle, author Johanna Holmström calls Canth “truly one of the people who participated in laying the foundations of culture in Finland.” Holmström takes inspiration from Canth’s fight for women’s rights, while noting that the struggle is far from over, despite the progress that has been made:
“Every generation has to conduct its own battle to drive equality forward, and that’s where we are at the moment. We often forget that our hard-won gains can disappear in the blink of an eye if we lean back and think to ourselves, ‘Everything has already been solved!’”
By ThisisFINLAND staff (including translations), March 2017, updated March 2018