Eva Ekeblad was a Swedish noblewoman who was well-regarded by both her contemporaries and by modern people. In part, this is because she was a capable, competent member of her class who was never touched by scandal. However, it should be noted that she had an interest in the sciences, which enabled her to popularize the potato in Sweden. Here are 10 things that you may or may not have known about Eva Ekeblad:
1. She Was a Noblewoman
Ekeblad was a Swedish noblewoman. For instance, her father was a count who served in both war and politics. Moreover, Ekeblad's father was a huge fan of the French, which is why he was the one who introduced the concept of political salons to Sweden.
2. She Lived During the Age of Liberty
Most of Ekeblad's life falls under what is called the Age of Liberty for Sweden. Said period started up with the death of Charles XII in 1718 and came to a close with the self-coup of Gustav III in 1772, meaning that it started up before Ekeblad was born in 1724 and was outlived by her for a time because she died in 1786. The Age of Liberty is named thus because it saw a huge shift of power from the monarch to the Riksdag, which can be explained by the disastrous outcome of the Great Northern War that saw Sweden's ousting from Great Power status.
3. Got Married at a Young Age
Ekeblad is known to have been married at the young age of 16. There is a popular belief in present times that such marriages were common, but in truth, that would be overstating the case. Instead, the record suggest that most women got married in their 20s, not least because most women would've had to save up to start their own households because they were not nobles. For that matter, even noblewomen didn't necessarily have to get married at such young ages because there were plenty of people who believed that it would be bad for their health.
4. Responsible for Running Estates
Speaking of which, most noblewomen had plenty of responsibilities as well. For instance, Ekeblad's husband was out on business most of the time, which is why she was the one who ran their three estates. As for her estate management, well, suffice to say that she was said to have been stern but fair.
5. Hosted Salons
Given her parents, it should come as no surprise to learn that Ekeblad hosted salons, which were gatherings of people meant to entertain them, broaden their horizons, and introduce them to fashionable topics. In the 17th and 18th centuries, salons had a strong connection with French philosophers, meaning that they played an important role in the spreading of the Enlightenment.
6. Got Along Well with the Queen
It is known that Ekeblad got along very well with the Queen of Sweden. In fact, she was offered the position of both chief lady-in-waiting to the Queen and royal governess to the Crown Prince, either one of which would have been a huge sign of trust. Never mind both. Unfortunately, while Ekeblad was said to have been flattered, she suffered a serious illness that left her in poor health from that point forward.
7. Turned the Potato Into a Staple
The Columbian Exchange introduced Europeans to a number of remarkable plants that would have a transformative effect on European societies. However, it took some time for these plants to become popularized. One excellent example was the potato, who was very nourishing but mistrusted by people throughout Europe. In Sweden, it was Ekeblad who turned it from curiosities in the greenhouses of nobles to putting it on the path to becoming a staple.
8. She Discovered a Way to Make Flour and Alcohol Using Potatoes
In short, Ekeblad discovered a way to make both flour and alcohol using potatoes. This produced a surge of popularity for the potato, which was spurred on by other nobles who saw its potential. Something that was particularly important because Sweden struggled with shortages of the cereals that would have been used for those two purposes.
9. She Reduced the Threat of Famine in Sweden
In a very real sense, Ekeblad reduced the threat of famine in Sweden. Hunger is still a real problem in developed countries, but for the most part, true famine isn't something that happens at home but rather something that shows up in far-off lands because of the work of scientific pioneers such as Ekeblad.
10. First Woman in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Due to her efforts, Ekeblad became the first woman to be elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, she was a honorary member rather than a full member because that was limited to men.
11. She revolutionized cosmetics of the day
Even in the 1600s and 1700s, women used cosmetics to enhance their appearance, particularly those from aristocratic well to do families. Some of the ingredients that were used in the cosmetics were not safe and led to health issues. Eva discovered a way to make them safer. She replaced the ingredients which were toxic with potato flour. This eliminated a common health concern for the ladies of Sweden.
12. She altered the textile industry
Among her many significant contributions to the world of science and the betterment of society was a unique way to bleach cotton textile and yarn. She discovered a method of using soap to accomplish this feat in 1751. This greatly enhanced the textile maker's means of offering the materials in a brilliant white for making clothing and other goods. This was a step forward in modernizing the methods of textile production and delivering a more desirable finished product to consumers.
13. Her sister in law advocated for vaccinations
Catharina Charlotta Taube De La Gardie was married to Eva's brother. She advocated for the use of the smallpox vaccine throughout Sweden, but authorities were skeptical. She had her own family vaccinated against the disease and this helped to convince the local farmers in the area that they should have their own children vaccinated as well. This led to a major breakthrough in curbing the incidence of smallpox in the country of Sweden.
14. Eva used potatoes for hair decor
Here is a fun fact that we learned about Eva Ekeblad. Her research with the common potato led to many important discoveries that helped to improve the lives of people in Sweden in many ways. One of these ways was in the area of aesthetics. She made hair ornaments out of the flowers that grew on the potato plants. Eva used this as one of the strategies to advertise the potato plant.
15. Her brothers wife was involved with witch hunts in Sweden
Eva's sister in law Charlotta was instrumental in helping to end the hysteria about witches in Sweden in the 1750s. It came to her attention that women were being arrested and tortured in attempts to make them confess to being witches. Charlotta went to battle for these women and she ensured that the Swedish witch trials were abolished. She also made certain that the parties involved in these atrocities were fired from their posts as well as punished for their crimes against those women, swiftly ending the hysteria and witch hunts in Sweden. She was even awarded a gold medal for her bravery in 1761.
16. She became the owner of a castle at age 16
When Eva married at the young age of 16, her father gave her an amazing wedding gift. He granted her Mariedal Castle as well as Lindholmen Caste, Vastergotland. The estates were worth a fortune, but her father Julius knew that the gifts would be well placed in her care and in the future she would prove just how capable she was of running them properly.
17. Eva Ekeblad wielded a great deal of authority but was kind
History records Eva Ekeblad as a woman who possessed a lot of authority as Swedish nobility, but she was fair in her dispensation. She protected the peasants from the abuse that the bailiffs were capable of dishing out. All she asked in return was obedience. It resulted in a win-win situation for all involved. She, however, was not shy about using her authority to punish all wrong doers and to right the things that she considered to be wrongs. She was said to be temperamental and imposing as well, but Stola manor was ran with impeccable order.
18. She turned down a position at court
After the death of her husband, Eva, who was on friendly terms with the queen was offered a position at court. There were actually two posts she could have assumed. One was as lady in waiting for the queen herself. The other was as the royal governess for the Crown Prince. These grand gestures flattered Eva but she was experiencing health issues which would at times leave her bedridden, so she was obliged to decline them both.
19. Eva's wedding gift to her daughter in-law was grand
Eva's son Claes Julius Ekeblad married in 1775. His wife was Brita Horn. Just three years after the couple were wed, Brita was granted Stola manor. This was an exceptional gift that followed after the traditions of Swedish nobility. It was a dower to her daughter in law.
20. She retired to Mariedal Castle
After turning down the court offers, Eva went to live at Mariedal Castle. This is where she would spend her last six years until her passing. She was a celebrated figure in Swedish aristocracy and her legacy and many contributions to Sweden and to the world are still remembered to this day.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker