Anna Bugge Wicksell – Women’s Suffrage Activist

When Anna Bugge received an offer of non-marriage from Knut Wicksell, she hesitated. Wicksell did not believe in the institution of marriage, being of the opinion that the legal definition of a wife as the property of the husband degraded women. Anna Bugge agreed, but the step from principle to action was perilous.

Anna Bugge was born in Norway in 1862, and belonged to the first generation of girls to be granted an education almost equal to that of boys. At school she helped form a female debating society, discussing topics such as “What defines a woman, and should one exert oneself to remain feminine?”. (The conclusion: “Every woman’s goal ought to be to get rid of her femininity, and it would be glorious to see the day when this term is deemed old-fashioned”.)

Bugge obtained a university degree in Latin, French and English in 1887, and continued to study law, with the aim of becoming a solicitor (despite the fact that women could not at this time become solicitors in Norway). While studying, Bugge became involved in the Norwegian women’s suffrage movement.  She made her voice heard in political debates, steadfastly arguing her opinion that the women’s movement should not be directed against men, but should rather unite men and women to change society.

Anna Bugge and Knut Wicksell became acquainted at the Nordic Women’s Congress in Copenhagen in 1888. Bugge was there to speak on workers’ rights and peace; the latter was a subject that she was to spend a large part of her career campaigning for. Knut Wicksell, the Swedish economist, atheist, agitator, and proponent of birth control, happened to be in Copenhagen, and decided to visit the Women’s Congress out of curiosity.

Wicksell and Bugge developed a relationship that was to lead him to offer her, in 1889, love and companionship – but not marriage. Knut Wicksell had propagated for years for marriage to be reformed. His conscience would not allow him to go against his principles, even for the sake of the woman he loved. For Anna Bugge, whose family was bourgeois to the hilt, the choice to enter into a “marriage of conscience” with Knut Wicksell – a notorious radical with a bad reputation – was not an easy one. She was to suffer the pain and humiliation of being snubbed by the bourgeoisie, and even to be cut off for several years from her family. However, Anna Bugge and Knut Wicksell were to live happily together until Wicksell died in 1926. They lived in Lund, Sweden, where Wicksell was professor of economics, and they had two sons.

Anna Bugge never did become a solicitor, but she obtained a degree in law in 1911. Her legal expertise was an enormous asset to the Swedish women’s suffrage movement. For instance, Bugge realised in 1909 that a change to the law had unintentionally given married women the right to vote in Council elections. This was a partial victory for the suffrage movement, and a party was given in Bugge’s honour in Stockholm in 1912, where she received a gift – a pendant of gold engraved with the symbol of the International Alliance of Women – presented by Karolina Widerström.

Anna Bugge was one of the first women in Sweden to argue publicly for women’s suffrage, in 1895. When Swedish women finally did gain the right to vote, in 1921, it was in large part thanks to her efforts.

Written for Sheroes of History by Ingrid Lyberg

Main source: Liv Wicksell Nordqvist, Anna Bugge Wicksell: En kvinna före sin tid. Lund: Liber förlag, 1985.
Additional source: Liberala Kvinnor (


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One thought on “Anna Bugge Wicksell – Women’s Suffrage Activist”

  1. I appreciate the clarity and the depth of this article. From one of Anna Bugge’s Great Great Grandsons, Jesper Nordqvist.

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