Asta Kihlbom was a university lecturer at Uppsala University, Lund University, University College London and London University, and professor at the University of Oslo and University of Bergen. She is gratefully remembered as the driving force behind Lunds Studentskegård, a women-only student accommodation in Lund, Sweden.
Born in 1892 in Mariestad, Sweden, she finished a BA in English at Lund University, and went on to receive an MA and a PhD from Uppsala University. She married Professor Walter Gyllenberg, an astronomer, in 1927, but didn’t give up her academic career, as women were expected to upon marriage. (She didn’t give up her surname, either, which caused consternation in Lund’s academic circles.) When Asta Kihlbom applied for a post as lecturer at Lund University in 1930, the professors tasked with reviewing applications were strongly biased against her due to her marital status. Nonetheless, Kihlbom got the post, and two years later she was even granted financial remuneration for her work.
Asta Kihlbom was a popular teacher, energetic and with an extraordinary capacity for work. One of her greatest achievements was bringing about the creation of Lunds studentskegård, a building providing accommodation for women students.
Women in Sweden gained access to university studies in 1873. At first women were excluded from studying theology and law, and until the ability to take a university entrance exam was available to girls, university studies were in effect only open to those who had been privately educated. Nonetheless, the number of women students slowly increased, and by 1920 about 10 % of the total number of students at Lund University were women. Social mores had softened somewhat since the 19th century, but the idea that decent women didn’t appear in public was still prevalent in the early 1900s, and women students were often viewed with suspicion.
Accommodation specifically designed for male students already existed in Lund, and many male students also rented rooms from elderly ladies in the city. Due to the sensitive social status of women students, however, many landladies refused to accommodate women. As the number of women students increased, it became harder and harder for them to find somewhere to live. Lund had a women’s student society, however – Kvinnliga Studentföreningen – which lobbied for accommodation for women students.
A donation to the university from Gustaf Coyet, Marshal of the Court, had been set aside for the erection of a building to provide accommodation for male students. However, the women’s student society, chaired by Asta Kihlbom, petitioned for the donation to be used to build affordable accommodation for women students instead. The wish was granted, after considerable work and lobbying by and on behalf of the women’s student society. A plot of land was donated by Lilly Quennerstedt, widow of zoologist August Quennerstedt, and an architect and an interior designer were selected. Princess Louise, later Queen Consort of Sweden, gave the project her support, and with the aid of this royal patronage, Asta worked furiously to solicit donations, contributions, and discounts.
The building was finished in 1937, with Princess Louise the guest of honour at the opening ceremony, and the students moved in in 1938. Lunds studentskegård is still a popular choice of accommodation for women students in Lund. A portrait of Asta Kihlbom hangs in pride of place over the fireplace in the salon; without her, the students’ home would not exist. Lunds studentskegård remains the only women-only student accommodation in Sweden.
Written for Sheroes of History by Ingrid Lyberg