Aino Emma Wilhelmina Malmberg née Perenius (February 24, 1865 – February 3, 1933) was a Finnish writer and politician.
The daughter of a Lutheran clergyman from the Finnish countryside, Malmberg studied English and humanities at the University of Helsinki as one of the first female university students in Finland. After graduation she worked as a college teacher, literary translator and, having moved to Britain in 1909, as a public lecturer and journalist. Malmberg had worked in the illegal movement promoting Finland's independence from Russia and, after having been arrested but released by the Russian police, she went into self-exile to London, where she continued her work for Finland's freedom. She gave public lectures on Finland's behalf in Britain, and also travelled widely and gave lectures in the United States, including Hawaii.
Malmberg also published one novel and two collections of short stories. One of her short stories, ‘Ystävyyttä’ (‘ Friendship’), published in 1903, is a description of a spinster teacher couple. This couple consisted of a masculine and a feminine woman, which was typified later in the North American context as ‘butch’ and ‘femme’. The sexologists of the late nineteenth century had often described this kind of female couple, as did many writers of belles lettres.
The Swedish author August Strindberg and many of his French male colleagues had published descriptions of ‘lesbians’, which are similar to Malmberg's depiction of the female couple. What is exceptional about Malmberg's short story is that this representation of a lesbian couple is written by a woman and so early. Malmberg's text is very playful and full of irony.
Malmberg married early, during her second year of study, which was exceptional in her time. The convention of the time required her to stay at home, at least after having given birth to a child one year later, but she continued her studies. After graduation, her career as a working academic mother continued, even though she had given birth to three children. Many of her choices in life were exceptional, and caused resentment. In 1909 she divorced her husband.
When Finland gained independence in 1917, the Finnish League of Women proposed Malmberg as Finland's ambassador to the United States. The time was not right for a woman ambassador in Finland, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unofficially paid her a minor reward in the 1920s for her activities in London. She had established very good connections with British high-level politicians and other important figures, and often succeeded much better than the official (male) diplomats, who used her connections.
In New York, where Malmberg lived in 1912– 1913, 1915 and again in 1917– 1918, she shared a flat with Rose Strunsky, a member of the Heterodoxy Club, a radical feminist club based in Greenwich Village, where Malmberg is known to have lectured. Strunsky and Malmberg had met in Finland in 1907 and remained close friends throughout the rest of their lives. Whenever Strunsky visited London for longer periods, she always stayed in Malmberg's flat.
The Malmberg collection in the Finnish National Archives contains much material about her political career and correspondence with authors whose books she translated into Finnish (e.g. Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw). But there are no diaries and very few personal letters from female friends, even though it is known from other sources that she had extensive correspondence with several of them. From the 25-year-long correspondence with Strunsky, there is only a single letter in the archives. Due to the lack of personal material, it is not possible to say anything about Malmberg's intimate relationships, whether with men or with women.
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