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The history of Marholmen

Imagine just over one hundred years back in time. To 1917, when Selma Blomberg steps ashore on Marholmen.


She is 41 years old and a widow since her husband Herman died thirteen years ago. Her days consist of hard work at Rörstrand's porcelain factory for SEK 100 a month. This is enough to support herself and her two children. The small family lives in a room and kitchen on Helsingegatan in Stockholm. There is no central heating and no dry toilets in the yard.


Selma is a working woman. Poor, hardworking and in poor health. She has not had a day off in her entire adult life. Until today, when she steps ashore at Marholmen. For two weeks she will stay here at the rest home. Free of charge. She can hardly believe it's true. How is it even possible?


The answer goes back four years. It was then, in 1913, that wholesaler Nils Berg and his wife Hanna made a decision. They decided to donate their beloved island of Marholmen to the LO trade union and build a rest home for working class women. Nils had managed to build a fortune and Hanna was committed to women's issues. The two had their working lives behind them and everything they could want. Why not do something meaningful and important with the money? That's what they did.


At the same time as Vilohemmet, Skogsstugan for working women is built. A year later, the Holiday Home for men and their families is completed. But Nils has more plans.


In 1924, two years after Hanna's death, Nils donates the rest of his fortune to Birkagården Folk High School in Stockholm. He wanted to promote public education and in particular 'the public education needs of women working in factories'. This gave rise to the next idea and in 1926 the Folkbildningshemmet opened at Marholmen. The same year, the first course for women took place here.


The training and course activities are extended to the trade union movement. In 1937, the first trade union course is held, a weekly course for Transport members. And so it goes on. Thousands and thousands of trade union members enrich themselves with new knowledge through the courses. In 1983, the Kommunal trade union buys Marholmen. With 80 percent female members, it is Sweden's largest women's organization. Can you imagine a better heir to Nils and Hanna's work?


Back to Selma. Together with thirteen other working women, she spends two weeks at Vilohemmet here on Marholmen. They swim, walk in the summer greenery, make excursions on land and sea, pick flowers, converse in the white garden chairs and everything else that belongs to summer. On rainy days they sit inside and read or play cards or some other board game. In short, they rest.


By the end of the summer, a total of 52 women had attended Vilohemmet. The committee summarizes that "...most of the women have gained weight and regained health and strength, and the result thus corresponds to the purpose of the foundation."


For Selma, two weeks' leave was an unattainable dream. As a working-class woman, she had neither the economic nor the political conditions. It would be another five years before women got the right to vote in Sweden. A two-week holiday was only made legal in 1937.


It's easy to think "how tough it was for people back then". But the fact is that far from everyone can still afford a vacation. Nearly one in ten children in Sweden live in financial poverty. For many of these 186 000 children, going away on holiday, staying in a cottage or caravan is nothing more than what it was for Selma - a dream. Can we do something for them? Yes, we can.


We here at Marholmen continue to work for a sustainable society in many ways. Among other things, by giving families who do not have the economic conditions the opportunity to come here and relax through our Family Time initiative. You can read more about our commitment here on our website.


And why? Because we can. And we want to. Just like Nils Berg and Hanna wanted to. Hanna died in 1922, Nils four years later. But their idea lives on. The story continues.