This thesis deals with the space for action available to women of the regional elite. The interaction of such categories as gender and class are discussed. The overall purpose is to describe and analyze the role of the county governor’s wife during the period 1900- 1940. The study takes its point of departure in the lives of Ellen Widén and Hanna Rydh, both wives of county governors, and especially treats the area of cultural heritage as the potential public arena for women. Special attention is focused on the cultural heritage as a possible public sphere of activity for women at that time. Cultural heritage has been defined as the cultural and material expressions that were regarded as possessing symbolic value and that have therefore been the focus for various kinds of preservation. Cultural heritage is associated here with a growing field for professional interest and work.
Women in general were given specific tasks within the nation. One of these was to safeguard aesthetic and cultural characteristics within the nation, the province and the home region. By working within the sphere of cultural heritage, with arts and crafts and with the preservation of the home region, women were regarded as links between the older and younger generations. The specific characteristics of the home region could be expressed through various textiles. The work of creating specific parish costumes can be seen as one of many examples of a female cultural heritage.
The study has shown that the wives of county governors could have a direct and immediate influence on activities in the area of cultural heritage. This research has established that these women formed a more independent power factor than earlier research has maintained. The county governor’s wife did not automatically gain a position of power. She had potential power, an opportunity derived from both class and gender. To transform this potential into power and influence demanded success and skill in the field.
When Hanna Rydh, the wife of a county governor, declared herself a candidate for the position of county governor in 1938, it was too much of a challenge to the prevailing gender order. Through a form of ”tyranny of difference” women were prevented from establishing themselves within public spheres that were more masculine by tradition. This could be true of specific fields or of the formal power exercised by the parliament, the government and public offices. If the female elite challenged the men of their own class, their opportunities were circumscribed. I have chosen therefore to speak of both power and “non-power.” Within certain contexts there were good opportunities for the regional female elite to obtain their own space for action. Yet, in other situations the limitations were greater than the opportunities; “non-power” also existed.