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Hedvig Raa-Winterhjelm
Born Charlotta Forssman
20 November 1838
Died 7 March 1907
Other name(s) Charlotta Raa
Spouse(s) Fritiof Raa (first husband)

Hedvig Charlotta Raa-Winterhjelm, née 'Forssman', (20 November 1838-7 March 1907), was a Swedish actor active in Sweden, Norway and Finland. She played a role of great importance in Finnish culture and theatre history as both a reformer of the Finnish theatre and also a pioneer in introducing Finnish as a stage language, becoming the first actor in Finland to speak her lines in the Finnish tongue. Though her importance in her own home country was small, she was to become one of the most important actors in Finnish history.


Early career

Hedvig Raa-Winterhjelm was born in Sweden under the name Charlotte Forssman. After having been educated as a student at Dramatens elevskola in Stockholm in 1854-56, she was employed in the theatre Mindre teatern in Stockholm 1860-63. She also toured with travelling theatre companies in both Sweden and Finland. In 1863, Mindre teatern was taken over by the Royal Dramatic Theatre. Many of the actors was given a contract in the new theatre, but the competition with Sweden's leading lady Elise Jakobsson-Hwasser made Hedvig move to Finland, were she accepted a position at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki. She was the lead actress within romantic tragedy in the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki between 1866 and 1872, becoming one of this newly founded theatre's first stars along with her husband Fritiof Raa. The theatre, the first real theatre of Helsinki, had been founded in 1860 but burned down in 1863 and opened again in 1866, and had become the national stage of Finland.


In Helsinki, she was made instructor at the newly founded Finnish theatre school (1868), were she worked to introduce the Finnish language on stage. In the 1860s, the Finnish language was not spoken on the official stages in Finland; Finland had been a part of Sweden until 1809, and Swedish was the second language in Finland, the language of the upper classes, and the language spoken on stage. Most actors in Finland were also from Sweden, or from the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. During this time, Finland was a part of Russia. During Russian rule, a wave of nationalism swept over Finland to preserve the Finnish cultural identity and independence and escape a complete incorporation with Russia, and Hedvig's initiative was a part of this cultural wave. Although she was from Sweden herself, she felt that it should be a theatre in the native Finnish language in Finland. This was not appreciated by the authorities, who reacted to her initiative by closing down the whole school in 1869. She answered by pronouncing her lines in the next play she participated in, Lea by Aleksis Kivi, in the Finnish language. Thereby, she became historical as the first actor in Finland to say her lines in the Finnish language on a Finnish stage on an public theatre. She continued by becoming the first actor to play Ofelia and lady Macbeth in the Finnish language.

Hedvig founded two stages in Finland; one Swedish stage in 1866, and one Finnish stage in 1872. After the last one was founded, however, the Finnish (Swedish-speaking and Russian ruled) theatre forbid her to take assignments in Finnish. After her first husband, a Norwegian alcoholic, died with large debts, she left Finland with a traveling company and arrived with it to Oslo in Norway in 1872. It was now that she took the first-name Hedvig.

Later career

In 1874, she remaried a Norwegian who forbid her to take any long-term assignments, and she continued her career as a ”guest-artist” and toured under this title in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, were she was particularly noted as an Ibsen-interpretor; she toured around Norway 1876-1878 and i 1883, she toured as Mrs Alving in Ibsens Gengångare in Helsingborg, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo.

Hedvig Raa-Winterhjelm was also active as a translator of plays, and she was also an instructor and a teacher of drama, both in private-tutoring and in Högre lärarinneseminariet in Stockholm, were she tutored until 1906.

See also

References and literature

  • Österberg, Carin et al., Svenska kvinnor: föregångare, nyskapare. Lund: Signum 1990. (ISBN 91-87896-03-6)
  • 301-302 (Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 8. Feiss - Fruktmögel) at
  • Georg Nordensvan, "Svensk teater och svenska skådespelare från Gustav III till våra dagar; Andra bandet, 1842-1918." (Swedish),(Swedish Theatre and Swedish actors from the days of Gustav III to our days, Second book, 1842-1918.")


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