A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.


Sepia Saturday: An Excellent Traveller and Packer


This week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday 213, a neatly packed suitcase, brings me once more back to my great-aunt Gerda (born 1881). I’m not sure exactly when or where this photo was taken, but the French Riviera seems likely. Whereever this particular photo is from, though, what I’m quite certain of is that Gerda packed a lot of suitcases in her life, and became very good at it!

At the age of 21, she emigrated to Chicago in America, where she lived for about ten years, working her way up as a maid. Then she returned to Sweden; but continued a career as lady’s maid and travelling companion to various noblewomen.

Last year I received a summary of her “CV” from a relative (the grandson of one of Gerda’s older sisters – while I am the granddaughter of their much younger half-sister). As documents kept by his side of the family include letters of recommendation from some of the positions she held, he has been able to fill in some “gaps” in her history for me.* (Thank you, Bengt!)

Among other things, Gerda is described (already in 1912, as well as subsequently in the late 1920s) as “an excellent traveller, packer and hairdresser, and a neat needlewoman”, fluent in English, and also good at French.

From 1928, or not very long after, she was employed in the household of the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte (of the Swedish royal family), and his American wife Estelle (born Manville) – who of course also both travelled a lot. [Cf. my previous post from 26 January 2014.] Folke Bernadotte was tragically assassinated on duty for the UN in Jerusalem in 1948; but Gerda (who lived to be nearly 92 years old) remained working for / living with the Countess Bernadotte long past normal retirement age.

*På svenska, utdrag från Bengts mail:

Gerdas yrkesbeteckning i hennes flerspråkiga arbetsbetyg 1912-1928 var kammarjungfru, Lady´s Maid, femme de chambre.

1/10-1912 till 15/4 1913 i Sörby Ringstorp (Östergötland) kammarjungfru hos Adele de la Gardie (f Jacquier Frankrike gift 1911). Anställningen upphör när Adele reser utomlands. Gerda är skicklig i sömnad, hårskötsel, servering, talar engelska fullkomligt o har ”some knowledge of dressmaking”.

Nästa betyg är utfärdat i Lyon, France 28/9 1919. Gerda har arbetat som Lady´s Maid o är en ”excellent packer” o hairdresser o a neat needlewoman, her french is good.

20/5 1921 på brevpapper Oakhill Kungl.Djurgården (som varit prins Wilhelms) av oläsligt namn som skall återvända till USA.

21/7 1922 på brevpapper Sturefors  slott, Linköping  på franska av comtesse Sparre. Enligt Gerdas pass var hon i Frankrike under juli 1922. Sparres o Gerdas vägar skiljs för en tid  o under två år reser Gerda genom exotiska länder med en Lady Henry som

22/2 1924 anser Gerda vara en ”excellent traveller and packer and a neat needlewoman (vilket nog behövdes)”

7/3 1924 till 21/8 1928 på Sturefors slott hos Greta Bielke f Sparre. Comtessen återvände o gifte sig med slottsherren. Gerda är nu mycket skicklig i att sy kläder.

1928 var det år makarna Bernadotte gifte sig. Nästa dokument bland Gerdas papper är dock ett sorts identitetsbevis på franska utfärdat 9 mars 1932 om att hon är anställd i Paris på Square Lamartine no 3 som ”domestique au service du comte Bernadotte de Wisborg, neveu du Roi de Suéde”.

Ett annat dokument är ett intyg för inresa i USA om att grevinnan Bernadotte behöver Gerda som hjälp i hushållet när hon skall tillbringa julen 1948 med sönerna i sin våning på 885 Park Avenue, New York. Den julen var tre månader efter att maken Folke Bernadotte mördats i Palestina.

Gerda bodde länge på Dragongården. 1963 ringde jag henne där ---

En av kransarna på Gerdas begravning 1973 var från makarna Ekstrand. Grevinnan hade gift om sig samma år som Gerda dog.


  1. Your great-aunt Gerda looks like one of those lovely friendly women you sometimes meet standing in a line somewhere with whom you strike up a friendly impromptu conversation to pass the time amiably as you wait for whatever it is you're waiting for. My mother used to do that, I do it all the time, and so do all three of my children . . . though when they were younger they used to be puzzled at how I could just start talking to someone I didn't know. But they learned! :))

  2. This reminds me of my Gran. She was widowed young and when her boys were married she took to travelling. She kept working until she was 81 so she could keep affording to travel. She taught me to travel and pack and was a wonderful teacher. As a result, I don't stress over packing and don't take too much - I am so grateful to her. I imagine Gerda would have been a bit like that.

  3. The more you travel the better you get at packing a suitcase. She must have been a pro. ha

  4. She sounds like an interesting woman. She looks so smartly dressed for the beach!

  5. How wonderful to have that written on your CV - not many of us could say that!

  6. I'm old enough to remember the assassination of Folke Bernadotte. Gerde must have had a hectic but entertaining life.

  7. It is a fine photograph of Gerda. Such style.

  8. Being a maid does not sound very prestigious, but Gerda was quite accomplished. She benefited from some amazing opportunities, I'd say.

  9. Sounds like Gerda had many adventures; being a "companion" to single travelers certainly had its benefits!

  10. "Greetings from the Past" has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.