Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen (1873-1943)
Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen has left deep traces in Norwegian history. She was a pioneer in botanical research, despite the fact that she was not allowed to take her A-levels (which qualified for higher education) until 1902, when she was almost 30 years old. In 1910, Hanna submitted one of the very first Norwegian master’s theses in botany, based on her own fieldwork on Svalbard. She then became a research fellow and in 1921 she became the first Norwegian lecturer in plant geography. Hanna was also a key figure in the early nature conservation work in Norway.
Hanna was born in Vågå in Gudbrandsdalen, but the family (mother, father and big sister Thekla) moved to the capital, Kristiania (now Oslo), in 1878. As a twelve-year-old, she ended up in an accident which led to her being away from school for seven years. But she made a strong comeback!
Hanna showed a broad research interest in botany, especially mountain vegetation. She was the first Norwegian botanist to do major studies on Svalbard. Her first expedition there was in the summer of 1907, as a member of Prince Albert 1 of Monaco’s expedition to Spitsbergen. The following summer, Hanna was on her own — set ashore with a tent and necessary equipment — and was picked up again when it was time to move to another area on the west coast of Svalbard. There is no doubt that Hanna enjoyed the expedition: «When I now in the dark night lie in my little tent like a bird in its sheltered nest, while the north wind occasionally sends a little air through the tent over my face and the sound of the waves below drowns out any other sound, then I think with a little revulsion of our nauseating city, where the noise of the electric trams replaces the voices of wild nature and follows me into sleep.» (Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen in Sandberg, 99, our translation).
Maybe there was something about Svalbard’s lawless state (terra nullius) at this time, that gave a perhaps unexpectedly large scope of action for ambitious and strong-willed women? Hanna, the researcher, is indeed remembered for much more than her many books and publications. She was one of the first researchers to start using colour photography in the documentation of her work, which she did as early as in 1908. She also composed mnemonic verse that she used in her teaching.
Both her research and her strong commitment have influenced the nature conservation work in Norway. Her research is the basis for the protection of both flora, fauna and land areas on Svalbard. And she worked really hard to get a lasting protection of Lake Gjende and the Sjoa River (in Vågå). In The Norwegian Trekking Association’s yearbook from 1917 (and quoted on a memorial stone at Gjende) Hanna wrote «The extraordinary sight gave me a little fright — a fear that the long, spindly arm of industry should thrust itself into this parish and drain the emerald green waters of Lake Gjende.» (Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen in Sandberg, 104, our translation). The protection of Lake Gjende and Sjoa, and the establishment of national parks on Svalbard, however, did not come into place until 1973 — 30 years after Hanna’s death. The biographer Bredo Berntsen beleves that Hanna should have the main credit for Lake Gjende and Sjoa remaining untouched today. Her early and strong conservationist commitment was the reason why Berntsen gave Hanna, and the biography about her, the title «green stocking».
In his article about her, Finn-Egil Eckblad describes Hanna as «first and foremost a fiery soul, and a fiery soul who was particularly passionate about the nature conservation cause».
When the road west to the sea has been travelled,
We meet Flora dressed in her Atlantic attire
Of Ilex coloured silk, edged by ivy leaves
With rows of heather bells interwoven beautifully
The succisa’s blue buttons are more than just adornment;
And the belt is sewn with beautiful Daisies.
In this she has placed the fragrant Vivendel,
And digitalis is fastened to a yellow hat of primroses
From «De seks floraelementer» (Berntsen p.102-3, our translation)
- Berntsen, B. (2006). En grønnstrømpe og hennes samtid : Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen: botaniker, Svalbard-forsker, fjellelsker, fotograf og naturvernpioner. Oslo, Ossiania vitenskapsforl.
- Eckblad, F.-E. (1991). Thekla Resvoll og Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen, to glemte pionerer i norsk botanikk. Blyttia, 49 (1), 3-10. Available from: nhm2.uio.no [Lest 27.11.2019].
- Fuglei, E. and H. V. Goldman (2006). «Hanna Marie Resvoll‐Holmsen: a pioneer in Svalbard.» Polar Research 25(1): 1-13 polarresearch.net
- Resvoll-Holmsen, H. (1930). I tidens løp. Oslo: Some urn.nb.no
- Resvoll-Holmsen, H. (1927). Svalbards flora. Cappelen urn.nb.no
- Sandberg, S. (2012). Polarheltinner : Cecilie Skog, Liv Arnesen, Monica Kristensen, Christiane Ritter, Wanny Woldstad, Ellen Dorthea Nøis, Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen. Oslo, Gyldendal.