Statue honours first woman in Sweden to become an engineer

Just over a century ago Vera Sandberg became the first woman in Sweden to receive an engineering degree. Now, Chalmers University of Technology pays tribute to her by raising a statue. The work of art is Chalmers’ first, and Gothenburg’s third, sculpture of a named historical woman.
“Vera Sandberg is a role model for everyone,” says Chalmers’ President Stefan Bengtsson.
W​hat was it like to study at Chalmers at the beginning of the previous century, as the sole woman among 500 men? We’ll never know for sure, but one thing is clear: Sandberg had the courage to go against the norms and follow her own path, paving the way for a broadening of the role of engineer.
 
In 2017, when Chalmers commemorated 100 years since Sandberg took her degree, the idea of producing an art installation in her memory was born. On June 13 Jan Cardell’s work Veras laboration, a bronze statue with lighting and mobile parts illustrating Sandberg’s work in the laboratory at Chalmers, was unveiled.
 
“We think that the first woman in Sweden to become an engineer deserves to be recognised. Vera Sandberg is a role model for everyone, a good example of someone who dares to challenge what is regarded as normal and who is ready to go ahead on her own and follow her own interests,” says Chalmers’ President Stefan Bengtsson.
 
The work of art will ensure that Sandberg is seen as unique once again. The statue is Chalmers’ first, and Gothenburg’s third, sculpture of a named historical woman in a public space.

“Vera Sandberg is a role model for everyone, a good example of someone who dares to challenge what is regarded as normal”

Stefan Bengtsson, President of Chalmers
 
The statue is located in Vera Sandbergs Allé, which is not far from Kapellplatsen in the Vasa area of Campus Johanneberg. The area is the hub of Chalmers’ investment in innovation and entrepreneurship, where operations such as Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, Chalmers Ventures, Stena Centre, the meeting area Veras Gräsmatta and the Department of Technology Management and Economics are gathered.
 
Maria Elmquist, Head of the Department of Technology Management and Economics and one of the initiators of the statue project, hopes that Sandberg can inspire more young people to pursue a career in science and technology. And follow their dreams.
 
“Vera Sandberg represents a person who had the courage to do something different, dared to go against the norms and see new opportunities – I regard her as an entrepreneur! That Sandberg did not let herself be held back by being the only woman among the Chalmers’ engineering students in her year group, makes her worthy of recognition. Seeing diversity in representation is important for the development of the university and society,” says Elmquist.
 
Sandberg grew up in Blekinge, where her mother ran the family’s paper mill. She was very interested in chemistry and when in 1914, as a 19-year-old, she applied for Chalmers’ chemistry course she had to take an exam to get into the course while her fellow male students were accepted on the basis of their school grades. 

“Vera Sandberg represents a person who had the courage to do something different, dared to go against the norms and see new opportunities – I regard her as an entrepreneur!”

Maria Elmquist, Head of Department, Chalmers

We do not know much about what it was like for Sandberg during her studies, but for all Chalmers’ students at this time the studies were characterised by strict requirements and busy days packed out with compulsory attendances. After her degree Sandberg worked at Skandinaviska Raffinaderiet in Partille, Oljefabriken i Karlshamn, Helsingborgs Gummifabrik and Sieverts Kabelverk in Sundbyberg. In 1937 she married a widower who had five sons, thus ending her professional career.
 
When Chalmers’ President Stefan Bengtsson gave a historical review, he noted that a lot had happened since the days when Sandberg studied at Chalmers.
 
“In 1917 when Vera Sandberg took her degree, there was no universal and equal suffrage for either men or women in Sweden. At the time Chalmers had around 500 students and Sandberg was the only woman. Today, around a third of Chalmers’ students are women. We have come a long way, but there is still work to do before we reach our goal,” he says.
 
Text: Ulrika Ernström
Photo: Johan Bodell and Chalmers



Gothenburg’s third sculpture of a named historical woman


  • In 2017 five artists were commissioned to make proposals for an art installation at Chalmers to honour Vera Sandberg, the first woman in Sweden to take an engineering degree. Chalmers chose Jan Cardell’s ‘Veras Laboration’. The statue is located in Sandbergs Allé, not far from Kapellplatsen.
  • The work of art – which was unveiled on 13 June 2019 – is Chalmers’ first, and Gothenburg’s third, sculpture of a named historical woman in a public space. The other two are the author and poet Karin Boye, whose statue is located outside Göteborg City Library, and Johanna Hedén, whose bust is located outside Östra Sjukhuset’s women’s clinic. Hedén was a midwife and the first Swedish woman to receive formal training as a surgeon.
  • ‘Veras laboration’ is a bronze statue with lighting and motion, which depicts Vera Sandberg working in a laboratory. The statue is a total of four metres high, including a two metre high pedestal. “I wanted to depict Vera in her working environment, and think that she represents an encounter between the past and the present”, said Cardell during the unveiling.
  • Many alumni and friends of Chalmers have made donations towards the statue, to a value totalling around half a million SEK. The Chalmers University of Technology Foundation has contributed the same amount. The donors include students, relatives of Sandberg, Dan Sten Olsson, alumni such as Rune Andersson (through Mellby Gård) and several companies.

Published: Mon 01 Jul 2019. Modified: Mon 01 Jul 2019