Ambergris. Musk. Roses and jasmine. Those are the fashionable scents for the early 20th century nobility and higher strata of society. But on Åland, an upper class has never really existed. Each person that climbed the societal ladder had to teach themselves a new way of being. That included Finström-girl Hilda Bergman, who married ship owner Gustaf Erikson, travelled the world and brought the trends of the big world to small-town Mariehamn. A few drops of Hilda’s own perfume remain in her vanity case. Traces of a scent from the 1930s.
Sailors brought luxurious and exotic objects, customs and practises to the small Åland society. The ship-owning families became the island’s nobility. Highest in rank was Gustaf Erikson – the king of windjammers. Gustaf was famous to spoil his young wife Hilda with beautiful clothes and expensive gifts. A sailing ship and a woman are equally beautiful, according to Gustaf. And most beautiful of all is his own Hilda.
Women and shipping
Few Åland women have actually worked aboard ship. Nonetheless have they been of significant importance for the local shipping industry. While the men were at sea, often for years at a time, the women stayed at home taking care of the home and the farming.
There was a clear class divide between the wives of the master mariners, who live comfortably in their villas, and the landless sailor wives, who worked hard in the countryside. But worry and longing was something they all lived with. Communications were done by writing letters. Big and small, love and daily chores were put in writing. But how the wife felt when the tired sailor returned, and how the couple adjusted to daily life together, we can only imagine.
It was fairly common for a master’s or first mate’s wife to join her husband on a voyage. Usually before any children had been born. One of the unwritten rules stated that women on board were to remain aft of the main mast. In that way, contact with the crew was minimised. Women were thought to disturb the daily work on board. According to old tales it was also supposed to be bad luck to have women on board. Tales that lived on, despite changing times.