Charlotta Richardy (1751–1831)

At a time when Swedish society gave little freedom to women, Charlotta Richardy fought for her independence and became a successful entrepreneur. She was a significant figure in the trade and industry of the port of Halmstad in south-west Sweden in the early nineteenth century.

Richardy came from a prominent family – her father was the mayor of Halmstad, Albrecht Friedrich Richardson. Nevertheless, unmarried women were not permitted under Swedish law in the eighteenth century to control their own affairs, which were instead the responsibility of their nearest living relative. At the age of 35, Richardy challenged the system by applying successfully to the King of Sweden to become independent. With this new freedom she began smoking salmon and selling it. However, the Halmstad city guild opposed her activity in business. When she applied to join the guild she was refused. She eventually won membership only after appealing to the King and continuing to press her case.

From around 1800 she won contracts to supply woollen stockings and boots to the county hospital and the Swedish army, especially during the war with Finland in 1808-9. She imported wool from Denmark and Iceland and created a factory at her farm, which she ran from 1806 to 1822. By operating outside the city and employing home-workers in the countryside she avoided the control of the shoemakers’ guild and gave additional income to the poor peasant farmers of the region. Famous for her strength of character, she protected herself by carrying a pistol and lived to the age of 80.