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First female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, elected 35 years ago today

  • FIRST FEMALE HEAD OF STATE Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first female to be democratically elected a head of state in 1980. Photo/Vilhelm

Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the election of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first woman to be democratically elected head of state. Vigdís was elected president on June 29 1980 and remained in office for four consecutive terms, leaving office in 1996.

A divorced single mother 
Vigdís was born on April 15, 1930. Her father, a professor of Engineering at the University of Iceland and her mother a nurse, and the chair of the Icelandic Nurses’ Association for 36 years. She was married in 1954, but divorced in 1963. She later adopted a daughter, becoming the first single woman to be allowed to adopt a child in Iceland. Vigdís was therefore not only the first Woman to be elected head of state, but the first single mother to be elected head of state.

Traditionally the presidency of Iceland had been largely a ceremonial position. However, Vigdís began its transformation, being active in advocating environmentalism. She was particularly active in advocating for the reforestation of Iceland and fighting topsoil loss, which had been a serious problem in Iceland since the late 19th century. She has also served as an inspiration to a generation of Icelandic feminists and remains to this day a global role model for women.

A theatre director and a tour guide
Vigdís studied French and French literature at the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne from 1949-1953, and the history of theatre at the University of Copenhagen 1957-1958. She taught French at junior colleges as well as the University of Iceland, as well as producing a series of French lessons for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. In 1972-1980 she was the artistic director of the Reykjavík Theatre Company.

During summers Vigdís worked as a tour guide. As a member of the Icelandic Tourist Bureau she was instrumental in the development of the guide training program and headed it for several years.

 

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