Researchers in the archives:
Restaurant Queen Under Scrutiny

In Sweden, many know that Wilhelmina Skogh was CEO of the prestigious Grand Hôtel in Stockholm in the early 1900s. But there is much more to tell about this pioneer in the hotel and restaurant industry.

Ingela Östlund has extensive experience as a journalist. After more than 25 years in public service, she works today as a freelance journalist and author. For many years, she has been interested in the hotel and restaurant entrepreneur Wilhelmina Skogh, and now her research will finally become a book.

– I want to tell about a strange and unusually powerful woman who realized her dreams in a time when neither conventions, gender nor class really allowed it, says Ingela Östlund.

Wilhelmina Skogh was born as Wilhelmina Wahlgren on Gotland in 1849. In connection with the expansion of the Swedish railway network at the end of the 19th century, she started and ran several restaurants and hotels near the new stations. During the Stockholm Exhibition in 1897, she was successful when she converted homes along Strandvägen into six temporary luxury hotels. It paved the way for the top job as manager of the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm in 1902.

– She was one of Sweden’s most famous women just over 100 years ago. I thought: how come such a successful entrepreneur has basically been forgotten by the public?

Ingela tells us that Wilhelmina Skogh’s strongest point was development, not management. That, combined with the fact that she was prone to risk, periodically led to financial difficulties. She set a new standard for the hotel and restaurant industry, offering package tours and experiential tourism far ahead of everyone else.

– Wilhelmina saw the big perspectives and trends. She started things and also managed to implement a lot, says Ingela Östlund.

During the initial research, Ingela had a lot of help from the now-deceased vicar Carl-Adolf Murray in Kungsgården in Gästrikland, who had spent a lot of time charting Wilhelmina Skogh’s life.

He inspired Ingela to take the work further. The Grand Hôtel’s archive at the Business History Center was then an obvious source to search further in. There, among other things, Ingela has been able to take part in board minutes that show which decisions were made and how things went when they were made.

The Railway Museum’s archive in Gävle has also been important in the work because Wilhelmina Skogh collaborated with the Gävle-Dala railway for many years. Ingela has also visited various municipal archives where there are documents about other companies she collaborated with. She has also requested court documents where Wilhelmina is included.

– She was very combative, and did not hesitate to push lawsuits to the highest instance. Often it was about her being sued for breaking the rules when selling beer and spirits at her railway restaurants, says Ingela. In addition to the more business-related, she has also found material that helps draw a picture of Wilhelmina as a private individual.

– I have found personal letters that she wrote to famous people in Sweden, for example the author Selma Lagerlöf
and the sculptor Carl Milles, with whom she was a neighbor on Lidingö.

The book is published in collaboration with the Railway Museum in Sweden and is scheduled for publication in 2023. Ingela Östlund looks forward to sharing her research.

– I want the readers to feel: what a fantastic woman! That she succeeded in all this! She was a poor girl who managed to get to the absolute top of society. She was truly extraordinary and has meant a lot to Sweden’s hotel and restaurant industry.

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The article was first published in our magazine Företagshistoria, issue no 4 2022.

The archives at the Center for Business History, which publishes Företagshistoria and its sister site BizStories, all come from the companies who have chosen to deposit historical material with us. Our member and research service then helps the companies themselves, but also researchers and other interested parties, find and access information in the archives. Researchers and everyone else need permission from the deponents to access the material, and we help them apply for permission.

In addition to the archive, we also have a research library, filled with business and business history books. Of course it is searchable via Libris.