Women’s level of education is high in Finland, and girls’ learning outcomes are excellent. In this respect Finnish women have good prerequisites for attaining equality in society and working life. The fields of education are, however, still markedly gender-segregated, and there have been no major changes over the last ten years.
Education was considered as the key to the progress of a nation and both education and culture had to be first and foremost of a national kind: Finnish and in the Finnish language.
Private schools for girls that had been established in Finland in the early 19th century were complemented by public Swedish-language schools for girls in Turku and Helsinki in the 1840s. In the beginning, these schools were reserved for girls from the higher classes and it was not possible to pass the baccalaureat and continue in university-level studies. In 1863, a teacher training college for primary school teachers was established in Jyväskylä, and it had a section for women.
In late 19th century, public schools for girls were complemented with advanced classes, colleges and co-educational schools which made it possible for girls to obtain the matriculation examination. The first female students to matriculate from public schools did so only in 1909.
The first woman to pass the matriculation examination was Maria Tschetschulin in 1870 who also became the first female university student in Finland at the University of Helsinki. Women were not allowed to study there, but she was given special dispensation to do so, and she became the first woman in the Nordic countries to attend the University.
She discontinued her studies in 1873 without taking her exam, and the first female graduate was Emma Irene Åström in Bachelor of Arts and she was conferred as a Master of Arts in 1882 at the Imperial Alexander University of Finland.
Rosina Heikel became the first female doctor in Nordic countries by special permission in 1878. Women began to study at the university with special permission particularly in the 1890s.
The first woman to defend a doctoral thesis was the surgeon Karolina Eskelin in 1895. In doctoral studies, apart from medicine, women advanced in history, in which Tekla Hultin defended her thesis and became a doctor of philosophy in 1896. Positions at the university were opened to women in 1916. The first female docent and lecturer was Alma Söderhjelm, who was appointed as an additional professor in general history in Åbo Akademi in 1927.
By the end of the 19th century, a woman at a university was a rarity, nowadays there are more women than men university students. At the beginning of the 1920s there were 33% of new female students, ten years later up to 40%. For the first time, the number of new female students exceeded the number of male students in the academic year 1948-1949.
The full equality between men and women has not yet been achieved in the university. Even though women are well represented as students, for the university staff we cannot say the same thing.
Education has significant effects on men’s and women’s position in the labour market, wages and other areas of life. Finland’s key gender equality policy goal has long been the reduction of gender segregation in matters such as educational choices.
Text is based on the article of Ms saara Tuomaala The path of Finnish women towards liberty and education (The web site Centenary of women's full political rights).