The Soihtu Exhibition Centre of the Jyväskylä University Museum is currently running an exhibition about Minna and Ferdinand Canth entitled “Liberal ideas”. The couple’s time in Jyväskylä is now illustrated from a fresh and unique perspective. Alongside the Canths, the exhibition also takes a look at the Jyväskylä of those days.
In the 1860s Jyväskylä was a small town in Central Finland, which was developing rapidly into a significant centre of education: the Lyceum for boys had been founded in 1858 and the Lyceum for girls, which – unlike that for boys – did not prepare the students for university, was founded in 1864. The Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary was the first of its kind in Finland and it started in autumn 1863. Among the first students admitted was Minna Canth.
Here she is in 1891 looking back at her early years at the seminary:
“I became one of the first students of the Seminary. Inspired by the high-spirited idea of the elementary school, I was going to give it all I had. The year that I fully dedicated myself to this decision was probably the happiest in my life.”
Coming from Kuopio, Minna Canth (at that point, she was still Minna Johnson) had previously studied in many different schools in Finnish and Swedish. The Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary was strongly Finnish-speaking and became crucial for her development, even if she discontinued her studies there. Minna Canth completed only a year and a half of the Seminary’s four-year programme: The autumn and spring semesters of 1863–64 and presumably the spring 1865.
Right after the first autumn semester, her science lecturer, Ferdinand Canth, proposed to her. However, they did not get engaged until spring 1865, after which Minna had to discontinue her studies because it was unacceptable for a married woman to work outside the home. Ferdinand, however, stayed on as a lecturer at the Seminary, so her relationship to the Seminary remained a close one.
Even though Minna Canth lived in Jyväskylä for nearly twenty years, her activities here have earlier received little attention. Her years in Jyväskylä have typically been described as “a time of innocence” filled only with the daily chores of a mother with a large family, which ended only after Ferdinand’s death in 1879. This is not true, however, because with Ferdinand’s support Minna was civically active in Jyväskylä. She took keen interest in newspaper work and became the first female journalist in Finland.
Minna Canth, 1891:
“I got a chance to delve again into intellectual activities and I did it with joy and delight. It felt as if I was starting to live again. And I was at once overcome with reformative ardour.”
Together with her husband, Minna wrote textbooks and did charity work. The Canths were also highly active advocates of temperance. Naturally, educational issues were important to both of them. The newspaper Päijänne published Minna’s first short stories. The exhibition includes samples of Minna’s work from her time as a student, textbook illustrations and her plays and short stories. The exhibition highlights Ferdinand’s role as a supporter and partner, which is a whole new perspective on their marriage and the time they shared in Jyväskylä.
The exhibition “Liberal ideas: Minna and Ferdinand Canth in Jyväskylä” is on display in the Soihtu Exhibition Centre of the Jyväskylä University Museum from 20 March until 31 August 2019.
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