Ida Blom (1931-2016)


da Blom (born Ida Clara Bonnevie in Copenhagen, Denmark), came from a family with French Huguenot roots.  Following her schooling in Copenhagen, she worked in England, then in France, as a trilingual stenographer-typist. She moved to Bergen, Norway following her marriage to Chris Blom. Chris and Ida adopted two children. After resuming her university studies, in 1972 Ida Blom earned a doctorate in history at the University of Bergen. A pioneer in the history of women and gender in Scandinavia, in 1985 she was named a professor at the University of Bergen. She was also named to a chair in women’s history for all of Norway. She retired from her academic post in 2001 but continued to research and publish for many more years.

Ida Blom’s research featured a gendered perspective on political and social history (national, transnational, and comparative) as well on historiography.  She explored the social history of medicine and certain maladies (such as tuberculosis and venereal diseases), as well as the history of Norwegian social services and, more generally, the advent of the Scandinavian welfare states. She also published on birth control, obstetrical practices, and the position of widows. Her books and articles appeared in many languages (Norwegian, Danish, English) and were also translated into German, Spanish, French, Italian, Bulgarian, and Japanese.

Her main works included Barnebegrensning - synd eller sunn fornuft - Family Planning in Norway, c. 1890-1940, published in 1980) and Medicine, Morality and Political Culture. Legislating on Venereal Disease in Five Northern European Countries, c.1870 - c.1995 (2012). But the work for which she is best known in Scandinavia is the collective work on women’s history that she directed, Cappelens kvinnehistorie. Published in Norwegian and Danish in 1992-1993, the three volumes of this global history of women from antiquity to the present won the prestigious Brage Prize given by the Norwegian Literary Society. These volumes were never translated into other languages, but Ida Blom discusses the project in several articles in English, notably in Writing Women’s History - International Perspectives, ed. Karen Offen, Ruth Roach Pierson et Jane Rendall) and Making Sense of Global History, ed. Sølvi Sogner).

Ida Blom was interested from the beginning in the construction of nation-states and the role of women in this process.She coedited, with Karen Hagemann and Catherine Hall, Gendered Nations: Nationalisms and Gender Order in the Long Nineteenth Century.  In addition, she published more than 100 articles in a number of languages, in history journals or in collected volumes .Among the most important of these in English, one must mention “From Family Rights to Individual Rights: National Citizenship in Norway, 1888-1950” (published in the IFRWH conference volume Women's Rights, Human Rights : International Historical Perspectives, ed. Patricia Grimshaw, Katie Holmes et Marilyn Lake, 2001) ; “Gender, Class, Race and Sexuality: A Transnational Approach to Legislation on Venereal Diseases, 1880s – 1940s” (Gender History in a Transnational Perspective. Biographies, Networks, Gender Orders, ed. Oliver Janz & Daniel Schönpflug, 2014«  Les féminismes et l’État – une perspective nordique » (which appeared in Le Siècle des féminismes, ed. Eliane Gubin et al., 2004).

In 1987, Ida Blom co-founded the International Fédération for Research in Women’s History (IFRWH/ FIRHF) and served from 1990 to 1995 as our first president. She was a member of the national Norwegian Commission for UNESCO (1983-1992) and served as Norway’s delegate to the general assembly of the International Committee on the Historical Sciences (ICHS/CISH). She received numerous prizes and awards, among which were an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen (2006).She was named (1996) an honorary foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of History and Antiquities and (2006) of the American Historical Association. At the ICHS congress in Oslo (2000) her colleagues presented her with a festschrift, Women’s Politics and Women in Politics: In Honour of Ida Blom, ed. Sølvi Sogner & Gro Hagemann (Universitetet I Bergen/Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, Bergen, 2000). The University of Bergen named its gender studies center in her honor, the Ida Blom House. In 2015, the IFRWH launched the Ida Blom-Karen Offen book prize in women’s and gender history, to be awarded for the first time in 2020.

Ida Blom was 85 years old and a widow when she died peacefully after a long struggle with abdominal cancer. She is survived by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Her keen intelligence and insight, her down-to-earth persona, her kindness and warmth, will be sorely missed but her legacy to us – her pioneering contributions to the historical literature – will live on. Her life was rich and productive, a beacon to all of us who, throughout the world, investigate women’s history.

Karen Offen

This notice is based on the notice I wrote about Ida for Le Dictionnaire Universel des Creatrices, published in Paris c. 2015.

See also the interview of Ida Blom by Alice Kessler-Harris in 2006 which was published in the Perspectives on History of the American Historical Association: