Vigdís Finnbogadóttir: The World’s First Democratically Elected Female President
As the fourth president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s paid enormous attention to preserving her nation’s identity and marketing this unique identity to the outside world. She helped change the stereotypes people had about Iceland being a very cold and boring place. For her efforts she was appointed the head of many cultural and language organizations, including one from UNESCO.
President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s legacy lies in the female-friendly and family-oriented policies she adopted, which in turn empowered many Icelandic women, encouraging them to aspire for leadership positions in politics and industry.
The article below takes a chronological look at the life of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first democratically-elected female head of state:
1930: Born in Reykjavik on April 15, 1930 to parents – Finnbogi Rútur Þorvaldsson and Sigríður Eiríksdóttir. Her father was a civil engineer while her mother was a nurse.
1949: Passes her matriculation exam.
1949 – 1953: Enrolls first in the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne (in Paris, France) and later in the University of Copenhagen to study history of theater.
1954: Vigdís gets married
1954 – 1957: Becomes a member of the Reykjavík Theatre Company.
1960 – 1970: Partakes in a number of protests against the presence of U.S. bases in Iceland.
1961 – 1964: Works at the Reykjavík Theatre Company.
1962 – 1967: Tutors French at Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík.
1963: Marriage hits the rock and she divorces her husband.
1967 – 1972: Works as a French tutor at Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð.
1972 – 1980: Secures a position as the artistic director of Reykjavík Theatre Company.
1976 – 1980: Serves on the Advisory Committee on Cultural Affairs in the Nordic countries.
1980: Adopts a daughter called Astriour Magnusdottir.
1980: The women’s movement in Iceland successfully persuades Vigdís Finnbogadóttir to run in Iceland’s presidential election. Vigdís secures 33.6% of the vote.
1980: On August 1, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is sworn in as the 4th President of Iceland, becoming the first female president (democratically elected) in not just Iceland but the world.
Icelanders vote and keep fate in Vigdís from 1980 to 1996, when she opted not to run again. She was succeeded by Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.
1996: Plays a crucial role in the establishment of the Council of Women World Leaders at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
1997 – 2001: President of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology.
Other Interesting Facts about Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
- Her tenure in term of office – from 1980 to 1996 – makes her the second longest serving president of Iceland. She comes behind Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who served from 1996 to 2016.
- As president, Vigdís devoted considerable amount of time to environmental issues. She also staunchly stood for the preservation of Iceland’s culture and language. For her efforts in the latter, she was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for languages in 1998.
- Towards the dying years of the Cold War, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir served as a peace broker between US President Ronald Reagan and USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1986 Reykjavik Summit held in Iceland.
- Such was her appeal to Icelanders that in the 1984 and 1992 elections, she went unopposed. In 1988, she garnered 94.6% of the votes at the polls.
- Ever since she got elected in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadóttir has been a massive role model for many Icelandic women as well as women across the world. She has inspired countless number of women to take up leadership positions in the respective countries. As at 1980, women accounted for only 5% of the parliamentarians in Iceland. This number drastically changed during Vigdis Finnbogadóttir’s tenure of office. The 21st century has seen Icelandic women average between 25 to 38% in Iceland’s legislative body.
- She has been awarded honorary doctorates from over 15 universities across Europe and the United States, including a 1997 honorary doctorate in Civil Law from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada.
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has been a member of the Foundation Chirac (established by former French president Jacques Chirac) since 2008. The organization promotes peace around the world.
- She has been honored by a number of nations across Europe, including receiving the Order of the Legion of Honor in France on April 12, 1982; Norway’s Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of St. Olav in October 1981; and Spain’s Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Charles III in September 1985.
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is a member of the Club of Madrid – a group made up of 81 democratically-elected former presidents and leaders from about 57 countries.