Karen Platou

New portrait of Norway’s first regular female member of parliament unveiled

karen platou

Photo: Sitan Lysberg Solum
Artist Marianne Wiig-Storaas (right) hangs the portrait of Karen Platou, who was Norway’s first woman elected to a permanent seat in the Norwegian parliament, in the Eidsvollsgalleriet in the Storting.

NTB

A century after Karen Platou (Conservative Party) first took her seat in the Storting as a regular member of parliament (MP), a new portrait of the pioneer has been unveiled in the Storting. 

The artist Marianne Wiig Storaas painted the new portrait of Platou.

“It’s a great honor to portray this strong and historically significant woman, the first female MP to have a regular seat in the Storting,” said Storaas.

Svein Harberg, the Storting’s first vice president, unveiled the portrait in the Storting’s Eidsvoll Gallery on Jan. 11. This was 100 years to the day after Karen Platou first took her seat in the Storting as a regular MP.

“Until now, the Storting has had only five portraits of women among all the men on display, so it’s high time we gave Karen Platou the prominent place she deserves in the collection itself and in the narrative of the Storting as a whole,” Harberg said.

Karen Platou was a substitute MP from 1920 to 1921 and was elected as a regular MP in the 1921 parliamentary election. When parliament opened on Jan. 11, 1922, Platou became the first woman to take her seat in the Storting as a regular MP.

When, three months into the session, she was asked what it was like to take her seat in the Storting, Platou replied, “I consider my work here to be that of a pioneer.” She said that it was difficult to get support for parliamentary business but added that she was pleased other MPs often asked for her advice on matters that concerned “women and the home.” In Platou’s view, the very fact that she was consulted on such issues was an important step in the right direction. She was also pleased that the form of address during parliamentary debates had been changed from “gentlemen” (“mine herrer”) to “honorable members” (“ærede representanter”) in recognition of the presence and participation of women in the chamber.

Platou was especially active in issues relating to social affairs, welfare in the home, working conditions for homemakers, women’s rights, and housing. As a substitute MP, she was a member of the Salary Committee. She then served on the Justice Committee after becoming a regular MP.

Platou served as a regular MP during the 1922-1924 parliamentary term before she once again became a substitute in the following term. In 1927, she gave notice to the Oslo Conservative Party that she no longer wished to be considered for election.

“The portrait of Karen Platou presents us with a powerful depiction of the pioneer she was. It will be hung in a prominent place in the Storting and remind us how vital it is for democracy that the entire population is represented,” Svein Harberg said.

The portrait of Karen Platou is one of the ways the Storting is marking 100 years of women in the Storting.

“At last, Platou has become part of the collection. Portraits of women in her time were often depicted as simply women, and not because they distinguished themselves from the masses through their social or intellectual significance. They were painted by men, so a lot has changed since then. Platou was an active agent for these changes,” Storaas added.

Storaas, who is from Oslo, was chosen to paint the portrait after the Storting’s executive committee announced a competition for the assignment in the autumn of 2020. KORO, the government agency responsible for public art in Norway, has assisted the Storting in the process.

Karen Platou

Photo: Oslo Musuem / Public domain
Portrait of Karen Platou, about 1930–1935.

Karen Platou was born into a prominent family in Mandal, Vest-Agder in 1879. She grew up in Kristiania, called Oslo now. She was educated there and in Hannover, Germany. 

Upon completion of her studies, she started working as an architect and became involved in the labor union movement and politics.

In 1919, Platou was elected deputy representative in the Norwegian parliament for the Conservative Party. In 1921, she was elected member of parliament for the constituency of Kristiania, as the first woman in the country. Her election prospects as a woman were probably increased by the fact that 1921 marked the first Norwegian election with proportional representation.

Platou’s first speech in parliament criticized Prime Minister Otto Blehr’s assertion that chocolate was a luxury commodity, as she argues it was an important part of children’s diets.

In 1930, Platou stared her own publishing business. During World War II, she worked actively for the Norwegian resistance, but she was exposed and fled to Sweden in 1942. She died only five years after the end of the war in 1950.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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