eva ekeblad

Who is Eva Ekeblad

Eva Ekeblad (10 July 1724 – 15 May 1786), a Swedish countess who was a salon hostess, agronomist, and scientist in her time. Ekeblad was someone whose breakthrough experiment in extracting starch from potatoes to make flour paved the way for vodka distillation – a cause for celebration across Europe that time.

 Ekeblad—the subject of Google Doodle project by 10th of July, doodle included a cutting board used for cooking with potato and potato flour were on the board. The peeled skins of a potato spelled out the word “Google.”, which acknowledged important figures in history—was one of the first to understand how potatoes could also be used to make flour and alcohol at a time when they weren’t even considered fit for human body to consume everyday.

Great works:

In 1746, she began growing her own potatoes, experimenting and figuring out that when they were cooked, smashed, and dried, she could make flour. As in the mid-1740s potatoes were a relative oddity in Sweden, primarily used as animal feed. However, the tuber was attracting attention for its potential, especially after reports that other countries were using it to produce alcohol. Claes (her husband) was said to express an interest in potatoes, which might have led to Eva’s experiments. In 1746 she discovered what was described as the then most advanced method for creating alcohol from the plant.

The discovery led to her being admitted to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences—unheard of for a woman of the era.

Personal Life:

Eva De la Gardie was born to statesman count Magnus Julius De la Gardie (1668–1741) and the amateur politician and salonist Hedvig Catharina Lilje: sister of Captain Carl Julius De la Gardie and Hedvig Catharina De la Gardie and the aunt of Axel von Fersen the Younger. Her brother was married to Cathérine Charlotte De la Gardie and the brother-in-law of the royal favorite Hedvig Taube.

In 1740, Eva married at the age of 16 the riksråd count Claes Claesson Ekeblad, and became the mother of seven children; one son and six daughters, Claes Julius Ekeblad (1742–1808) and Hedda Piper among them. Their spouses belonged to the elite of the Swedish nobility.

Upon her marriage, her father, Julius De la Gardie, gave Eva the estates Mariedal Castle and Lindholmen Castle, Västergötland. Her husband, additionally, owned the Stola Manor estate as well as a residence in the capital of Stockholm.

Because of the frequent absence of her husband on business, Eva Ekeblad was given the responsibility of the management of the three estates to follow, including the tasks of supervising and managing the bailiffs and presiding at the country-assemblies of the parishes of the estates. Then she is described as imposing and temperamental with great authority: fair toward the peasantry, whom she protected against abuse from the bailiffs in return for obedience, and as someone who did not hesitate to rectify and punish wrongdoings during conflicts with local dignitaries. She also had a leading role in the local aristocracy, and Stola manor was renowned for its good order.

In the Ekeblad residence in Stockholm, Sweden, she hosted a cultural salon and was described by the wife of the Spanish Ambassador de marquis de Puentefuerte as “one of few aristocratic ladies whose honor was considered untainted”. The first concert performances of the mass music of Johan Helmich Roman were performed in her salon at the Ekeblad House at that time. She was on friendly terms with queen Louisa Ulrika and had a very good relationship.

After the death of her husband in 1771, she retired to the countryside. Mariedal and Lindholmen estates served as her dower estates, the former being her personal residence. She initially also kept control of her son’s estate Stola, he being also absent from his estates like his father because of his career.

In 1775, her son Claes Julius Ekeblad (1742–1808) married Brita Horn, and three years afterwards Stola manor was granted to her daughter-in-law as a dower. In November 1778, Eva Ekeblad was present as a witness at the birth of the future Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden. She stayed in the capital for two years, during which time she was much celebrated and offered several positions at court: as a lady-in-waiting to the queen; as överhovmästarinna (Mistress of the Robes) in succession to Ulrika Strömfelt; and as royal governess for the Crown Prince.

She was forced to refuse, however, because her hitherto good health was affected by an illness, which left her much weakened and made her periodically bedridden for her remaining eight years. She spent her last six years in Mariedal Castle, where she continued to be celebrated by the local aristocracy until she died.

In a snapshot:

Career:

Discovered the many uses of potato:

As potatoes were available in Sweden and around Europe since 1658, they weren’t considered human food until the mid-18th century. Prior to Ekeblad’s experiments with the vegetable, potatoes were used as animal food in Sweden. The idea of using potatoes to produce alcohol was not new as in 1941, a lecture in the Swedish Parliament by Jacob Albrecht von Lantingshausens spoke about using potatoes for brandy production. Claes Ekeblad, was a member of the parliament and took great interest in the idea of making something out from potatoes and make more usage of the crop. Eva grew her own potatoes in her land and during her several experiments, found that they could be used to create a kind of flour as human food and alcohol as drink. In 1746 when she was just 22 years old, her method for alcohol production using potatoes was considered the most advanced of the time, even though the concept was not new in Europe.

The first woman member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:

She was the first woman scientist, elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1748, though, in 1751, the Academy referred to her as an honorary member because full membership was reserved for men only. It took a total 203 years for the next woman member to be elected to the science Academy. Apart from her research into potatoes, another factor that helped Ekeblad’s election was that the Academy of Sciences in Bologna had elected their first female scientist, Laura Bassi, a Newtonian physicist, in 1732, after her appointment as the chair of physics (called Natural Philosphy at the time) by the senate and the University of Bologna.

More inventions:

Ekeblad’s contribution to science and experiments with potato were not restricted to alcohol only, but she also discovered a method to bleach cotton textile and yarn with soap in 1751 and, in 1752, for finding a replacement for dangerous chemicals used in wigs in the form of potato flour. She advertised the potato plant by using its flowers to adorn her wigs.

As an influential courtier:

After the death of her husband Claes Ekeblad in 1771, the renowned scientist took on a number of roles within the royal court in Stockholm, Sweden. She served as lady in waiting to Queen Sophia Magdalena, as Mistress of the Robes and as governess to Crown Prince Gustav IV Adolf, whose birth she witnessed by 1778.

She was married to a man twice her age:

In 1740, at the age of 16, she married 32-year-old Claes Claesson Ekeblad and they lived in Stockholm, Sweden. From 1742 to 1754, she gave birth to six daughters and one son, in addition to managing the family’s three estates, supervising the bailiffs and presiding over the country assemblies of the parishes of their estates.

Lessons for her life

Ekeblad’s achievement is all the more impressive when you consider she could have easily relegated herself to a life of leisure and can spend a royal life if she wanted to. Raised among a lot of nobility personnel—her father was statesman Count Magnus Julius de la Gardie, she married Count Claes Claesson Ekeblad at the age of 16 and set about managing the family’s properties by her own will and strength. Working in the castle kitchen as an agronomist, someone who studies the uses for plants in several ways to make the best out of it, she toiled on the potato before submitting her findings to the Academy in 1746.

While Eva Ekeblad, who died in 1786, remains a standout member of her family tree, she may have been outdone by her sister-in-law, Catherine Charlotte De la Gardie, who helped popularize use of the smallpox vaccine.

Any invention that make the way of life much easier or better, are always renowned by its characteristic. Eva, one of a kind of a hard working lady on the other hand looking for better ways for human race, will be remembered forever for all the reasons she brought for us and will follow her steps to invent to make life, a better path of success.

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References:

  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/07/10/6-cool-facts-about-eve-ekeblad-the-scientist-who-made-vodka-fro_a_23023277/
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/eva-ekeblad-swedish-scientist-google-doodle-potatos-vodka-flour-starch-a7832971.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Ekeblad#See_also
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