Minda Øien

1874-1920
Minda was the daughter of a tailor, the oldest of eight siblings. The family was not well off and had its troubles. For periods of time Minda lived with other relatives in Trondheim. Several sources state that she was quiet, neat and honest. Minda was thus a girl of the people, and one would not expect to find a trace of her in the city's history.
But her fate was anything but normal. One morning in October 1888 she was found outside Svaneapoteket [The Swan pharmacy] in the market square in a terrible state. Initially she was taken to jail to sober up. Later it emerged that she had participated in a party at the pharmacy where two or three men of good standing had plied her with drink. She had then been sexually assaulted in the worst way. The police undertook some investigations, concluding that Minda had been “out on a winter’s night before”, and that she also was an exceptionally forward 14-year-old. Further investigation was dragged out, and the leftist newspaper Dagsposten criticised the police work. The newspaper asked whether this case would have received the same priority if an upper-class girl had been assaulted by dockworkers. There was unrest two nights running, with a large number of people assembling in front on the police commissioner's house on Søndregate. There was screaming and shouting and windows were broken. Military forces were deployed, and those pointed out as the leaders of the riots were sentenced to two years in prison.
The abuse in the pharmacy was overshadowed by the riots. The main perpetrator, a lieutenant from a vicar's family, was sentenced to 30 days’ remand in the fortress. For Minda, the consequences were far more brutal. Everyone knew who she was, her reputation was ruined, and she was shown no empathy or kindness.
For some time she lived in Magdalenahjemmet [a shelter for women deemed “fallen”], where Redningsmisjonen [a voluntary diaconal mission] attempted to put "fallen women" back on their feet. Here she often was at loggerheads with the other residents, who probably did not treat her with much respect or sympathy. In May 1889 she was sent to Vesterålen to find employment in the hope that a change of scenery would benefit her. In August the next year she was back in Trondheim, and now she also had a daughter. After a couple of unsteady years, the then 20-year-old Minda emigrated to the USA. Less is known about what happened to her from there, but it is said that she lived until 1920.
Sociologists and historians have since taken an interest in the incident in Trondheim in the autumn of 1888. An education programme has been made to illuminate class and gender issues in the hope that something may be learnt from this tragic story.
Recommended reading: Ingar Kaldal: Veit og gate: daglegliv i Midtbyen i Trondheim 1880-1950 [Alley and street: Day-to-day life in downtown Trondheim 1880-1950]. Universitetsforlaget, 1997.

Author: Einar Rædergård