2. Education of the merchant’s daughter
Miinu was given the opportunity to study more than many other daughters of a cotton mill foreman or small-town shopkeeper at the time.
Miinu attended the Swedish-speaking Finlayson factory school in Tampere before moving to Kuopio. Before the grammar school system was born, schools run by patrons provided initial education for a working-class child. There children learned to write and read, using mainly The Bible and Catechism as textbooks. In Kuopio, Miinu, now calling herself Mina, continued at the Swedish-speaking Elise Heintzie Infant School. Elise Heinzie was a skilled teacher, but there weren’t many school supplies. The writing paper and blackboard were replaced by sand spread out on the bottom of a low box, where letters and numbers were drawn.
The next stage was a three-year school run by the Soldan sisters, Alexandra, Augusta and Edla. The school was for girls only. Edla Soldan was later Mina’s teacher at the Jyväskylä seminar.
The highest school for girls in Kuopio during Mina’s childhood was the two-year Swedish-speaking state girls’ school, “Ladies school for the most sophisticated parents’ daughters”, founded in 1857. At the time Kuopio was very caste conscious and the gentry was Swedish-speaking. It was a miracle that the merchant Johnson’s daughter got into the school. The parents of Mina’s friend Selma Backlund were less “sophisticated”, and Selma was not admitted to the school. This early experience of social inequality made them both fight later for equal education and a just society.
In 1860, the girls’ school changed to be three years in length, so Mina Johnson had had three years to attend it. The subjects included biblical history and larger catechism, general history and geography, natural history and calculation, which included four calculation methods in totals and fractions. German, French and Russian were also studied, as well as handwriting. Almost half the hours were reserved for handicrafts. Handicrafts weren’t the favorite subject of the lively Mina.
Very little is known about Mina’s actual schoolwork. Lucina Hagman says she was a good essay writer, an avid actress on a school night out and a storyteller in a circle of companions. In some of Canth’s works, such as Hanna, The Wife of Lecturer Hellman and the short story Eräs Puijolla käynti the author is likely to describe her own moods, feelings, comrades and incidences mostly from the summer holidays of her own school-years.
After the girls’ school in the autumn of 1863, Mina Johnson was one of the first students to start in the newly formed seminar in Jyväskylä, even though her merchant father had already looked for a husband for her daughter. At the seminar, Mina started using the first name Minna.
The seminar taught religion, educational studies, Finnish and Swedish, history, geography, mathematics, natural sciences, art subjects, free drawing and map drawing. An hour a day was for gymnastics and another one for walking outside. “Even the most careless, like me, is forced to take better care of her health here”, wrote Minna to her friend Ida Grahn about the seminar, urging her to go outdoors and not just sew. This healthy practice, to exercise and walk daily, Canth followed throughout her life.
Although Minna Johnson had to drop out of her studies after marrying J. F. Canth, a lecturer in natural science at the seminary, in the fall of 1865, she had had time to get in touch with many things and subjects that the women of that time had not encountered. Now she knew how much information would be available in the world for girls and women as well, if only they were given the opportunity to study. She was able to observe herself, other women and society in a new way and came to clear the way over time for generations of women getting equal education.