Wanny Woldstad: First Female Hunter on Svalbard

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

Wanny Woldstad was the first female trapper on Svalbard, but she preferred to think of herself as simply a trapper

Regions: Arctic

Svalbard’s first female fangstmann

If you enter the word fangstmann into most Norwegian-to-English online translators, the word you usually get is “trapper.” When you enter fangstkvinne, on the other hand, you most often see the term “trapper woman.”

Such gender specifications are common in languages, even those that do not technically have gendered words. In this case, the male term fangstmann is deemed normative and so is not mentioned as male – despite the word mann (man) being clearly written into it. The female term, meanwhile, is considered exceptional and so is translated as specifically female.

While this may be the case because female trappers were less common than their male counterparts, it’s not surprising that many in the modern world object to such gender-normative terminology on the grounds that it is limiting and presumptive.

Wanny Woldstad was just such a person, and this summary of her life may explain why.

Picture by unknown photographer

Born in 1893 in the Norwegian town of Sommarøy, Woldstad was originally named Ivanna Margrethe Ingvardsen. She had two sons with her first husband, who died in 1918 during the Spanish flu epidemic, after which she married Martin Mikal Woldstad, who she would also outlive.

Woldstad began working as a taxi driver in Tromsø during the 1920s, probably the first woman in town to have done so. Many of her fares were trappers who boasted of the big money they made hunting game in Svalbard. It would not be long before these stories began to give her ideas.

So when trapper Anders Sæterdal offered her a spot on his 1932 trapping expedition, she readily accepted. But some of the other hunters, all men, doubted her abilities. Though she had won trophies for marksmanship, she was only 5.2 feet tall (1.57 meters) and did not look especially robust.

But appearances can be deceiving: Woldstad proved a skilled hunter, tagging her first polar bear that December. She would return to Svalbard twice more in the ensuing years, both times with her sons, who became skilled hunters and trappers in their own right.

Picture by unknown photographer

Her preferred area of hunting was Hornsund, a fjord on the western side of Spitsbergen, specifically the nearby bay of Hyttevika. Over the five seasons she spent on Svalbard, she and her fellow hunters claimed 77 bears and an untold number of foxes and geese.

Woldstad and Sæterdal later settled on a farm, but their romance was short-lived. Going her own way five years later, she busied herself giving lectures around Norway. She also published a 1956 memoir entitled The First Woman Trapper on Svalbard, later translated into English as Wanny Get Your Gun, playing off the 1946 Broadway musical (and 1950 film) Annie Get Your Gun.

Which brings us back to fangstmann. In her writings, Woldstad uses this word to describe herself rather than the female-specific fangstkvinne. Perhaps it’s clear now why she would, after her many brave and individualistic exploits, prefer to think of herself as simply a trapper rather than a trapper woman.

Main image by Sara Jenner

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