Not only a pioneer in creative writing, American-Norwegian Brenda Ueland was a feminist fighting for equal rights in the early 20th century and throughout her life.

Celebrated Brenda Ueland from Minneapolis was an eccentric writer and activist for women’s rights, who reputedly played tennis in the nude. Her two rules for life was to tell the truth, and not do anything she did not want to.

“Everyone has something to express”

Among literature aficionados, her importance as a writer is unmistakable. Her fame is partly due to her position on talent, and that every human being is able to write good:

“This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.”

A guide on writing, If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (1938), is probably her most popular and well-known book.

The book still inspires aspiring writers across the world today. Three times Pulitzer Prize-winner Carl Sandburg, has even called it “the best book on writing ever written.”

Ueland worked as an editor, essayist and a freelance writer for publications such as Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Minneapolis Times and Ladies Home Journal. She was a pioneer in the tradition of autobiographical writing in American literature.

On Men

Besides standing out as a female writer in a male-dominated trade, Ueland’s personal life also reflects her untraditional approach at the time. She was a bohemian living in Greenwich Village, married three times and raised a daughter by herself.

One of her many lovers, as expressed herself, was the Norwegian explorer, scientist and philanthropist, Fridtjof Nansen. Although the age difference was nearly 30 years, they had a special relationship and wrote long love letters to each other.

It is likely that she had Nansen in mind when expressing her idea on “great men”:

“It seems to me one of the best ways to be a great man would be to be a true friend of women… How? Neither pamper nor exploit them. Love in women their greatness, which is the same as it is in men. Insist on bravery, honor, grandeur, and generosity in women…”

Norwegian Father

Her Norwegian ancestry is easy to deduct from her surname alone. Brenda Ueland’s father, Mr. Andreas Ueland, emigrated from Norway to Minnesota in the 19th century. He worked as a day laborer, but studied law at night, and soon became a prominent judge and legal counsel.

Women rights as a cause was introduced early to Brenda Ueland, as her mother, Clara Hampson Ueland, was a suffragette and founder of the Minnesota League of Women Voters.

Brenda Ueland kept a firm belief in the equality between women and men throughout her entire life, and the belief that every person is unique.

“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”


Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society

Sources: Alice Kaplan, The American Scholar / Eric Utne, Huffington Post / Brandon Gaille / A Z Quotes