Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was Iceland’s fourth president and the first and only woman to hold the position.

She was the world’s first democratically elected female president and remains the longest-serving one. She narrowly beat three men on 29 June 1980 and took office 1 August that year. She served four full terms and retired on 1 August 1996 but her life and career extend well beyond politics

Vigdís was born on 15 April 1930 in Reykjavík to an engineer and a nurse. The arts and education have been her passion for most of her life. She received degrees in languages, teaching, and theatre from universities in France, Denmark, and Iceland. She worked as a teacher and in theatres in Reykjavík during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971 she became the first single, divorced woman allowed to adopt a child. Vigdís was an active pacifist and involved in women’s campaigns; she participated in the annual anti-NATO march to the Keflavík military base. 1975 was the International Women's Year (IWY) according to the UN, and Vigdís was one of the key organizers of the famous “Women’s Day-Off ''. The “Women’s Day-Off '' was a day in which over 90% of women in Iceland did not go to their jobs or did not do any housework. The women’s movement wanted a woman to run in 1980 and after a great deal of pressure, Vigdís agreed to run and leave her position as director of the city theater.

The Icelandic presidency is mostly a ceremonial role, but Vigdís emphasized the importance of environmental protection and education. Whenever she made a formal visit to a community, three trees would be planted; one each for boys, girls, and the future.

In 1986 Iceland and Vigdís hosted a summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, a crucial step in ending the Cold War. On her foreign travels, she would promote the country with a special emphasis on its culture.

After leaving office, she has remained active in promoting women’s rights, education, and the protection of the Icelandic language. She has served as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Languages and the University of Iceland’s Language Institute is named after her. Harvard University founded a Council of Women Leaders in 1996 and she was the first chair.

 

This year Vigdís will turn 90 and all Iceland will be celebrating. A large party will be hosted on 15 April at Háskóli Bíó and broadcasted on public television.

An award in her name will be given for the first time.

 

Our historic archive includes many vintage photographs from Vigdís’ life and career.

A classic image of a woman that made history, like Vigdís, makes an excellent addition to any collection on International Women’s Day.

Celebrate all the special women in your life with a unique and meaningful gift!