A face from the past

Resusci Anne is resting in the collection facility of the Helsinki University Museum, protected by dust covers. Anne bears the likeness of a beautiful, youngish woman with golden blonde hair and a blue-and-white tracksuit. Her eyes are closed and her mouth is slightly open. The manikin, its carrying case and other equipment for practising resuscitation were donated to the University Museum by the museum committee of Pitkäniemi Hospital in 2012. Pitkäniemi, Finland’s fourth oldest psychiatric hospital, is still operational today.

Used for practising cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Resusci Anne is a remarkably realistic looking manikin, developed by the Norwegians Åsmund Lærdal and Björn Lind and the Austrian Peter Safar. The manikin was first presented in 1961 at the First International Symposium on Resuscitation in Stavanger, Norway. The face of the manikin is based on L’Inconnue de la Seine, a plaster cast death mask of an unidentified woman reputedly drowned in the River Seine in the 19th century.

The upper body of Resusci Anne, wearing a tracksuit, viewed from the head of the manikin.
Unlike the plaster cast on which the manikin is modelled, Resusci Anne has her mouth slightly open – for the purposes of practising CPR – and is not smiling enigmatically. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Anna Luhtala.

Continue reading “A face from the past”

The commemorative ring of the Old Student House – a gift from spes patriae, Finland’s young hopefuls

A gold ring rests on a purple velvet pillow in a leather case. A golden building glows against a dark-blue enamel ring base, with a golden lyre glimmering above the building. Today, the building is known as the Old Student House, but when the ring was forged, the unique edifice had just been completed – a building for the nation’s young hopefuls!

Ring in its case. Photo: Helsinki University Museum, Johannes Keltto.

A number of rings commemorating the construction process were made at the time. The ring included in the collections of the Helsinki University Museum belonged to Carl Gustav Borg, a university lecturer, writer and translator. Another ring, which used to belong to businessman Nikolai Kiseleff, is safe and sound in the archives of the University’s Student Union. The University Museum has no information on the fate of the other rings.

Previous owner of the ring

Who then was Carl Gustav Borg? Born in the Northern Ostrobothnia region of Finland in 1823, he completed a master’s degree in Helsinki and later conducted research on language and translated both fairy tales and legislation. He also served as extraordinary lecturer of Finnish at the Imperial Alexander University and held elected positions in the Finnish Literature Society and the Diet. In fact, the ring came to his possession through his position on the Student House’s five-member construction committee. Borg had a versatile career: for example, he administered the affairs of Elias Lönnrot, a physician, philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry, and organised his funeral.

A moustachioed man wearing a suit and pince-nez. A bust in three-quarter profile.
Carl Gustav Borg in 1879. Photo: Aug. Adler Photogr. atelier; Finnish Literature Society, archives.

Students as tenants

As early as the 1850s, the Student Union and faculties together rented a whole floor of a stone building, including an outbuilding, owned by city surgeon Fredrik Pihlflyckt. However, the high rent gave rise to the idea of constructing an all-new building just for students. The matter was officially discussed in 1858 at a meeting of the faculty of history and philology. The identity of the person who first proposed the construction of the building has later been the subject of debate. One of the names put forward was C. G. Borg, who was the faculty’s curator and extraordinary lecturer in Finnish at the time.

The project strikes the right chord

The construction project required funds. At the recommendation of the University Senate and the deputy chancellor, the emperor gave students permission to raise funds. Various events and plays were organised, but student singing events proved the most productive source of revenue. A triple quartet founded for the purpose toured the country, raising funds. This is the reason for the inscription Spei suae patria dedit (‘The fatherland gave to the hopeful’) above the entrance to the building.

Change of plans

Originally, a plot was acquired for the building on what is now the site of the National Archives of Finland. However, after a series of phases and difficulties, the plot in the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Itä-Heikinkatu (now Mannerheimintie) streets was chosen instead. The plans for the building itself also underwent significant changes. It was proposed that the building have three or four storeys and that it also accommodate other parties, such as the National Museum of Finland. Eventually, the decision was made to build a two-storey building.

Construction committee and architect

When the plot had been acquired and an appropriate nest egg had been built up, it was decided in 1867 to elect a construction committee that would hire an architect, inspect the drawings, see to the instalment of the foundation piles, the levelling of the plot and the erection of the building itself, and regularly report on progress to the Student Union. The five members elected to the construction committee included C. G. Borg, who had managed the project funds since 1863. The board selected Axel Hampus Dahlström as the architect. He was also the first architect (later director general) of the National Board of Public Buildings. Dahlström drew a plan for a neo-Renaissance building with a banqueting hall at its centre. The building also included a restaurant, a library and rooms for the meetings of student associations and faculties as well as a smaller venue known as the music hall. The emperor approved the drawings in 1869, and the building was completed the following year.

A drawing of the Student House, with a garden at the back. In front of the building is a wide street and people dressed according to the fashion of the late 19th century.
Colour lithograph of the Old Student House. Photo: Finnish Heritage Agency. CC BY 4.0.

Inauguration celebration

The building was inaugurated on 26 November 1870. The date was chosen to commemorate the University’s opening on the same day in 1722 after it had been closed due to the Great Northern War. The inauguration programme included a morning celebration held in Finnish and Swedish, with the construction committee attending as honorary guests. The celebration began and ended with the song Maamme (‘Our Land’), now the Finnish national anthem. After the other guests had left, the Student Union presented the members of the construction committee with gold rings. The festivities continued in the evening with a ball. At a dinner held the next day, the participants raised their glasses to the triple quartet singers, architect Dahlström and the construction committee.

Public and private

From the outset, the construction project drew the attention of the press and the public. The press reported eagerly on the fundraising campaign, the building plans and the issue of which language or languages would be used at the inauguration ceremony. The donation of the gold rings was also promptly chronicled. The Old Student House and events held there have been in the public eye in later years as well. The building has seen its fair share of history, including a visit by Alexander III of Russia, anti-Russification activism, a performance by an underground artist that led to a prison sentence, and the occupation of the building in the late 1960s. However, students have also met each other in the building for reading, singing, celebrations and other activities without making the headlines.

This article will be published on 26 November 2020, the 150th anniversary of the Old Student House. What will the future bring for the building?

Congratulations to the Old Student House, and all the best both now and in the future!

The Old Student House and the busy Mannerheimintie street, viewed diagonally from above.
Originally built on the outskirts of Helsinki, the Old Student House is now located in the heart of the city. Photo: Helsinki University Museum, Susanna Hakkarainen.


Susanna Hakkarainen, project planning officer



Forsius, Arno: Elias Lönnrotin (1802–1884) hautajaiset 3.4.1884.

Historiallinen sanomalehtikirjasto: https://digi.kansalliskirjasto.fi/search?formats=NEWSPAPER&set_language=en

Klinge, Matti 1978: Ylioppilaskunnan historia osa 2. Kansalaismielen synty. Helsinki.

Klinge, Matti 1970: Ylioppilastalo. Helsingin Yliopiston Ylioppilaskunnan kiinteistöjen vaiheita. Jyväskylä.

The King of Finnish Hounds

When I visited the University of Helsinki’s Agricultural Museum with my colleagues in the winter of 2012, I fell in love with its extensive collection of animal sculptures which was on display in a side room on the first floor. The curator of the Agricultural Museum was about to retire and the museum had just been transferred under the Helsinki University Museum. The figurines of domestic animals, made by Anton Ravander-Rauas (1890–1972, Ravander until 1936) were grouped by species on the shelves, while reliefs hung on display on the walls. There were cows, bulls, horses, pigs, dogs, and sheep, just to mention a few. When we later on were selecting the Helsinki University Museum’s last exhibition to be mounted in the Arppeanum building, I suggested  the collection of animal sculptures. The charming figurines, portraying Finnish animal personalities, had been hidden away from the public for many years.

Miniature sculptures of cows and dogs on yellow shelves.
The collection of statuettes of domestic animals by Anton Ravander-Rauas was on display, grouped according to species, in a designated room in the University of Helsinki’s Agricultural Museum. Helsinki University Museum / Pia Vuorikoski

Continue reading “The King of Finnish Hounds”

The story of student overalls

It is August, and students admitted to Finnish institutions of higher education appear on the streets with peer tutors wearing their overalls. I donated my own pair of student overalls to the Helsinki University Museum in 2015 for the new main exhibition. It had been years since I had worn them, and whenever I had moved, I pondered whether to keep or donate them. Luckily, I had kept them, possibly in anticipation of a renovation or paint job that had never happened. The overalls, originally designed for Rupla, the association for students of Russian language and literature as well as Slavonic philology, were issued in November 1990. My pair was on display in the Power of Thought exhibition until August 2018.

Overalls for the Rupla association, at last!

Acquiring a pair of overalls was no easy task. Two energetic students of Russian, who had begun their studies in 1987, decided something had to be done after enduring three May Day celebrations wearing the ‘boring overalls designed for the University of Helsinki Student Union’. They did not hesitate to approach large companies to talk to those holding the purse strings. Usually, they were given just a phone number to call. The cost estimate for an order of 40 pairs of overalls was 10,000–12,000 Finnish markka, truly a tall order, as just two names were on the list of buyers in March 1990. However, the project moved forward, and by May, the number of buyers was already 13. The rank-and-file members of Rupla had a suspicious, if not surly, attitude towards the project.

Symbols (a hammer and a sickle drawn in the form of a question mark) referring to the Soviet Union as well as text printed on a red, slightly crinkled piece of fabric.
In November 1990, the Rupla student association placed an order for 26 pairs of overalls for students of Slavonic languages. The logo on the back, based on an idea put forward by the overalls committee, was created at an ad agency. Detail from the back of the overalls. Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Salme Vanhanen

Continue reading “The story of student overalls”

Gas masks and asbestos

On the right is a military-green rubber gas mask, with eyepieces facing towards the photographer. Next to it on the left is a darker green filter cartridge. At the bottom is a scale.
A civil defence gas mask from the late 1930s included in the collections of the Helsinki University Museum. The gas mask originally belonged to the University of Helsinki Department of Pharmacology. Photo: Helsinki University Museum.

The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include eight gas masks, of which seven are from the 1930s and intended for the civilian population. The University Museum has received the masks from hospitals and University of Helsinki departments. The collections also include an equine gas mask dating back to the 1930s or 1940s which is of an unknown origin.

In 2015 we made plans to place one of the civilian gas masks on display in the University Museum’s new main exhibition, The Power of Thought. However, we had to scrap these plans at the last minute when we discovered that the filters of old gas masks may contain asbestos.

In spring 2020 we decided to find out whether these suspicions were true. In this blog post, we explain how we investigated the matter and what we eventually found out.

Continue reading “Gas masks and asbestos”

Medical instruments from 200 years ago

An older gentleman slightly turned to the left looks sombrely out of a painting. A high-collared, white shirt is peeking out from under the black coat. The medal of the Order of Saint Anna hanging on a red ribbon around his neck and the Cross of the Order of Saint Vladimir on his chest speak of the appreciation of the Emperor. His grey hair is combed back. The man immortalised on the canvas is Johan Agapetus Törngren (1772–1859). The Object of the Month is an instrument purse that used to belong to him.

Johan Agapetus Törngren in a portrait.
Portrait of Johan Agapetus Törngren by Johan Erik Lindh, circa 1832. Photo: Pia Vuorikoski / Helsinki University Museum.

Continue reading “Medical instruments from 200 years ago”

Flora Day, Eero Järnefelt’s sketch for a mural

It is May. Spring-green foliage curves round to frame a scene in a park. The atmosphere is tense, the adults and children have a concentrated look on their faces. A man dressed in black, Fredrik Cygnaeus, is about to step down from the rostrum and the eyes of his audience are following him. Clear pastel colours create an impression of the air shimmering.

Eero Järnefelt’s pastel work depicts people in a park. Cygnaeus is on the right-hand side. There are listeners in the middle and on the left-hand side. There are birches in the background.
Eero Järnefelt: Flora Day, sketch, undated, pastel on paper, 83cm x 73cm, University of Helsinki. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Timo Huvilinna.

Continue reading “Flora Day, Eero Järnefelt’s sketch for a mural”

Tekla Hultin – always at the heart of the action

This time, we will present a beautiful object, which was added to our collections just a few weeks ago, and will also introduce its original owner. It is the laurel garland worn by Tekla Hultin when she was conferred a master’s degree on 31 May 1894. Although the tips of a few of the laurel leaves have broken and the green silk bow is slightly crumpled, the garland is in excellent condition. Looking at it lying on silk paper, you can almost smell the faint herbal aroma it emits.

Tekla Hultin’s laurel garland. Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Timo Huvilinna

Continue reading “Tekla Hultin – always at the heart of the action”

The Observatory’s public timepiece

A beautiful old, still-functioning precision pendulum clock hangs on the wall of a corridor leading to the Argelander lecture room at the Helsinki Observatory. This ‘Normal Zeit’ clock used to be placed in the lobby of the Observatory building where it functioned as a public timepiece that Helsinki residents could use to check the time. It is soon again time to turn the clock one hour forward when summer time begins. There are plenty of clocks at the Helsinki Observatory, including several precision clocks, the oldest of which dates back to the 18th century. How are these clocks linked to the Observatory?

An elongated wall-mounted grandfather clock, with a round, glass-covered clock face in a wooden case and the clock pendulums behind a glass door underneath.
Normal Zeit clock at the Observatory. Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Timo Huvilinna, 2013.

Continue reading “The Observatory’s public timepiece”