Wendela Hebbe was the daughter of the vicar Samuel Åström and was as a child much encouraged to read and explore literature.
Hebbe married the lawyer Clemens Hebbe in 1832, but he abandoned her in 1839 when he went bankrupt and fled the country, and she was left to support herself and her daughters alone. She first worked as a governess and a music-teacher in Jönköping. Her first novel, Arabella, was published in 1841 by the director of Aftonbladet, and she then moved to Stockholm and started to work as a journalist and reporter at that paper, a radical newspaper that was first published in 1830, only twelve years before she joined its staff. Aftonbladet is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, contributors to democratic freedom of speech in the 19th century in Sweden, a right that had been established in 1766 but was challenged during the reign of King Charles XIV John of Sweden(1818–1844). Hebbe worked as a translator and was the manager and director responsible for coverage of culture, music and literature, and she was also a social reporter. She was nicknamed "Fröken Frågvis", which means "Miss Inquisitive". She was an important member of the radical cultural elite in Stockholm during the 1840s and 1850s.
Wendela Hebbe is remembered as the first professional female journalist in Sweden. Although many women had published articles in Swedish papers before this, such as Catharina Ahlgren in the 18th century, Hebbe is considered the first full-time self-supporting employed female journalist to have been given a permanent position at a Swedish paper, and was, in that sense, a pioneer of her profession. In the 1860s, Sweden were to have several female reporters at least in the capital of Stockholm. This is what she is mainly remembered for today, but what has been largely forgotten is that she introduced social reportage in Sweden; being a woman, she was considered suitable for "soft questions" such as the social misery among the poor, and she gained considerable attention with her first social reportage, "Biskopens besök" (Visit from the Bishop) in 1843, a piece which contributed to the social debate that had begun around class-differences in Sweden around this time.
But the profession of a reporter was not considered suitable for a woman, and she was subjected to slander and rumourmongering; the fact that she had a relationship with the founder of Aftonbladet, Lars Johan Hierta, led some to assume that she had gotten her job because of nepotism. She was often caricatured in other papers, which greatly damaged her reputation and social position. However, it was impossible for Hebbe and Hierta to marry, as her husband had vanished into exile (the marriage where finally dissolved in 1864). Hierta was himself married, which made her talked about as his mistress; they did have a son together, Edvard, but he was born in secret and adopted to Germany (he later became the father of the artist Mollie Faustman). With her beauty she received much attention from the male cultural elite with whom she mingled, and this gave rise to the rumour that she was promiscuous; she was much courted, and poems where dedicated to her - complimentary ones from the radical author Carl Jonas Love Almquist, with whom she was, possibly, more than friends, and harsher ones from the poet Esaias Tegnér, whom she refused. The journalist Magnus Jacob Crusenstolpe, who was imprisoned for his fight for the freedom of speech, was also a friend of hers.
Hebbe retired as a journalist in the 1850s and started focusing on her writing as a novelist, but she continued to be a part of the radical democratic cultural circle of Stockholm.
Her daughter, Signe Hebbe (1837–1925), became a famous international singer and an actress in the 1860s, and Wendela often followed her on her tours.
In 1978 the Wendela Hebbe Society was founded in Sweden and 1998 a museum was founded at Södertälje.
- Arabella (novel, 1841)
- Svenska skaldestycken för ungdom (book of poems "for young people", 1845)
- Arbetkarlens hustru (The wife of a working man) (reportage, 1846)
- Brudarne (The Brides) (novel, 1846). Her most famous work.
- En fattig familj (A poor family) (reportage, 1850)
- Tvillingbrodern (The twin brother) (novel, 1851)
- Lycksökarna (The fortune hunters) (novel, 1852)
- Dalkullan (play, 1858)
- I Skogen (In the woods) (children's book, 1871)
- Bland trollen (Among the ogres) (children's book, 1877)
- Under hängranarne (Under the hanging trees) (novel, 1877)
- http://www.dagensvisa.com/minata/abl_wendela.html (Biography in Swedish, with image.)
- Österberg, Carin et al., Svenska kvinnor: föregångare, nyskapare. Lund: Signum 1990. (ISBN 91-87896-03-6)