Vigdis Finnbogadottir

Vigdis Finnbogadottir

Doctor of Civil Law

Dr. Vigdis is the fourth President of Iceland, and the first woman in World history to be elected a Constitutional Head of State. Under the Constitution of Iceland, the President does not have political responsibility, but rather personifies the unity of the nation. In her three terms in office, she has devoted her career to preserving and interpreting the culture of her tiny Island republic, noted for its rich literary tradition dating back to early medieval times. It has been said that theatre is her special passion. She served from 1972 to 1980 as Director of Iceland's National Theatre and has played a special role in encouraging Icelandic playwrights.

She was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, to a family in which her father was a civil engineer and professor at the University of Iceland, and her mother, Chairperson of the Icelandic Nurses Association for thirty-six years. Hence, it is not surprising that the value of education was paramount to all members of her family.

On completing high school, she could not decide whether to stay in Iceland and become a doctor, or go to Europe for further education. The latter was particularly appealing since both her parents had studied abroad, and she had grown up hearing about Europe, especially during the war years. As a result, she completed junior college at Menntaskolinn I Reykjavik in 1949, then went to the University of Grenoble where she studied French and subsequently, to the Sorbonne in Paris, where she took courses in literature and dramaturgy. He increasing interest in theatre led her to Copenhagen, Denmark to study theatre history. She completed her formal education by returning to the University of Iceland to study courses in English Literature and Education.

After this extensive educational training, it is not surprising that she opted to become a teacher herself - first serving as a French instructor at her alma mater, and then building up the French Department at a new experimental school, the Menntaskolinn vid Hamrahid. She also taught French on the public television network of Reykjavik. During the summer holidays, she served as a tourist guide for the Icelandic Tourist Bureau, taking foreign journalists and writers around the Island and helping them collect research material on her country. Eventually, she developed and ran a programme of training guides for this programme. In the early 1970s, she was very involved with the Reykjavik Theatre Company, serving as its Director and guiding it to new found heights. She also hosted a series of popular television programmes on drama for Iceland State Television, and was a tremendous ambassador both at home and abroad through her lectures on Icelandic culture.

During this period of her life, she remained detached from her nation's often turbulent political scene, which served her well when she ran for the Presidency in 1980. She felt that she was elected because "I tried to talk about our identity, our history, our country, our ecology - how we have survived." While the position of President is largely a ceremonial position, she has been able to use that to raise international awareness of Iceland, its culture, and its people. Hence, perhaps her most important role has been that of a cultural ambassador abroad, noting at every opportunity the theme of cooperation among the Nordic countries, which she often refers to as the "golden ring." Her numerous international trips have enabled her to put Iceland on the international scene. Combined with her charm and her fluent command of several languages, Dr. Vigdis has been termed "the best ambassador Iceland has ever had." Fiercely proud of her nation, she has spent considerable energy attempting to dispel the stereotypes of Iceland as a "very cold place, full of ice with very few people living there." One aspect of Icelandic culture that she particularly praises is its literary traditions dating back to the old Norse of the Vikings.

Raised in an educated home, and very well educated herself, she has a message to the women of the world, and that is "get educated - never accept a shorter education that your brothers."

In light of the foregoing, therefore, it is not surprising that he has been awarded Honorary degrees from a number of institutions including the University of Grenoble; the University of Bordeaux; Smith College; Luther College; the University of Manitoba; the University of Nottingham; the University of Tampere; the University of Gothenburg; the University of Tokyo; and the University of Miami.

She was married, subsequently divorced, and in 1972, adopted a baby daughter, Astriour Magnusdottir.