Epic People of History: Jenny Lind


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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Today I’m going to focus on a lady by the name of Jenny Lind.

If that name seems familiar, kudos to you, you’re awesome and I recommend checking out my Friday post coming up, on Jenny Lind Tea Cakes. However, I’m guessing most people reading this aren’t familiar with that name or even her nickname ‘The Swedish Nightingale’.

Which is a shame, because Jenny Lind was one of the first world-famous music stars and… (drum roll please) the meta inspiration for Queen Elsa.

Yes, I’m being serious. I’ll explain this in a moment.

First, a little history on Miss Lind (or Mrs. Lind-Goldschmidt as she was later known).

Portrait of Jenny Lind in the 1840s

The Life and Times of Jenny Lind

Born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 6, 1820, as Johanna Maria Lind, she was the illegitimate daughter of a bookkeeper and a school teacher.

When she was nine, she was overheard singing (some say to her cat) and word got around that she had amazing vocal skills. So with the help of some friends in high places, she started training under the singing master of the Royal Dramatic Theater.

Which was both good and bad.

Good in that she got training and began to grow into the operatic prima donna that she would eventually become.

Bad because the training was subpar. Despite being the ‘Royal Dramatic Theater’, it was no Juilliard. Twice Jenny nearly wrecked her voice due to her training before she was 21.

In 1841, however, she ended up under the tutelage of (then famous) Manuel García in Paris. There, (after a three-month moratorium on singing to allow her vocal chords to heal) she received better vocal training. As far as records show, she never had an issue with her vocal chords again.

Jenny Lind and Hans Christian Andersen

By 1843, she was back in action and touring in Denmark, where among many other men, Hans Christian Andersen ended up meeting and falling in love with her. However, the feeling was not mutual (several of his biographers note that Jenny saw him as a brother, not a lover) and according to Carole Rosen, a biographer of Lind’s, that romantic rebuff led Hans Christian Andersen to model his icy-hearted Snow Queen after the singer.

And as we all know ‘Frozen’ is loosely based on Andersen’s fairy tale, with Queen Elsa being an interpretation of the Snow Queen.

So Jenny Lind -> Snow Queen -> Queen Elsa

Think about that next time you watch Elsa belt out ‘Let It Go‘.

Jenny Lind’s ‘Retirement’

Anyway, a few years pass and at the ripe old age of 29, Jenny decides she’s done with her opera career and announces her retirement. But as is the case with many famous musicians, ‘retirement’ is just another word for changing venues.

This is the case for Jenny, as in 1850, she strikes a deal with the famous show master P. T. Barnum (of the circus fame) to tour America and Cuba. By the time she arrived in America, her fame is so widespread, that in some American cities Barnum is raffling off tickets to see her show. Her share of the profits (which she donated to various charities, given her already substantial wealth) from the 93 concerts with Barnum was about $350,000 or almost $10 million dollars in today’s money.

However, Jenny wasn’t done touring just yet. She continued touring the United States (and Toronto, Canada) at a more leisurely pace between 1851 and 1852. Records of this tour are less revealing of Lind’s profits, but given her reception with P. T. Barnum, it can be assumed that her second tour in America was just as financially successful as the first. When her first pianist and conductor, Julius Benedict, returned to England at the end of the tour with Barnum, she continued on with a long time friend – Otto Goldschmidt – whom she married in Boston on February 5, 1852.

After she was finally finished touring in America, the couple returned to Europe – initially to Germany and then to England. They had three children and for all intents and purposes, Jenny lived a happy life of leisure, teaching and training future singers in England with her husband Otto.

Jenny Lind’s Legacy

When she passed away in 1887, she was already well memorialized, having had ships, locomotives, a creek in Australia, and a small town in California named after her. In 1996 and 2006, Sweden revealed 50 krona banknotes with her visage on them.

Needless to say, she was an amazing woman. Talented, charitable, and business savvy. Certainly, a great example to women and girls everywhere, both in her day and in the present.

While she is not as famous today as she was during the 19th century – there are quite a few biographies and memoirs available. Here is a small list of books about Jenny Lind, some of which are in the public domain and thus free to read:

Comments? Questions?

Now my question to you: Are there any other famous women (or men) you are interested in learning about? Let me know in the comments. And if you like what you’ve been seeing here on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!

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