Collecting memories in Iceland

From November 2022 to July 2023 three workshops were held in Iceland and six interviews conducted regarding the project Lands of Butterflies. Two of those workshops were held in Kópasker and one in Reykjavík.

The interviews were taken in various places, in Kópasker, Raufarhöfn, Akureyri, Grindavík and Þórshöfn but everyone interviewed lived or had lived in the Kópasker area for a long time and knew it well.

The workshops in Kópasker took place in the old Schoolhouse/Earth Quake Center, /Jarðskjálftasetrinu, but it was decided to have the Reykjavik workshop in a private home. The workshops were advertised on Face and in Skeglan, a local newspaper distributed in Kópasker and surrounding area. We sent messages to numerous women we knew of, calling several others and inviting them all to participate.

Workshop in Kópasker November 12, 2022

We discussed what those butterfly effects could be – possibly in connection with mating and education. In Iceland women are not likened to dancing butterflies, except in derogatory terms, meaning irresponsible, unreliable and childish. Foreign butterflies are beautiful and sensitive but ours are more like moths. If an Icelandic woman is likened to a butterfly it means that she should shut up and be pretty only.

We discussed what influenced women and those women who inspired others. It only took one woman to receive a further education for others to be influenced. They became positive role models, showing especially their daughters but also others that education is something to strive for.

We discussed mating choices, education, schools, children, women’s’ associations, craft, creative needs, arts, choice of employment and many more topics. We decided to focus on education, social activities and profession, with special attention to midwives and female teachers, who later became principals in the two first elementary schools in the area


Workshop in Kópasker Mars 4, 2023

Since the majority of the women had not been in the former workshop we began by forwarding the main results from it, i.e. education, social activities and profession. The discussions were broad and women shared various information about their area.

We realised the importance of positive views in the home about the value of education, discussions at the kitchen table for instance, and its effect on people’s attitude to education and inspiration. The Domestic Schools were very important, where women learnt to run a house, sew, craft and created many artworks of which many can now be found at the Local Museum.

We discussed the value of The Women’s Association for the area. In early years the association provided help for homes where sickness prevailed and propably paid the help as well.

We discussed why women with families suffered difficult absence from their home while studying midwifery. Possibly it was the respect of society that came to these midwives, or simply the will to assist other women.

We discussed the seasonal jobs for women, both then and now. Like herring work in Raufarhöfn, when women from all the area came and worked. There was also the seasonal work at the slaughter house in Kópasker, since all the lambs are slaughtered in autumn when they come down from the mountains.

Next we discussed women’s footprints on nature. Communal gardens were not existing in Kópasker or surrounding area, because many had their own potato gardens next to their house.  

Nowadays, many even have green houses with various crops, vegetables and fruits. The summer is very short in Iceland so the crop is barely enough for the family.


Workshop in Reykjavík March 23rd, 2023

Despite the workshop being well advertised, only one woman from Raufarhöfn showed up, apart from a member of our association. We had informal discussion about women’s footprints and their life in Raufarhöfn around 1960-1980. Very interesting. The women worked various jobs, apart from taking care of the home, herring salting, teaching, midwifing, sewing jobs, hotel work and in the shop. There was a lively social life, a women’s association and a church choir. 

It was interesting that women basically ran the place. They ran the school, they were police officers and district manager.

Society was changing greatly during those years and women taking on additional jobs in greater extent. The herring years played a big part. 




The first interview was with Ásta about education and influence of midwives and teachers.

Halla, Kolbrún, Hafrún

The second interview was with Kolbrún and her daughter Halla to hear about daily life for women in the countryside, about their education and how Kolbrún became the first female police officer in rural Iceland.


The third interview was with Hólmfríður because of her vast knowledge of the area. She worked as airport manager, founded fish company with her husband, was the manager of the Earth Quake Center and managed the municipality sport center.


The fourth interview was with Guðbjörg, daughter of Guðrún in Brekka, to get information of protection and reclaimed nature in the area

Stella og Helgi

The fifth interview was with Stella and her husband Helgi, about employment, water, earth, culture and education in Raufarhöfn, better known as the biggest herring town in Iceland.

Hafrún, Fjóla og María

The last interview was with Fljóla who has lived in Raufarhöfn as well as in neighbouring farms. It was about travelling schools which moved from farm to farm, water, soil prevention, work and social life.

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