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The Angels of the Winter War
The Creation of the Lotta Svärd

The name "Lotta Svärd" came from the novel, "Vanrikki Stoolin tarinat" (Stories of 2nd Lieutenant Stool) by J.L. Runeberg. The book contains mostly fictional poems set during the Swedish-Russian war of 1808-1809, and provides a heroic image of the Finnish soldiers who fought in this conflict. One of its poems is "Lotta Svärd,” which tells the tale of a soldier’s wife, named Lotta Svärd, who follows her husband to war, selling drinks to soldiers and boosting moral.

"Ennen kun Suomessa taisteltiin,

"Ere the noble king to Finland's shore,

tuli morsioksi hän sotilaan;

She'd become a warrior's bride.

Ja Svard kun lähtöhön käskettiin,

When the drums beat, and Svard went off to the war,

han vei Lottansa mukanaan."

She followed him stride for stride."

7th verse of poem "Lotta Svärd" from "Vanrikki Stoolin Tarinat" by J.L. Runeberg.

In August of 1919, Didrik von Essen, the Commander-in-Chief of Suojeluskunta used Lotta Svärd to describe the various volunteer organizations in his writings. This term caught on through the different organizations and soon many carried the name Lotta Svärd. The date of the Lotta Svärd Association's (Lotta Svärd Yhdistys) establishment is unclear, though it was added to official registry in 9 of September 1920.

Common rules for the organization were accepted on September 21, 1921, and its mission was to "invoke and reinforce Suojeluskunta-ideology and to assist in defending creed, home and fatherland.” In order to fulfill this mission, the following goals were established:

  1. To defend and uplift the moral condition of the Suojeluskunta.
  2. Assist in the medical functions of the Suojeluskunta.
  3. Assist to provide provision needs of the Suojeluskunta.
  4. Oversee and assist in fundraising efforts of the Suojeluskunta.
  5. Participate in the office functions of the Suojeluskunta and gather funds for its own work and to benefit the Suojeluskunta organization.

The Lotta Svärd organizational structure comprised of a Central Board, District Boards, Local Units, and Village Sections. Along with this structure, the organization was broken into four sections that were defined by the type of work done by the volunteers: nursing, provisioning, equipment and fundraising.

Members of Lotta Svärd could be broken into three categories:

  • Acting Lotta: Women were now trained to perform additional tasks beyond nursing and provisions, including air surveillance and signaling. This group was divided into categories according to where they were located.
  • Supplies Lotta: Other active members of Lotta Svärd who worked in their assigned sections.
  • Supporting members: They paid the membership fee, but didn't actively work in Lotta Svärd Association. They also didn't have the right to vote or be candidates in its elections (unlike other members).

In 1939, these categories were expanded.

  • Acting Lotta: They were now divided into sub-categories, depending on whether they served in their home area or outside it.
  • Reserve Lotta: They had similar training as Acting Lotta, but they had no orders for serving in any specific place. They functioned as reserves, which could be called upon to reinforce or replace acting Lottas. They were also divided into sub-categories, which were determined by whether they served in their home area or outside of it.
  • Supplies Lotta A: In mobilization, they would be called to serve in a task or profession that they had been trained for.
  • Supplies Lotta B: All other Lottas not defined in the categories above.

The Little Lotta organization was founded in 1931 and during the Continuation War (1941-1944) the name was changed to Lotta-girls. Activities of the organization were quite similar to adult Lottas, and activities included fixing clothing, training for giving first aid, doing handicrafts and sports.

During the first year of Lotta Svärd Association, the membership reached almost 34,000. By the outbreak of the Winter War, membership jumped to about 130,000 and nearly 173,000 by 1943.

Next - Being a Member of Lotta Svärd

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When to Watch

Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia premieres February 1, 2006
Check your local listings.