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"There are women in the world who have been there and succeeded. We need the women of the world to step forth and start to participate in democracy."

Born on April 15, 1930, in Reykjavik, Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir will go down in history as the first female to be elected as a constitutional head of state. Despite the fact that the Icelandic presidency is largely a ceremonial office (the real power lies with the Prime Minister), Finnbogadóttir made the most of her position and is known worldwide for her leadership and dedication to promoting Icelandic culture.

Her father was a civil engineer and professor at the University of Iceland, while her mother, a nurse, was the chairperson of the Icelandic Nurses Association for more than 30 years. It was from them that she learned the value of a good education, a lesson which she certainly took to heart. Following her graduation from Reykjavik College*, Finnbogadóttir attended the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne in France, the University of Uppsala in Sweden, and the University of Iceland. With a degree in French and English literature, as well a degree in education, Finnbogadóttir was employed as a French professor at Reykjavik college, then later at the University of Iceland.

During the summers, Finnbogadóttir was a member (and later the chair) of the Icelandic Tourist Bureau, where she played an integral role in the development of their guide training program. In 1972, Finbogadóttir became the head of the popular Reykjavik Theatre Company, a position that she held until 1980. She also taught drama at the University of Iceland, while working as a presenter for state television, teaching French and introducing theatre for a cultural series. In 1976, she joined the Advisory Committee on Cultural Affairs in the Nordic Countries, an organisation which she was a member of until 1980, eventually being elected its chairperson in 1978.

In 1980, Finnbogadóttir was convinced to run for the Icelandic presidency with the support of a centre-right coalition despite her own personal left-wing views. She beat out three male candidates by winning a third of the popular vote. Finbogadóttir (or President Vigdís as she was then called, in accordance with Icelandic tradition) would go on to win the next three consecutive elections before retiring from the office in August 1996. Although the duties of the Icelandic President are mainly ceremonial, President Vigdís was a high-profile president who devoted her time and energy to preserving and promoting Icelandic culture. Held in very high esteem by the Icelanders, she faced no opposition in the elections of 1984 or 1992, and earned a decisive victory in her third election in 1988 with 92% of the popular vote.

Following her retirement as President, Finnbogadóttir became the first chairwoman of the Council of Woman World Leaders, a prestigious organisation of female leaders based out of Harvard University. The longest-serving female President in history and an exemplary role model for anyone regardless of their gender, Finnbogadóttir holds honorary doctorates from the following institutions:

*paladeen recently made a point of informing me that the correct English translation for the school ("Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík"), is actually "the Reykjavik Grammar School". So now you know.


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