Birgit’s mother and father

In 1915, Nils P. Svensson and Justina Paulsson were married. Despite several suitors and against her father’s wishes, Justina took Nils as her husband. Together they had a daughter, Märta Birgit Nilsson.


Nils and Justina in the garden by the main house. Private photo.


Birgit with her mother and father outside their house in Svenstad. Private photo.

Nils was from a farming family, and the oldest of eleven siblings. As the first-born, Nils was destined to take over the family farm. His hope was to have a son himself who would in turn take over. He wanted this so badly that he told the midwife that she would receive 50 extra crowns if it was a boy. But after Birgit was born and no other children came along, he put his hopes on his daughter instead. Justina Paulsson was called Stina by those close to her. She was beautiful, and could sing and play the accordion. As a young girl, she also dreamt of devoting her life to music. Birgit herself said that she inherited her musical talent from her mother. Birgit’s mother never came to experience her daughter’s success in the world. In 1949, Justina died in a tragic car accident. She was hit by a car while waiting for a bus, and died in Nils’ arms. Birgit received the news while she was on her way to rehearse before the opening night as Donna Anna in Don Juan at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. ”It was as if the ground had been pulled right from under my feet. To express my grief, I screamed right out loud for several minutes”, she wrote in her memoirs. The tragedy devastated Birgit but strengthened her ties with her father. Birgit received an early education in the importance of having a home town. This insight came not only from her parents, but also from those who visited the farm in Svenstad when Birgit was a child. Later on in life, even during her most hectic career days, Birgit retained a great interest in following everything that happened at home.