Vigdis Finnbogadottir, first female president
In the Icelandic presidential elections in 1980 Vigdis Vinnbogadottir faced three well-known male opponents. It certainly was an uphill battle for the first woman ever to become a candidate for the Icelandic presidency. In addition, Finnbogadottir was a single mother. However, Finnbogadottir also enjoyed the uniqueness of being a woman. On election day, June 29, 1980 history was made as Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman in the world to be elected as head of state in a democratic election. The victory was narrow, Finnbogadottir received 33.6 percent against Gudlaugur Thorvaldsson´s 32.3 percent, but Icelanders in general were happy about the outcome.
Vigdis Finnbogadottir was subsequently reelected unopposed three times (1984, 1988, and 1992) before retiring in 1996 after 16 years of presidency. The Icelandic people were grateful for her service and she continues to enjoy esteem in her country and overseas.
Although the Icelandic presidency is largely a ceremonial position, Finnbogadottir took an active role in promoting the country as a cultural ambassador and enjoyed great popularity at home and abroad. Finnbogadottir´s status as the first female president of Iceland grew with world wide media coverage and she was a huge promoter of Iceland. As a female president she focused on the role of women in society and their increased participation in government.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Retirement
After her retirement as the first female president of Iceland, Finnbogadottir took on different endeavours. In 1996 she became founding chair of the Council of Women World Leaders at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 1998 Finnbogadottir was designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador and appointed president of the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology.
Vigdis Finnbogadóttir is working on bringing countries together in all domains, especially concerning women’s rights, ecology and education, and has always made every effort to spread these values among the young. Finnbogadottir is an ardent supporter of multilingual education and linguistic diversity and regularly takes part in international conferences concerning these issues.
Finnbogadottir was particularly proud of the Icelandic heritage and the Icelandic language and encouraged Iceland´s youth to serve their country well.
In her period of office President Vigdís devoted herself to the cultivation of the identity and integrity of the nation: its language, its individual and distinctive culture, and its youth. She is a champion of the current reforestation drive in Iceland, actively promoting the planting of trees in Iceland throughout her presidency, and has strongly supported the great task of land reclamation that is being done in the eroded areas of Iceland. She took a great interest in the children and youth of Iceland, in particular with regard to education. She is a founder, member and patron of the “Save the Children” Association (Barnaheill) in Iceland. She is a dedicated spokesman for human rights and upon leaving office she was made a lifetime honorary member of the Women´s Rights Association in Iceland.
The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages
On October 1, 2001 the Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland was changed to bear the name of Vigdis Finnbogadottir. The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages is a research institute working within the Faculty of Humanities. The Institute is a research centre for scholars who teach modern languages and cultures, the classical languages, and translation studies.
The reasons for changing the Institute's name were, on the one hand, to honor the former President for her energetic work in foreign languages, and on the other, to help encourage and strengthen research and teaching in foreign languages.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has been a powerful spokesperson for the importance of language proficiency, both in her own native tongue as well as in other languages, and she has made a vital contribution to this field in her career as a teacher, as President of Iceland, and as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Honorary Doctorates
Honorary doctorates have been conferred on Finnbogadottir by the following universities: Grenoble (1985), Bordeaux (1987), Smith College, USA (1988), Luther College, USA (1989), Manitoba (1989), Nottingham (1990), Tampere(1990), Gothenburg (1990), Gashuin, Tokyo (1991), Miami (1993), St. Mary´s University, Halifax (1996), Leeds (1996), Memorial University, St John, Newfoundland (1997), Guelph, Canada (1998) and the University of Iceland(2000).
On April 15, 2013, Vigdis Finnbogadottir turned 83. She is still at work and in her spare time enjoys books, concerts, movies and last but not least theather. She is grateful for the life she has lived and tries to live it fully while she can.