Jenny Lind – the Swedish Nightingale

Jenny Lind – the Swedish Nightingale

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| By Pauli Kettunen, Gale Ambassador at the University of Helsinki |

Whilst it is undoubtedly quality entertainment, the 2017 Hollywood film The Greatest Showman should not be taken as an accurate history lesson… However, among all the drama, singing and dancing, it does portray some facts; P.T. Barnum did start small and end up as a household name; he did bring ‘The Swedish Nightingale’ to the United States and make her tour a success like never before. Indeed, the concert tour amassed him a sizeable fortune, and the humble Scandinavian singer donated her own share – which was by no means small – to charities of her choice.

According to Francis Rogers who wrote an article on her in The Musical Quarterly in the 1940s, Jenny Lind was not the greatest and most magnificent singer of her time.1 On the contrary, Rogers claims, her amazing fame was mostly due to luck and catchy marketing that made people so interested in her that when they heard her voice – which was not bad by any means – they thought they heard something that was out of this world. Using the material found in Gale Primary Sources, one can see exactly how the media praised Jenny Lind and her voice so strongly, even suggesting she was the greatest songstress there had ever been. She was already applauded by newspapers before her tour of the United States, where P.T. Barnum comes into the story, and from there, her fame only grew. In the newspapers of the time, one can see how P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman,” used the media to create a kind of “Lind mania” that had never been seen before. Some of the reporters noticed this manipulation at the time, but it did not stop the hype.

”News." John O'Groat Journal, 1 Oct. 1847, p. 4. British Library Newspapers
”News.” John O’Groat Journal, 1 Oct. 1847, p. 4. British Library Newspapers, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/IS3245550804/GDCS?u=uhelsink&sid=GDCS&xid=c5d24cc7

Born in 1821 in Stockholm, Sweden, Jenny Lind is said to have developed an interest in music from a young age. As the Chelmsford Chronicle writes, at the age of nine, Jenny was spotted by an actress who persuaded her parents to let her study music. She was deemed talented by a manager of a theatre, and she soon appeared on the stage. Working with diligence and devotion to music, she was on her way to becoming a star of the nineteenth-century music world. Having already performed in Berlin and Vienna, among other places in Europe, Jenny Lind made her debut in London in 1847, with Queen Victoria in the audience.

By early Autumn 1850, her concerts were amazingly popular in Britain. Looking back on it 165 years later, the Bury and Norwich Post summarises this well for us. According to the paper, Jenny Lind’s concert audiences in Britain were in the thousands, and the tickets caught “fabulous prices”. Her voice was praised to the heavens – she even had to take a break from singing to avoid damaging her voice.

"Arrival of Jenny Lind." Weekly Herald, 7 Sept. 1850, p. 285. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers
“Arrival of Jenny Lind.” Weekly Herald, 7 Sept. 1850, p. 285. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/GT3004501357/GDCS?u=uhelsink&sid=GDCS&xid=20ef06e3

Jenny Lind was a superstar in the United States even before her arrival, and she was welcomed with great crowds and ceremonies. A week after her entry to the country, the Weekly Herald committed almost a full page to her arrival in New York, reporting on all that had happened during her first six first days in the country. Tickets to her first concert, to be given at Castle Garden during the following week, were auctioned and the prices paid for the best seats were enormous. As the Weekly Herald reports, all tickets that were not bought at the auction were sold at a price of three dollars each – which would be almost 100 dollars today. In October, The Times also commented on Jenny Lind’s first month in the United States, describing her concerts and other activities. According to the newspaper, at least 8000 people were present in the first two of her New York concerts. Indeed, she was so popular at attracting crowds of admirers that she had to resort to tricks in order to travel in peace!

Jenny Lind’s first concerts in America took place in Castle Garden – later known as Castle Clinton – an old sea fortress that was turned into an immigration center a few years after the concerts.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America" The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Jenny Lind’s first concerts in America took place in Castle Garden – later known as Castle Clinton – an old sea fortress that was turned into an immigration centre a few years after the concerts.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/26a75ed0-c60d-012f-54ca-58d385a7bc34

So just how did P.T. Barnum operate his profit-maximising tour of ‘The Swedish Nightingale’? According to The Times, which relied on the New York Herald for its analysis, Barnum had sent “paid agents about in all directions to get up an excitement.” The resulting commotion was then reported by newspapers, and the news made people even more interested in Jenny Lind than before. The Times writes that Barnum started this well before the Swedish singer had even touched American soil. Thus, by creating a Lindomanialarge enough to fuel the ticket auctions, Barnum was able to make a fortune out of the tour. He also netted money on the hotels Jenny Lind stayed at, says The Times, instead of paying for the accommodation. Come December, Barnum’s show was criticised, again in The Times.

"America." Times, 28 June 1851, p. 5. The Times Digital Archive.
“America.” Times, 28 June 1851, p. 5. The Times Digital Archive, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CS84706524/GDCS?u=uhelsink&sid=GDCS&xid=de72852a

Jenny Lind, a humble Scandinavian through and through, did not exactly enjoy the massive show Barnum staged around her, or his profit-focused mindset. In early June 1851, she cancelled her contract, seven concerts earlier than initially agreed. After she parted ways with Barnum, she continued giving concerts, but with fixed price tickets. In February 1852, she married her pianist, Otto Goldschmidt. Taking on the name Jenny Lindt Goldschmidt, she continued to travel in the United States, visiting Canada on her way, in a very different way from the private railroad car Barnum had arranged her. Instead of high society, she wanted to visit and spend time with normal American people with their everyday lives and worries. In May 1851, she gave a farewell concert at Castle Garden in New York. The repertoire included “Farewell to America”, a song written especially for her departure, with the music composed by her husband. Before she left, on the same ship she arrived on, she once more moved the crowds in New York who wanted one last glimpse of the fair songstress.

After returning to Europe, she first lived in Germany, where she had children with her husband, but moved to England in 1855, and it was there that she spent the rest of her life.2 She continued to support charities with her singing, but as she aged she did not give as many concerts and lived a more private life. Still, in 1866 she once more appeared in a concert, with The Times still praising her voice. Her fame has lived on even after she died in 1887, with a children’s hospital carrying her name, her new-found fame in The Greatest Showman, and much more.

"NOTABLE EVENTS AND PROMINENT PERSONAGES." Ipswich Journal, 4 Nov. 1887. British Library Newspapers.
“NOTABLE EVENTS AND PROMINENT PERSONAGES.” Ipswich Journal, 4 Nov. 1887. British Library Newspapers, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/Y3202607607/GDCS?u=uhelsink&sid=GDCS&xid=8ef6598c

Cover image citation: Eduard Magnus (1862): ”Jenny Lind”, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magnus_Jenny_Lind.jpg


​ About the Author


Pauli is a second-year student in a program ambitiously titled ‘Society and Change’ – there is not enough space to describe it here, if you were wondering! At the University, his main interests are in Political History, in addition to all the other things concerning the History of Civil Society. In his free time he likes cooking, reading, exercising, complaining about politics, and gaming. His latest addiction is reading science fiction by Alastair Reynolds.


  1. Francis Rogers (1946): ”Jenny Lind”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 437–448, Oxford University Press, https://www.jstor.org/stable/739200.
  2. Francis Rogers (1946): ”Jenny Lind”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 437–448, Oxford University Press, https://www.jstor.org/stable/739200.
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