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Þjóðskjalasafnið | National Archives of Iceland (Reykjavík, Iceland)

    Collection title: Bréf Margrethe Angels í Rentukammerskjölum | Correspondence of Margrethe Angel in the records of the Danish administration (Iceland, Denmark: 1792–1808)

    Description: Original documents relating to the business operations and finances of Margrethe Andersdatter Angel, who came to Iceland as a single woman to work as a servant. She married a fellow immigrant, assistant merchant Rasmus Angel, in 1788 and opened Iceland’s first tavern-inn after she was widowed in 1789.

    In 1777, an official policy whereby Danish-Norwegian merchants operating in Iceland to maintain a permanent residence on the island. However, no provision was made for their widows and children in the event of their death, effectively stranding immigrant women in Iceland without an income or pension. Margrethe Angel responded to this situation by successfully applying to become Iceland’s first officially licensed female business owner and meeting a previously unmet demand for a restaurant-hotel in the growing capital of Reykjavík.

    Margrethe Angel operated her establishment from ca. 1791 to 1796, purchasing a former factory building (now Aðalstræti 16 in downtown Reykjavík) and converting it into a space for her business. She also cultivated a large garden, which was still an unusual sight in Iceland, and in 1792 she was awarded a gold medal for her landmark efforts in growing vegetables in the Icelandic climate. In 1796, she and her Norwegian-Icelandic step-daughter sailed for Copenhagen, where the two women lived in extreme poverty and relied on financial assistance, as was not an uncommon experience for widows in urban parts of Denmark. Margrethe Angel died homeless in 1807 at the age of 62, two months after a British attack on Copenhagen destroyed the lodgings in which she lived.

    Archive address: Laugavegi 162, 105 Reykjavík

    Reference number: ÞÍ Rentukammer 1928-011 | B12/27 Örk: 43, B13/5 Örk: 42, B13/8 Örk: 10, B14/3 Örk: 20, B14/5 Örk: 9, B14/7 Örk: 1, B14/8 Örk: 15, B14/8 Örk: 38, B14/8 Örk: 49, B14/9 Örk: 9, B14/11 Örk: 58, B14/12 Örk: 6, G/8 Örk: 40

    Links: The National Archives of Iceland has a searchable online catalogue, but individual items are not identified by permalinks.

    Publications: The website Vertshúsið, edited by Katelin Parsons, contains a list of Margrethe Angel’s letters in the National Archives of Iceland and transcriptions by Johnny Lindholm.

    Contributor: Katelin Parsons