1919 Dutch Women’s Suffrage: socialist politics, editing, and design

book with art nouveau design by fre cohen

Atria, institute on gender equality and women’s history in Amsterdam manages the large collection named International Archives for the Women’s Movement (IAV): archives, images, books, pamphlets and memorabilia on the history of the women’s suffrage and feminist movement from the nineteenth century until today.

In 2019, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the achievement of Dutch women’s active and passive right to vote. Since 1919, women from all classes and from all over the country conquered  the political arena. They organized, side by side  -or against- male party members and spouses, a lot of political and cultural activism!

Above you see the title page of a book from the IAV collection that was published in 1919. We chose this picture to show that the IAV collection includes sources of socialist and communist movements, too. Book illustrations often are hidden treasures in library collections. The title of the book, De nieuwe gemeente-huishouding en de vrouw, could be translated with The New Township’s Economy and the Woman. ‘Economy’ here also carries the connotation of ‘household’. At the time, men’s understanding of women in politics was often based on the idea that women were traditionally used to organize a good functioning of the family, food, education and health matters in and around the home, and therefore could also do this in a larger context.

Just before the release of this book, one of the authors, Lide Tilanus, had been elected as one of the first female councilors of the city of Amsterdam. She was a member of the Social Democratic Labour Party (S.D.A.P.). And she also founded a propaganda club for social-democratic women in 1905. In this book of 135 pages she contributed five essays. In one of them she analyses the difference between infant mortality in working-class and rich districts in Amsterdam.

The book’s second author was Samuel Pothuis. He was married to Carry Pothuis-Smit, who together with Mathilde Wibaut-Berdenis van Berlekom had founded the Socialist Women’s Library in 1919 with the goal to provide good quality educational literature for working-class women. Carry Pothuis-Smit also edited the periodical De Proletarische Vrouw (Proletarian Woman) since 1905. She advertised for subscription of this periodical with beautiful designed posters. In 1920 Pothuis-Smit would become the first female member of the Dutch senate for 17 years.

Fré Cohen

The Art Nouveau design of De nieuwe gemeente-huishouding en de vrouw, the first volume in a series of four books, was created by a female graphic artist: Fré Cohen. She would become famous as designer of the council printing press of Amsterdam. This title page illustrates that women in 1919 worked as politicians, writers, editors, propagandists, researchers and artists!

From 02-11-2021 to 04-09-2022 Museum Het Schip in Amsterdam presents an exhibition about the Dutch artist and graphic designer Fré Cohen (1903-1943). At this exhibition you can see this beautiful book.

Susanne Neugebauer, archivist IAV collections of Atria