Women in the Netherlands East Indies. Part 1: The Archive of the Colonial School for Girls and Women, The Hague, 1920-1949

Women in the Netherlands East Indies. Part 1: The Archive of the Colonial School for Girls and Women, The Hague, 1920-1949
National Archives of the Netherlands, The Hague

Starting in the second half of the nineteenth century a western-style capitalist economy began to develop in the Netherlands East Indies colony. Numerous agricultural , trading , mining and extraction companies were founded to exploit such crops and natural resources as tobacco, rubber and oil, particularly on Sumatra's East coast, but also on the other "outer islands", which were brought under Dutch control during the second half of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth century. The infrastructure improved through the building of roads, bridges and railways, and steamship and packet boat companies began to operate regular services connecting the various islands of the archipelago on the one hand and Europe with the East Indies on the other with the opening of the Suez canal in 1869. A new so-called "ethical policy" was officially introduced in the colony in 1901 that aimed to develop the East Indies through the use of western methods and technology and the expansion of education among the indigenous population. As a result more European men, and in increasing numbers women, were attracted to the East Indies seeking work and a new life. The previously slow-paced society there - the so-called "tempoe doeloe" - in which the native njai (housekeeper) played an important role, began to change character. Urbanization proceeded apace and western-style tropical suburbs began to develop, but in many places, particularly in the outer islands, the European officials, planters and employees still confronted primitive and isolated conditions. European women who wanted to emigrate to the East Indies, especially to the more remote areas, had to prepare themselves for this challenge. Education was deemed essential and in this context the Colonial School was born.

School founded
The Colonial School for Girls and Women was founded on 11 March 1920 with the goal of giving young women who wanted to live and work in the Dutch East Indies an education that would enable them to adapt more easily to the new and unfamiliar environment. It also addressed itself to women who had been born and brought up in the Indies, but had been living for some time in the Netherlands. In addition to the main course on Dutch and Indonesian cooking and childcare, there were also courses given in the Malay language and on the geography and ethnology of the East Indies. Financial support was given by companies and individuals with an interest in promoting this endeavor and the school was able to open its doors in a building on the Westeinde in The Hague on 24 September 1921. The courses lasted for three months, the initial ones running from 26 September to 22 December 1921. In its promotional and course material the school reflected the role attributed at the time to women in the family, not only in the colony, but also in the Netherlands itself. Not only did the women have to adapt to life in the East, but they were also expected to bring a bit of the home country with them, as can be seen from the courses on Dutch cooking.
In the course of the years the school went through some difficult periods, especially during the crisis of the depression around 1933 when various companies discontinued their sponsorship and fewer students applied, and of course also during the years of the Second World War, when the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans and the East Indies by the Japanese. After the war in 1946 a spirited attempt was made to relaunch the school's activities, but the unfavorable influence exercised by the anticolonial uprising and the events of decolonization in Indonesia could not be overcome. On 26 February 1949 it was decided to change the name of the school to the "East Indian [Indische] School for Girls and Women", but given the political developments in Indonesia it was already too late. The school no longer had a reason for existence and closed for good on 29 December 1949, with the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of Indonesia.

The archive
Among others things, the archive contains the following sorts of documents:
- Minutes of meetings of the school's administration, 1920-1949
- Minutes of members' meetings, 1920-1949
- Incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing correspondence, 1921-1949 [1953]
- Correspondence of the school's president, 1921-1926
- Annual reports, 1920-1949
- Documents concerning the foundation and opening of the school
- Documents concerning the school's personnel and students, including photos of lessons and correspondence received from former students
- Documents concerning the courses and teaching materials, books used, etc.
- Financial affairs of the school, including lists of members and contributors
- Promotional and recruiting materials for the school, such as prospectuses, circulars, course descriptions, transcripts of radio talks, etc.
- Newspaper and magazine stories concerning the school

Importance for research
Researchers into a variety of questions will profit from use of this archive, for example those interested in:
- the role of women in a colonial state
- "ethical" thinking on education for European women in the colonial context
- background, motivations, reflections and experiences of the women involved
- background and motivations of sponsors and supporters
- background and motivations of teachers and administrators
- subjects taught and teaching materials used and their content, propaganda for the school and colonialism
- reactions to the growing national awareness of the colonized in this period; colonial mentalities, attitudes toward colonialism and indigenous peoples
- the vagaries of the colonial enterprise in increasingly difficult economic and political times as reflected through the history of the school



Collection Information