Women in the Netherlands East Indies. Part 2: The Kartini-schools for Girls: The Archive of the Kartini Fund, 1912-1960

Women in the Netherlands East Indies. Part 2: The Kartini-schools for Girls: The Archive of the Kartini Fund, 1912-1960
National Archives of the Netherlands, The Hague

The Ethical policy
Around 1900 Dutch colonial policy made a sharp change of course. The previous "liberal" decades had witnessed a rapid expansion of a western-style modern economy fed by an influx of capital from the Netherlands and other European countries as finally the whole archipelago was brought under Dutch control. At this point good business practice intersected with humanitarian impulses in calling for a general increase in the welfare of the indigenous population in order to further the efficient exploitation of the new colonial economy. This "ethical policy" rested on the pillars of improved education to create better native administrators and workers, irrigation to increase crop yields in order to feed the steadily increasing population, and emigration to relocate people from overpopulated Java to the outer islands to work in new enterprises being developed there.
Education was supposed to be the showcase of the new policy and many initiatives were in fact undertaken by the colonial government up to about 1930, but given the enormous size of the population the ultimate results were disappointing and most benefits were restricted to a tiny male elite. In terms of education for women, the modest efforts of J.H. Abendanon, director of the department of education (1900-1905), to create opportunities for upper-class Javanese women soon foundered on the conservative resistance of both Dutch colonial officials and the Javanese regent class (the bupatis).

The cause of education for (elite)women had been taken up and championed by Raden Ajeng (=Lady) Kartini (1879-1904), a daughter of the progressive regent of Jepara in north central Java. Quite unusually for the time and place she had attended the European lower school in the regency and learned to speak and write fluent Dutch. Although still very young she made many influential contacts among Dutch colonial officials and politicians in the Netherlands itself and carried on an extensive correspondence in which she advocated female education and emancipation, in particular ending the practice of polygamy by the males of her class. She died at the age of twenty-five following complications on the birth of her first child. Although it would be anachronistic to call her a nationalist or feminist, she was later revered by the national movement for independence as a pioneer and her birthday is now a national holiday in Indonesia.

The Kartini fund
Among her many correspondents were Abandanon himself and his wife. In 1911 he edited a selection of her letters to them and others and published them under the title Door duisternis tot licht ("Through darkness to light", later translated into English as Letters of a Javanese princess). Kartini had inspired many people in the colony and the home country with her ideals. Royalties from the book and other donations made possible the creation of the "Kartini Fund" in 1913, a privately administered foundation to realize her goal of providing Dutch-language secondary education to Javanese girls. That same year the first "Kartini school" opened in Semarang, Central Java. Many were to follow in subsequent years.

The Kartini schools
Set up as simple boarding schools for Javanese girls who had been through the European lower school, they were to provide secondary education for a maximum of seven years. The teaching staff was to be entirely female and was encouraged as much as possible to live in so as to constitute "one big family" with the pupils. According to the statues the curriculum was to consist of among others:
- continued Dutch, with the aim of fostering a taste for edifying reading
- Javanese language and literature
- geography and history
- drawing and aesthetics
- home economics, with some gardening
- refresher lessons in arithmetic, especially in the context of simple bookkeeping
- practical and fine needlework
- principles of hygiene and first aid
- principles of education
- singing and principles of musical theory
Finally, those who wished to train for professions open to native women were to be given every assistance within the limits of the available teaching staff.

The archive
The archive contains correspondence, reports, statutes, minutes of meetings, financial documents, teaching materials, photos, brochures, periodicals, press clippings and other types of documentation concerning the founding and adminstration of the Kartini schools in general and the individual schools in Java. The complete inventory is available for consultation.



Collection Information