Meet some awesome rebels and heroines from Dutch history. We’re ending women’s history month with women in Dutch history who took badassery to a whole new level, one from each century of Amsterdam’s existence.
1200s – Joan of Constantinople
This badass Countess of Flanders and Hainaut was not only the patron of the first books written in what we would now call Dutch, but she also helped promote the Begijnhofs that spread across the Low Countries and gave women a chance to pursue their callings. She did it all while having to outsmart several men using misogyny to try to seize Flanders.
Like many a medieval woman, this countess was married for political reasons to a mercurial narcissist. Her husband decided to kill two birds with one stone – embarrassing Eleanor’s brother, the King of England, and getting rid of his marriage to Eleanor – by telling everyone that she had leprosy. Eleanor responded by walking into court naked, proving the lie.
She is the first Dutch writer to make a huge success with the printing press. Her biting satires and ballads were so popular that they were reprinted again and again. Anna threw herself into the religious debates that dominated the day on the conservative Catholic side while also expounding on the issues women faced, such as viciously satirizing marriage.
She used the wealth she inherited from her family and her husband to smuggle Jewish people out of the Iberian Peninsula when the Inquisition turned deadly. She even postponed the time when she could live her own faith openly in order to help more people escape.
After her husband was killed battling the Portuguese, Malahayati recruited other widows to form a fighting force, becoming an admiral in the process. When the Dutch tried to set up a base in Aceh, her forces were key in fighting them off. Some sources list her efforts as one reason that Aceh remained independent until 1873, even as many surrounding lands were colonized.
At a time when women weren’t supposed to be artists, Maria left her husband to pursue a career creating beautiful images of nature. Her watercolors and etchings of insects and their food were so detailed that Linnaeus used them as the basis for his system.
We say it all the time on our tours: She’s known as the first female doctor and the first female student and those are the two least interesting things that she did. This badass served the poor for free and spent her life advocating for better labor conditions, birth control, and women’s right to vote.
She spent her life fighting for class and racial equality. She was working for the NAACP by the time she was 21, interacting with Harlem Renaissance lights like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Her advocacy eventually brought her to Amsterdam, where she worked with the Surinamese community as they navigated Independence.
This award-winning poet and illustrator had a long and impressive career, with work that spanned genres and audiences. She also was one of the first trans women in the Netherlands to get gender-confirming surgery. In 1985, she won a Dutch court case that set the precedent for changing name and gender in official records.
The women who shaped Amsterdam are more complex than traditional tours would have you believe. Go to historic sites Amsterdam to hear stories of women who fought, wrote, calculated and led through Amsterdam’s chaotic and complicated past.
The world’s first gay marriage was officiated by the Mayor of Amsterdam at its City Hall. But did you know that the city’s LGBTQ+ history stretches centuries? Meet historical Amsterdammers across the gender spectrum and sexual orientations.
This Amsterdam historical tour through the Jewish quarter and residential Plantage neighborhood offers a selection of stories about women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and Jewish Amsterdammers. It’s the perfect way to get an alternative view of Amsterdam.