A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam


A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam

Rebels and Heroines from Dutch History

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.


Portrait of Joan of Constantinople
Credit: Arnould de Vuez, Hospice Comtesse

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.

(You can read more about Joan on our Digital Tour.)

1300s – Eleanor of Woodstock

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.

(You can read more about Eleanor at Ask A Badass.)

1400s – Anna Bijns

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.

(You can read more about Anna at the Women’s Lexicon.)

Credit: Angelo Bronzino

1500s – Gracia Mendes Nasi

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.

(You can read more about Gracia at Ask A Badass.)

2018 stamp, Aceh

1600s – Malahayati

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.

(You can read more about Malahayati at SEASIA.)

1700s – Maria Sibylla Merian

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.

(You can read more about Maria Sibylla Merian at Ask A Badass.)

Portrait of Aletta Jacobs, with the script "Dr. Aletta H. Jacobs, arts (doctor)"
Collectie Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

1800s – Aletta Jacobs

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.

(You can hear more about Aletta on our tours.)

Entrance to Association Our Suriname

1900s – Hermina Huiswoud

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.

(You can read more about Hermina at De Correspondent.)

2000s – Dirkje Kuik

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.

(You can read more about Dirkje on our Digital Tour.)

Curious? Come meet history’s badasses with us!

Ready for one of our tours?

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