This building was originally built in Amsterdam’s booming 17th century by a wealthy soap-maker. His last name sounded like “mirror” in Dutch, so he called the building the Silver Mirror and its next-door neighbor the Golden Mirror. It fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1930s. During Nazi occupation, the owner of the building’s ground-floor restaurant hid Jewish people here. Before this building was so beautifully restored, however, it was home to a poor seamstress and her illegitimate daughters.
Wilhelmina Drucker, known as the mother of Dutch feminism, was so important that an impactful group of second-wave feminists in the 1960s named themselves the Dolle Minas (the Mad Minas) in reference to Wilhelmina’s nickname. Wilhelmina spent her entire life fighting tooth and nail for women’s rights. Her father was a retired banker who abandoned his mistresses and their children to get by as best they could. When he died and left his estate to only his legitimate children, Wilhelmina published a tell-all booklet that shamed her half-brother into offering a settlement, which Wilhelmina used to support herself as she spent the rest of her life working on socialist and feminist causes.
Wilhelmina’s many activist highlights include: getting the 1891 International Socialist Conference to commit to political equality for women; a famous debate with socialist leader PJ Toelstra during the inauguration of Queen Wilhelmina; and organizing a historic exhibition about the evolving role of women in work called “The Woman 1813-1913”. The influential groups she founded include: the magazine Evolution, women’s rights group De Neutrale, political action committee the Vrije Vrouwenvereniging (Association of Free Women), and the activist group Vereniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (Association for Women’s Suffrage), the latter two of which played key roles in getting women’s suffrage.
In Wilhelmina’s writing and public speaking, she openly discussed women’s sexuality, the double standard of morality between genders, and what she referred to as the sexual slavery of women in marriage. She was inseparable from a fellow activist named Dora Haver, who she called her “sister in spirit”. It was the only major relationship in Wilhelmina’s adult life. Despite immense social pressure and the logistical difficulties of being a single woman in the 19th-century Netherlands, Wilhelmina eschewed all other relationships.
It’s hard to know how Wilhelmina would identify today. From our modern understanding, the disdain she expressed for marriage might indicate that she would identify as asexual. Or, it may be that her relationship with Dora Haver was actually a romantic one. As is so often the case with historical people who couldn’t be public with their full identity, it’s hard to know the truth. It’s clear, however, that Iron Mina’s work paved the way for women today to have the freedom to answer that question for themselves.
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