Women’s History Month

March was Women’s History Month and we shared stories about some of our favourite incredible women or Maastricht!

If you’re interested in learning more about these and other fabulous women, book a Wonderful Women of Maastricht walking tour by contacting us here!

Female workers at Bordenhal of Société Céramique or / and factories Sphinx, 19th-20th century: In the 19th century Maastricht had several large ceramics factories; on the Wyck side Société Céramique (photograph 1, 1930)- or as the locals say ‘Sjèrremik’ – on the Maastricht side, Sphinx (photographs 2-4, 1930s – 1950s).Their labour force consisted of men, women and children. The women worked mainly at handpainting decorations on tableware and packing bathroom sinks and toilets in wooden crates.

In the 19th century it was considered to be the ‘natural order’ to employ men at such low pay their wives were forced to join the labour force too, for wages inferior to those of the men. Employers would prefer single girls since they were even cheaper. The circumstances in these factories were bad to terrible, with added risks for women and girls in sexual intimidation and violence.

In 1930 the Netherlands passed the law on illness – Ziektewet – which guaranteed paid leave to women for 6 weeks prior and after childbirth. This immediately led to mass loss of employment for women.

This occurred at the same time Roman Catholic propaganda intensified on their version of the natural order; in a family the man is supposed to be the breadwinner, the woman the homemaker. Eventually, this idea led to all women employees being fired on the day of their wedding.

Anna Wynandts-Louis (1882-1957): If you were allowed to vote in the Dutch general elections, did you vote for a woman? That has only been legal since 1919 and a Maastricht woman was the first in the country to be elected in municipal elections. Anna Louis was born in the Maastricht Quartier Amélie, a housing estate for skilled labourers. Both her parents were factory workers, her father a glass grinder who lost his job in 1896 after he and his colleagues went on strike. The family moved to Leerdam, also a centre of glass production. There Anna met Johannes-Baptist Wynandts, also from Maastricht. Wage reductions and strikes made them relocate from one glass industry to another in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. In 1907 they returned to Maastricht, where they lived at several addresses before finding a decent family home, built by the ‘red’ housing cooperative ‘Beter Wonen’. Anna was active in the social democratic women’s movement and in local politics. Ofcourse general suffrage for both men and women was the main goal and in 1920 Anna was elected to the municipal council and served there until 1949, except during World War II.

All that time, she held the same position in 3 council committees and was very active in healthcare, education and the position of married working women; she was a staunch defender of women working outside the home, in the face of resistance from conservatives and catholics. Local and regional press ignored her and the socialist positions for decades, but today there is a plaque dedicated to Anna Wynandts-Louis on the stairway leading to the meeting hall of the municipal council.

Maybe add as a little side note Maastricht since 2015 has a woman mayor, Annemarie Penn-te Strake, born in 1953, who has no party affiliation.

Maria Jacoba de Turenne (c. 1666 – 1737): Around 1688 she met Jacob Nijpels from Maastricht and they started a tumultuous relationship. She loaned him money, he cheated on her, they got engaged, broke up and got engaged again, he raped her. Still, to be with him in the army she dressed as a soldier, joined his regiment, was found out and jailed for a few days. She tried again five times. In 1689 she was expecting his child but he still refused to marry her. She found him with another woman, tried to kill him, was prosecuted and jailed. She had him prosecuted for robbing her honour and not marrying her, which she won. Then they married…

Post 3 Kiki Niesten High end fashion In 1979 Kiki Niesten opened her store by the same name, in the Stokstraat. Mestreechtenere had been aware of her stylish presence in the city, but her shop draws a European clientèle. She and her staff are renowned for their honed instincts for stylish and wearable clothes, mainly from French and Italian designers. Ofcourse this is apparent on the price tags too, so this shop is very well placed in the Stokstraat, which offers an array of specialized stores in luxury goods. Kiki Niesten was one of the first entrepreneurs there and helped set the tone by hospitality with ‘Mestreechter Geis’.

Elisabeth Strouven, (1600-1661): Elisabeth Strouven 1600-1661 Her name lives on in the charity fund named after her, quite appropriately since she wanted to serve with all she had. She was born in a cobbler’s family, but always felt a strong mystical connection to God. Since she wanted to be active in caritas, she never joined a convent which would ended her autonomy. With five other women she nursed sick women, especially during the recurring episodes of the plague. She founded the Convent Calvary and could continue her work when the Protestants took the city and curtailed the activities of Catholics. Eventually, her convent no longer provided care for the sick, but was succeeded by the hospital of the same name.

Andrée Bonhomme (1905-1982): Born in Maastricht, she studied music theory and composition in Maastricht and The Hague. She got her teaching certificate in 1927 and made her debut as pianist and composer in 1928, with the Maastricht City Orchestra (MCO). She continued to spend her summers in Paris untill 1940, to be tutored by Darius Milhaud. In addition to her position at MCO, in 1932 she started teaching music theory and composition at the music school in Heerlen. Meanwhile, she produced composotions and songs on French texts. As of World War II her career stalled because she refused to sign the so-called ‘non-Jewish declaration’, required by the nazi occupation. As a consequence, she was forced to resign and was not allowed to give public concerts. In 1972 she received a royal honour. She died in 1982 in Brunssum.

Zangeres zonder Naam (Mary Servaes) 1949-1998 and Lenie Menten (1940-2012) singers of ‘levenslied’ (life song) in the café’s

‘Life song’ = levenslied, a musical genre in northwestern Europe, akin to folk; emotional songs about all the drama life can entail, sung in the bars of the ‘common people’.

Mary Servaes (1919-1998): All of The Netherlands knows her as Zangeres zonder Naam, the nameless singer. She was born in a working man’s family in the west of the country, but married Mestreechteneer Sjo Servaes in 1948.

She performed in the bars of the city, but record producer Johnny Hoes offered her a recording contract in 1957, scoring the first gold record in 1959. She became a camp idol because artists which were considered serious praised her work. In the 1960’s and 70’s she sang protest songs and earned a reputation as ‘mother of all gays’. She continued reaching new audiences well into the 90’s, but died in ’98 after a lonely decade as widow and all capital gone.

Lenie Menten (1940-2012): Lenie never reached a national audience, but was legendary in the city as ‘trekzakspäölster’ – playing the accordeon. Her entire family played accordion, but she also sang, for a while in the 70’s as a duo with her cousin, before going solo. She made several CD’s and kept performing in bars and at parties.

If you would like to see Lenie performing and speaking (in Dutch), check out this link –

Désirée Tonnaer (1955- ): Désirée Tonnaer is a sculptor who was educated at the Art Academy – Academie Beeldende Kunsten – in Maastricht. From 1983 – 1993 she was a teacher at this academy. Her main inspiration is nature, in the spirit of the old adage ‘natura artis magistra’ – nature is the teacher of the arts. Her focus is often on the details which tend to be overlooked, like seed pods for instance. In Maastricht her work can be seen at shopping centre Entre Deux, were she made large, bronze gates inspired by ferns, and in the Geusselt pond, showing gigantic mating dragonflies. She lives and works in Maastricht.

Mariken van Nieumegen (c.1500): One of the earliest documents which can be considered Dutch literature is a play, telling the story of a girl, lost in sin, but redeemed by faith. Mariken van Nieumeghen is said to have spent the last twentyfive years of her life with the so-called White Sisters, the Magdalens. Their convent on the Vrijthof was one of the oldest in the city, founded in the 13th century, in the location of the Theater aan het Vrijthof. Remains of the convent can be seen in the basement of the contemporary building. In the hall, a poem by Wiel Kusters reminds visitors of Mariken.

Mariken had doomed herself by following the devil and living with him in sin. Even the pope could not forgive her and put iron bands around her neck and wrists. After her years of atonement in the convent these rings miraculously fell from her.

In Wiel Kusters’ poem: “Nieumeeghs Mariken verloor hier haar ringen, tekens van straf rond armen en hals. Wij bevrijden ons niet van het dwingen der dingen dan door muziek, die ketens doet springen.”

(Here, Nieumeghen’s Mariken lost her rings, signifying punishment, around her arms and throat. We do not free ourselves of the tyranny of things, but by means of music, which breaks the chains.)

Wilhelmina van der Geijn (1910-2009): Wilhelmina van de Geijn 1910-2009 She was a paleontologist, who published a study about the Cretaceous Period, earning her PhD in the natural sciences as one of the first women in the Netherlands. In July 1939 she was appointed as the director of the Museum of Natural History, a post she held untill July 1947. In August 1947 she was appointed as interim director, serving for another year, under the name of doctor W.A.E. Minis-van de Geijn. This seems to point to the practice at the time of Dutch women losing their jobs on the day they married, irrespective of their qualifications.

She was crucial in guiding the museum, it’s people and it’s collections safely through World War II. The building was used to hide people, guarded by staff who would serve as night watch. The nazi’s stole part of the collection, but one of the American officers was an entomologist, who went in person to Berlin to get it back. After the war, Wilhelmina noticed quite a few of those interned nearby as traitors were not really criminals and put them to work. They built the museum’s garden as it still is today. The majestic chestnut in that garden was brought to Maastricht as a little sapling, strapped on the back of Wilhelmina’s bike.

Henriette d’Oultremont de Wégimont (1792-1864): Born in Maastricht into a noble family, she was a lady in waiting at the court in The Hague since 1817. This was right after the (re)construction of the European states following the defeat of Napoleon, when the kingdom of the Netherlands was constructed and William I installed as it’s first king. He was married to Wilhelmina of Prussia and fathered four children with her lady in waiting Julie von der Golst. When Wilhelmina died, William asked Henriette, almost 20 years younger, to marry him. Henriette felt the position should go to Julie, who had fled the court in humiliation and died the same year.

Quite apart from this personal drama, the situation became the subject of court intrigue and a slander campaign in the press. It also fed into political and religious antagonism in the young kingdom; the old king was resented increasingly for his autocratic rule, his new wife was cast as socially inferior and morally reprehensible, because she came from the Catholic south. The king abdicated in 1840, he and Henriette married and briefly had a contented life in The Hague until his death in 1843.

Beppie Kraft (1946- ): She was also born into a family of great musical talent; her father Sjeng Kraft was a an accordion player known by all of Maastricht. He also wrote songs and one of those launched Beppie’s career when she was 11.

She is still singing, mostly during the Carnaval season, but has also worked as a producer. Most of the country knows her as the little lady – she is only 1.48 m – with the large voice, the queen of the Limburg life song.

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