Lizzy Dorp: First Female Dutch Lawyer

And it’s April already, how the time flys by. You know what that means? A new month full of informative articles! Let’s start with the first one today on a Dutch woman who should receive way more attention than she does: Lizzy van Dorp. 📝

Van Dorp was a feminist figure in the late 19th century and early 20th century. She was a member and even president of many women’s associations in the Netherlands and fought for women’s rights there. What made her a very important figure in the Dutch context was not only this, but she was also the first woman in the Dutch legal profession and one of the first female politicians elected to the Dutch parliament. How is it then, that is only so little is written about her? How come that her work hasn’t been explored in the scholarly context, even though she left a vast personal archive? 📚👩‍⚖️

Those are the questions that our author also asked herself and took it upon her to write an article worth reading on this woman! Check the article below!

Lizzy van Dorp | *05-09-1872 | † 06-09-1945 |The Netherlands | Lawyer, Economist, Feminist, Politician

‘Lizzy van Dorp’: unless you are an enthusiastic historian with a very specific interest in feminist figures of the fin de siècle, this name probably does not ring a bell. It is surprising how little scholarly attention she has gathered, as she was one of the first women in the Dutch legal profession, made great contributions to the field of economics, had a flourishing feminist career as the president of multiple women’s association and even was one of the first female politicians elected to the Dutch parliament. More importantly, Lizzy has left scholars a historical goldmine. Her vast personal archive carries every form of correspondence or documentation she received throughout her life, ranging from personal letters with friends, family and lovers to extensive correspondence between her and prominent members of the international Women’s Movement. Still, despite all of her achievements and uniquely extensive archive, Lizzy van Dorp’s legacy has remained in obscurity. Now, more than 75 years after her death, it is time to rescue Lizzy from oblivion once and for all.

Already as a young law student at Leiden University, Lizzy was known for voicing her opinion on equality between men and women. As she learned more about the women’s movement, she became fascinated by feminism and founded the Women’s Student Association in Leiden in 1901. Lizzy and her mother, who was the president of the Dutch National Women’s Council, enjoyed attending women’s conferences and Lizzy even gained lots of attention after a spontaneous contribution about female lawyers in the Netherlands. She quickly became involved in the international feminist network by becoming a member of the Dutch ‘Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht’ (Women’s Suffrage Association) where she met other prominent Dutch feminists, such as Aletta Jacobs and Wilhelmina Drucker, and campaigned for women’s rights and suffrage. In 1907, however, Lizzy decided to leave the Association after various disputes with other members about the Association’s ideology. Unlike Jacobs and Drucker, Lizzy was a moderate feminist who wanted to push for women’s rights but still considered motherhood and family life to be a women’s primary task. She was horrified by the ‘vulgar’ and ‘violent’ practices of the British suffragettes and feared that the Association would head into the same direction by inviting English feminists to speak at their congress. Together with Welmoet Wijnaendts Francken-Dyserinck, Lizzy established the more moderate but still quite similar ‘Bond voor Vrouwenkiesrecht’ (Women’s Suffrage Alliance), of which she was president until 1908.

A few years later, after a successful career as a lawyer and economist, Lizzy decided to try her luck as a liberal politician. In 1922, she was elected as one of the first women in the parliament after the introduction of women’s suffrage. Although democratically elected, women were met with great resistance in Dutch politics. They were seen as hysterical, emotionally equal to a toddler and unable to think rationally without a man’s guidance, making them unfit as politicians. With that, many men feared the introduction of women to Dutch parliament would be too distracting for male politicians as they, as CHU-chairman Loman put it, would be “flirting with the ladies all day”. Men and women were also not allowed to be in the same rooms together and the women’s lunchroom quickly became known as ‘the henhouse’. The separation of men and women lead to an exclusion of women from ‘informal politics’, such as off-the-record negotiations or even just regular conversations and friendships with other politicians. Lizzy, too, had to deal with this stereotype of the overly emotional woman after the man she had had an affair with spread rumours claiming she was mentally unstable, which led her to have “a rather unpleasant time” in parliament. Her political career, however, was short lived. Only three years after her entry as a liberal politician she was forced to leave due to a lack of seats. 

After her experience as a politician, Lizzy retreated from the public eye. She spent more time studying and writing about economics and cared for her mother until she died in 1935. Lizzy decided to move to England to write a book on interest theory but returned to the Netherlands in 1939. In 1940, Lizzy received the news that her friend Jenny Visser-Hooft had passed away, after which she travelled to Turkey, where Jenny and her husband were staying at the time of her death. After her visit, Lizzy decided to travel further to Central Java in the Dutch East Indies and ended up becoming an economics professor at the University of Bandung. Documents from her archive show that in 1941, Lizzy was planning to travel to the United States, but the Second World War got in her way. She was captured by Japanese soldiers and put into a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia where she eventually died on September 6, 1945; one day after her 73th birthday and just three weeks after the end of the war.

Even though Lizzy made great contributions as a lawyer and economist, and travelled extensively throughout her life, her story and especially her archive have remained undiscovered. With this treasure trove of information, it is time to finally recognize the importance of Lizzy’s documentation and give her the attention and appreciation she deserves.

Credits:

Author: Iris Houben
Image: Unknown Photographer

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dr._jur._Elisabeth_van_Dorp,_1904.png


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