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 - Sebastiaan Coops -

Annie Romein was an influential Dutch historian, author and feminist (1895-1978). She was known for her commitment to social justice and her groundbreaking work in the fields of historiography and women's emancipation. 

She studied Dutch language and literature and history at Leiden University under, among others, Johan Huizinga. In 1921 she completed her doctoral examination. During her studies, she became involved in the socialist movement and developed a deep interest in social issues, especially in the field of women's rights. Her dissertation De Vrouwenspiegel is a literary-sociological study of female novelists after 1880.

She wonders how women's liberation can be read culturally in contemporary literature. 

In De Vrouwenspiegel she describes that female liberation, as she calls women's emancipation, is inherent to the class struggle. She states that women have been oppressed by bourgeois morality, which consists of norms set by men. According to her, society can be divided into four classes. The top two are occupied by the men. This is followed by the two lower classes for women. 

She criticizes that female characters in literature behaved according to bourgeois morality. Her criticism is well illustrated by what she wrote about Betje Wolff, who holds a special place in the heart of many historians. She wrote that: “Betje Wolff [was] also completely satisfied with the role assigned to women in the normal, decent middle-class family and neither in her personal case nor in her theoretical views that it was an obstacle to literary aspirations: as the youngest at home and as a provincial housewife without children, as a young widow she had plenty of time for her writing, which she did not see for herself and others as a vocation or livelihood, but as a sublime hobby: 'The man is a merchant, a government servant, a craftsman, the woman housewife and mother; writing is an activity for spare time” 

No, times had changed. Freedom was the credo and the world did not need housewives: “This is a new world, in which the artist [...] feels the strength within him to revolt head-on against all dogmas, in the name of freedom for all, in the name of the 'right' of genius, a world in which there is room for Heine and Shelley and George Sand.” 


Fittingly, she started a relationship with the socialist historian Jan Romein, whom she married in 1920. Their relationship turned out to be a lifelong intellectual collaboration. Together they wrote a number of influential works that are still read and recommended as standard works on Dutch history. The best known is: "The Low Countries near the Sea" (1934), a history of the Netherlands. Also known is "Testators of our civilization" (1938), in which they described the lives of important figures from Dutch history. 

Thanks to her and Jan Romein, another well-known author has become known to us, a female writer. Through Otto Frank, Annie and Jan Romein obtained Anne Frank's then unknown diary and helped with the first edition of the book under the title Het Achterhuis, partly thanks to a column in Het Parool. The first edition of Het Achterhuis has an introduction by Annie Romein herself. 

Annie Romein remained known as a publicist and writer, often writing about women's emancipation. She wrote her memoirs in 1970 and received the Constantijn Huygens Prize for her entire oeuvre in the same period. Until her death she continued to write for the monthly magazine Opzij. 


Photo: Piet Besselsen, poster, Amsterdam Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (1979)


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