Transforming the Public Sphere

The Dutch National Exhibition of Women’s Labor in 1898

Transforming the Public Sphere

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 18 color illus., 31 b&w illus. Published: June 2004

Anthropology > Museum Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History

In 1898, the year Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was inaugurated, five hundred women organized an enormous public exhibition showcasing women’s contributions to Dutch society as workers in a strikingly broad array of professions. The National Exhibition of Women’s Labor, held in The Hague, was attended by more than ninety thousand visitors. Maria Grever and Berteke Waaldijk consider the exhibition in the international contexts of women’s history, visual culture, and imperialism.

A comprehensive social history, Transforming the Public Sphere describes the planning and construction of the Exhibition of Women’s Labor and the event itself—the sights, the sounds, and the smells—as well as the role of exhibitions in late-nineteenth-century public culture. The authors discuss how the 1898 exhibition displayed the range and variety of women’s economic, intellectual, and artistic roles in Dutch culture, including their participation in such traditionally male professions as engineering, diamond-cutting, and printing and publishing. They examine how people and goods from the Dutch colonies were represented, most notably in an extensive open-air replica of a “Javanese village.” Grever and Waaldijk reveal the tensions the exhibition highlighted: between women of different economic classes; between the goal of equal rights for women and the display of imperial subjects and spoils; and between socialists and feminists, who competed fiercely with one another for working women’s support. Transforming the Public Sphere explores an event that served as the dress rehearsal for advances in women’s public participation during the twentieth century.


“[I]nstructive and fascinating…. [W]ell researched … expertly narrated…. [A] powerful account of the achievements of the first feminists….” — Jane Fenoulhet, Modern Language Review

“[T]his book is an important contribution to both Dutch feminist historiography and the wider literature on the women’s movement, imperialism, and women’s work.” — Francisca De Haan , American Historical Review

"Transforming the Public Sphere makes an original and valuable contribution to gender studies literature that will also interest historians of European imperialism. . . ." — Marybeth Carlson, History

"[R]eaders of Labor History will find considerable interest in this study, which weaves considerations of labor into every aspect of its analysis. . . . The authors' deft and convincing explication of visual culture . . . stands as the book's most important contribution." — Jocelyn Olcott , Labor History

"[W]ell-written and beautifully enriched by numerous illustrations." — Whitney Walton, Journal of Modern History

"Well-written. . . . Transforming the Public Sphere is a significant scholarly contribution to the field of women's history and should be on the book shelf of every student of industrial exhibitions, women's labor, and Dutch colonialism." — Charlene G. Garfinkle , H-Women, H-Net Reviews

"Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, . . . this is in many ways an exemplary work of social history. . . . Transforming the Public Sphere is a study that will be of great interest to a wide variety of historians." — Becky E. Conekin, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“A unique study based on a virtual treasury of archival materials, Transforming the Public Sphere touches on many of the most important issues of major concern today to historians of feminism and women’s history.” — Marilyn Boxer, coauthor of Connecting Spheres: European Women in a Globalizing World, 1500 to the Present

“Despite the veritable explosion of historical work on exhibitionary culture in the last decade, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of women in organizing the transnational spectacles that dominated the culturescapes of imperial modernity . . . . Transforming the Public Sphere . . . offers an important corrective to this oversight.” — Antoinette Burton, from the introduction


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maria Grever is Professor of History and Theory at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a participant in the research program of the Nijmegen Center for Women’s Studies, both in the Netherlands.

Berteke Waaldijk is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Abbreviations xi

Introduction / Antoinette Burton 1

1. Feminist and the Public Sphere 9

2. An illustrated Women’s Conference 25

3. A Panorama in the Dunes 67

4. The Exhibition Experience 111

5. Colonialism on Display 193

6. Exhibition in Print and Visual Impressions 171

7. Creating a Counterpublic 193

8. After the Summer 215

Notes 225

List of References 271

Index 297

Illustrations fall after pages 116 and 148
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3296-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3258-9
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