Treasures of the Women's Movement

by Marianne Boere


In 1935 Dutch feminists Rosa Manus, Johanna Naber, and Willemijn Posthumus-van der Goot founded the International Archives for the Women's Movement (IAV) in Amsterdam. They wanted to preserve the cultural heritage of women and information about the women's movement because after women in the Netherlands got the right to vote in 1919, interest in the women's movement seemed to decline. The start of the library was made by a gift from Rosa Manus: three hundred books from Aletta Jacobs, the first female doctor in the Netherlands.

In 1940 the library of the IAV, still housed in the International Institute of Social History, was cleared out by the Germans. After the war, only a small part of the collection was found again, until in 1992 a part of it was rediscovered in Moscow. The IIAV is still trying to get these books, photos, and files back, but the rest of the material is now available on microfilm. In 1947, the IAV was reopened. Starting in the seventies, the IAV grew enormously as a result of the second feminist movement. In 1988 the IAV merged with the Information and Documentation Centre (IDC) of the Dutch Women's Council and the periodical LOVER (Literature Review of the Women's Movement), becoming the IIAV.

The International Informationcentre and Archives for the Women's Movement (IIAV), housed in a former church, is now the national center of expertise in the Netherlands, providing information on the position of women and women's studies. Many women visit the IIAV in its church quarters, but more and more users find the IIAV on the Internet, search in the online catalogue, or ask questions via email.

Databases and Women's Thesaurus

On the homepage (, visitors can find the databases of the IIAV: Catalogue, Archives, Mapping the World, and Database Research Women's Studies. Access to this site and use of the databases are free. The IIAV collects information on the position of women and women's studies, and in both its indexing and acquisition, emphasizes literature on the position of Black, migrant, and refugee women. The catalogue of the IIAV offers the real-life and virtual visitor more than 70,000 titles of books, reports, and articles. The IIAV has subscriptions to more than six hundred periodicals. About fifty percent of the periodicals collection is in Dutch - we subscribe to all Dutch women's (studies) magazines. The other half consists of foreign language women's (studies) periodicals - all important British and American women's studies periodicals, but also, for instance, the Journal of Asian Women's Studies, Men and Masculinities, Feminist Theory, Australian Women's Studies, and Journal of Black Studies. The articles in these journals are not indexed by subject in the catalogue, but on cd-roms, which are searchable only at the IIAV.

The catalogue offers access to women's studies literature and books about the position and history of women in the Netherlands and from different European nations, but also from the United States and many other countries. The visitor will find literature mainly in Dutch and English, but also in German, French, and several other languages.

The IIAV has a nice collection of historical and often unique books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The oldest book in the IIAV dates from 1578.1 In this translation from German, the writer tells about "the good and bad qualities of women." The biggest part of the collection consists, of course, of contemporary titles. Focal points in the collection are women's studies and Black women's studies, literature on migrant and refugee women, and the position and history of women in the Netherlands. The collection is truly international in scope. Titles on the position of women in countries all over the world can be found, as can all important women's studies theory titles, but there are also Madonna's book Sex, the Who's Who of Women, Notable Black American Women, Women in the Antarctic, Women@Internet, and the Lesbian Film Guide.

Searching in the databases

The catalogue can be searched with Boolean operators, free text searching, or searching on, among other things, author, title, or publisher. The catalogue is indexed by subject with the help of a special indexing system: the Dutch Women's Thesaurus, a standarized list of about 2200 semantically and generically related terms, constructed as a professional tool for indexers and users of the library. Other women's libraries and documentation centres in the Netherlands and in Belgium also use the Dutch Women's Thesaurus, which has been constantly evaluated and updated since its origin in 1992.

One of the main characteristics of the thesaurus is the so-called "-w principle" (pronounced "minus w principle"). This means that we assume all keywords refer to women. If a publication is about men, -w (not "woman") is added. In Dutch, for example, there is a specific suffix to indicate female and male occupations. In general, we have chosen the male word because the female word often sounds like a form of disqualification. In the thesaurus, a dentist, the general term, indicates a female dentist. A dentist -w is a male dentist. The -w suffix is also used with other terms. A general term like "ethnic minorities" refers to the position of women, so when a document deals with men, -w is added. This contradicts the mainstream practice, where the generic term equals the male term. At the IIAV, a library with literature mainly about women, we are used to this principle (which is always good for a laugh when explained to colleagues), and it works out very well.

Positive experience with use of the women's thesaurus fueled the plan to have a standardized European Women's Indexing system. An international team of women's studies librarians and information specialists developed a basic English-language European Women's Thesaurus, which the IIAV now uses as well. The catalogues of the IIAV can therefore also be searched with English terms. In the future, the European Thesaurus will also be translated into French, Spanish, German, and Greek. With the help of a multilingual women's thesaurus, we will start to establish a virtual women's library. Women's libraries in Europe specializing in processing information on gender equality and women's studies will cooperate in linking their websites and those of archives. The groundwork for the creation of the virtual library is the availabilty of a multilingual indexing system.


Not just books and articles in the IIAV catalogue are indexed with the women's thesaurus, but also archival records of women's organizations and personal papers of individual women who have played an important role in the women's movement or in Dutch society. The collection contains 360 archives dating from 1870 to the present, and reflects the history and character of the Dutch women's movement. Since the women's movement has always been an international one as well, the archives also contain letters and documents from women of other countries. The IIAV has, for instance, documents from the International Conference on Women's History,2 and a photo album and letters from American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, who corresponded with Dutch feminists. The collection of unpublished egodocuments (personal papers) is an interesting gathering of diaries, memoirs, and letters. In addition to our own collection, the catalogue also contains an inventory of women's archives belonging to other libraries and organizations in the Netherlands.

The picture department of the IIAV is another of our treasures, with 6000 posters and more than 15,000 photographs, slides, postcards, and banners. Part of this material is older, but the IIAV also has extensive visual materials from the start of the second feminist movement. Most Dutch posters have been photographed and reproduced as slides. This year the IIAV started digitizing part of the picture collection, beginning with photos from 1890-1950: beautiful photos from the women's movement, the struggle for the right to vote, and the peace movement.

International Activities

In 1998 the IIAV organized the Know How Conference on the World of Women's Information. The Conference was attended by 300 men and women, representing 83 countries and 7 continents. The Know How Conference mission was to improve the accessibility and availability of women's information services around the world, at the local and global levels. One of the exciting outcomes of the Conference is the Mapping the World Database (, a database of women's information services available throughout the world. At present, there are approximately 250 records, representing 100 countries. The information on each center includes mailing address, website address, and description of the collection and services.

The database can be searched by name, country, subject, type of organization, and other keywords. The (English-language) European Women's Thesaurus is used for indexing. On an ongoing basis, Mapping the World aims to be a website providing access to women's information centers in all countries and all communities. It is the basis on which the Knowledge Sharing Program, the IIAV's follow-up to the Know How Conference, is based. Part of this program is the European WomenAction 2000 Network, an information and communication network hosted by the IIAV for advocates of women's rights in Europe, North America, and Israel.

If the founders of the IIAV could visit the library again, what would Rosa, Willemijn, and Johanna say when they saw the international center that has grown out of the little library they started?


1. Der Vrouwen Lof Ende Lasteringe: Begrijpende Alle de Goetheyt, Deucht Ende Weerdicheyt der Goeder: Ende Wederom Alle de Quaetheyt Gebrec en Valscheytr der Quader Vrouwen; Ouergheset in Duytsch deur J.L.M. van Hapert/ Jan van Marconville. (Antwerpen: Frank van Rauelenghien, 1578). This is a very old form of Dutch, of course, meaning something like: On the Good and Bad Qualities of Women: Understanding the Goodness and Dignity of the Good Women; and also the Badness, Faults and Meanness of Bad Women, translated by J.L.M. Hapert.

2. The International Conference on Women's History was held March 23-27, 1986, in Amsterdam. More than seven hundred participants discussed the state of the art in women's history. In 1989 some of the lectures were published in a book, Current Issues in Women's History, ed. Arina Angerman et al. (Routledge, 1989).

[Marianne Boere is the Academic Documentalist and Project Leader for the European Women's Thesaurus.]


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Mounted February 8, 2001