Wilhelmina Drucker evoked both vilification and admiration in the course of her life and after. The vilification came first. Right after she had set up the Vrije Vrouwenvereeniging (Free Women’s Association, VVV) in 1889, her former political kin – the socialist movement – unleashed a hate campaign of momentous proportions. Initially, it was harmless caricature, but soon a toxic mix of malign slander, base libel, and vulgar brawls began to affect relationships. It would last for years to come. Soon other currents joined in: from militant catholics to respectable housewives (in the moderate weekly De Huisvrouw [The Housewife]) to wry performers. As a matter of course, the term ‘free woman’ soon became a pejorative for ‘feminist’.
Drucker and her companions, however, didn’t give in. And although there had been reservations toward the elusive feminist Drucker in different sectors of the women’s movement for quite some time – because of her broad Amsterdam accent, her outspokenness, and her ‘common’ way of confronting her opponents (the fishwife) on the one hand, and her royal appearance and obvious financial independence (the bourgeoise) on the other – her steadfast feminism and loyalty to the cause did come to command respect and admiration no less. Many feminists from different backgrounds have attested to the fact in letters, articles, salutes, and recollections.
We intend to construct an in-depth picture of this very ambiguity. It may shed a light on Drucker herself, but, more importantly, it will provide an impression of her day and age, and of the gradual introduction of her feminist principles in society in the face of persistent resistance.