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Until 1956, the Civil Code stipulated that married women were ‘incapable of acting’ – a legal category that also applied to children and what they called ‘retarded persons’.


Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen

Legal historian and Fulbright PhD candidate at the City University of New York

Legal incapacity meant, among other things, that as a woman you could not open a bank account, take out a mortgage or insurance, and that you could only conclude an employment contract with the formal consent of your husband. Technically, you also had to pay your salary to your husband, because he was the owner of the community of property in which you were married.


In case of divorce – very unusual – the children automatically went to the husband. In the 1950s, an average of 95% of the women married and thus became ‘legally incapable’. This generation, they are the over-80s of today.

Corry Tendeloo, PvdA-politician in 1956

The gentlemen are apparently all afraid


The aim of this project is to collect as many first-hand experiences as possible, which tell something about the experiences with and consequences of legal incapacity of Dutch women before 1956.


The interviews will be accurately registered in a dataset, and subsequently processed in a widely accessible publication that maps the history of legal incapacity, and its abolishment, as well as reflecting on the role of this history in the labour position of women in the present.


The dataset will also be donated to Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history in Amsterdam, so that it can serve as source material for other, future research.