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Born to

The conditions for giving birth have changed rapidly over the past century. The City Archives looks back at the evolution of pregnancies, births and the maternity period over time. The exhibition takes you back to the old Ypres maternity home in Lange Torhoutstraat where thousands of babies from Ypres and the surrounding area were born.

Using photos, objects and archive documents from the museum’s own archive collection and private collections, you can imagine yourself back in the Bieke, Bartje or Roosje department. Stories of mothers and midwives and a unique collection of medical instruments bring history to life.


Thus, the Ypres City Archives has supplemented its collection with a pack of new material in the form of life stories and testimonies. The archive team conducted interviews and, with sound files and videos, collected an aural and visual record for future generations. Above all, this method of working was heartwarming. The collaboration with so many enthusiastic people makes this exhibition a project of many. A comprehensive catalogue accompanies this expo. In it, individual themes such as ‘midwifery in Ypres’, ‘the history of the maternity home’ or ‘from delivery table to maternity bed’ are explored in depth and widely illustrated with archive documents, dozens of photos and personal documents.


Altogether, these are testimonies from some 25 people about giving birth in the Westhoek.

The interviews could be heard in edited form at the exhibition ‘In de Wieg Gelegd- bevallen door de eeuwen heen’, which ran in CC Het Perron in November/December 2021.

The whale oil hunters

De Traanjagers – Herinneringen van naoorlogse walvisvaarders

Anne-Goaitske Breteler

Amsterdam University Press, 2018

EAN: 9789462983816


The whalers of yesteryear viewed from the perspective of the times. They are all men in their eighties, for example Durk van der Veen who had the illustrious nickname Durk Wytfisk.
‘Oral history’ supplemented by the necessary archive work. And that yielded the insight that in the Dongeradelen and on the Wadden Islands there was relatively high interest in signing on for whaling in the period 1946-1964.


Anne-Goaitske Breteler visited a handful of still-living whalers at home, describing the memories they still have in old age. These stories have been compiled in the book De Traanjagers.


De resten van de walvis werden op het vleesdek tot kleine hompen vlees verwerkt. (Afbeeldingen: boek / AUP)

Carders and cutters

Haarsnijder aan het werk in de fabriek. Epouse Jacobs. Foto: Stedelijk Museum Lokeren

As carders and carvers tell their stories…

Every town has a reason to be in the history books, and Lokeren deserves a chapter in the history of industry. During the first half of the 20th century, Lokeren was the centre of the hair-cutting industry, a preparatory industry that prepared rabbit and hare skins into felt hair for hat manufacturing all over the world. From the 1960s the industry began to taper off for many reasons, and today it is virtually extinct.
Because the hair-cutting industry was unique and important for Lokeren, it is obvious and necessary that a clear emphasis is put on it in the Municipal Museum. The upcoming renovation and redesign of the museum also provide an opportunity to turn the current, relatively small hair cutting department into a central theme within the permanent exhibition.
Written sources exist about the hair-cutting industry, but all the more telling are the tangible and intangible ‘relics’: the sites, the material, and especially the stories of the former employees. As experts, they are best placed to explain the industry in all its facets. The interviews with people who worked in or were closely involved with the hair cutting industry will be used as a source of information as well as a presentation element.
The interviews will be available to listen to within the permanent exhibition and on a separate information DVD. A documentary will also be made, featuring filmed interviews with some eight respondents and a site visit with one of the former employees. Furthermore, the interviews will be kept at the City Archives as source material for other studies, as the people in question often tell many more stories than that of the hair cutting business alone.
Both for the people with a past in the hair cutting business and for myself, this project is special. Besides their personal account, lots of technical explanations and names of other witnesses, a number of people donated a personal memento-their own knife or scissors, a sheet of their very last load-to the museum. They are happy that the museum looks after ‘their heritage’, and we are happy to care for it.



Leen Heyvaert,
deputy curator
Municipal Museum of Lokeren

Boned out!

Uitgebeend! Vlaamse beenhouwers in Brussel na W.O. II

Philippe Braem en Mariet Calsius (red.)

AMVR, 2005

In researching the butchers’ craft in Brussels, the Archives and Museum of Flemish Life, through the research method of oral history, worked in three phases.
During the preparatory phase, a researcher not only familiarised himself with the world of the butchers’ craft, but also drew up questionnaires and sought out respondents. Mastering the specific terminology, consulting literature, visiting butchers’ workshops, abattoirs and museums with extensive butchers’ collections were the first steps towards an empathy with this distinct world.
Knowledge and interest of the interviewer in the butchers’ life in Brussels increased. Later this to be an essential condition for trust between interviewer and respondent.
The second phase, the search for respondents, required greater effort. Bone butchers at rest after all, often move, sometimes within Brussels, but mostly away from Brussels back to their native region. A first starting point in compiling a good respondent list, was a list of some active butchers with names and addresses of former colleagues. Another lead was the membership list of the Brussels Confederation of Butchers and the membership list of the Belgian Landsbond van Beenhouwers en Spekslagers (as far as Brussels was concerned).

Calls through the AMVB membership magazine and in local newspapers, drew quite a few responses.
For representativeness, the project took into account the geographical demarcation of the Brussels
capital region and the categories in the butchery sector (bacon butchers, butchers, horse butchers, triperies, poultry vendors). Especially for Brussels, the difference between the immigrants and natives was included.
From the list of possible respondents, the AMVB made a selection. In the end, 46 middlemen (bakers, grocers and 33 butchers) were interviewed. The invitation included an information sheet and the request for a possible company archive. The AMVB always scheduled the interviews at the informant’s home.
Photos (e.g. of family, interiors and showcases), recall certain events together, capitalising on occupational pride or confronting them with facts, were techniques that stimulated the memory of the respondents’ memories. Based on the questionnaire, the unique biographical story of each witness was recorded.

The executive or third phase consisted of two parts. The archival disclosure by transcribing, coding and making the interviews available through the sound archives overview on the one hand.
The public-facing disclosure on the other. A study day on oral history communicated to the archives sector, while the general public was introduced to this form of history in the exhibition Boned Out!

Flemish fishermen

Archiefbeeld uit 'De zee van toen'. © RV


broadcast date: 17 april 1984

“Oral history of Flemish Fishermen” (17/4/1984).

What were working conditions like at the turn of the century in Belgium (and elsewhere)? The melancholy and pride that resounds again and again in the stories always strikes and moves. Not only in fishing but also in many other branches of industry back then, people had to toil hard, they literally earned their little money in the sweat of their brow.

No wonder, then, that most conscious workers of the time went to work to improve their living conditions, that socialism meant so much to them and was seen as a godsend, a relief from worry. Thanks to the struggle of many brave people of the period, a lot has changed and improved over the years, working conditions have become more humane.

The series contains unique period documents that will gain value later on.

Traces of steel

Videodocumentaire Het vergeten monument, december 1985


Sporen van staal – Demka, het verhaal van de arbeiders

Jos Bours e.a.

Uitgeverij Van Himbergen, Utrecht 1987

ISBN: 9789071073021


They have become a rarity: the tough workers who are inseparable from their workplace. In the book “Sporen van Staal”, they get to speak uncensored. This oral history, compiled by the staff of Utrecht’s community theatre group Stut, sheds light on the experiences of workers at the former Demka steelworks in Utrecht. The story told goes beyond the hardships; it also paints the deep sense of dedication these workers cherished for their company.

Little more remains of what was once the “living graveyard”, as the former employees affectionately called their company, than overgrown foundations and a street ending in desolate emptiness. Only the street names in the Lage Weide industrial estate, once the epicentre of Utrecht’s iron and steel industry, still carry the scent of days gone by. With the closure of one of the last steel companies in Utrecht, workers ended up on the scrap heap of the labour market, exhausted and cast aside.




The miss from the telephone

De juffrouw van de telefoon

Dr. G. Hogesteeger en drs. R.A. Korving

Waanders, 1993

Telephoning was not possible until the 1950s without the intervention of the switchboard, and the job of telephonist was, indeed, a lady’s trade. ‘A very nerve-racking job’, according to a career choice booklet from the early twentieth century, but not really difficult, and – unlike most administrative professions – free of financial responsibility. So really something for women, who, moreover, did not have to worry about the lack of prospects of promotion opportunities. After all, those who married had to leave; the civil service had no room for married women. In some telephone districts, as soon as they had a boyfriend, women were no longer even allowed to take the first-class telephonist course.


On the other hand, they were reasonably well paid and had a pension attached. ‘In the late 1920s, one of the interviewees in Friesland could earn 20 guilders a month as a qualified teacher, while she received more than four times as much as that as a telephone operator: almost 88 guilders!’


The richly illustrated volume The Miss on the Telephone, to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Dutch PTT Museum in The Hague (until 13 March 1994). The account is preceded by a scholarly treatise on the credibility of oral history, after which the ex-telephone operators interviewed are given the space to supplement the paper history with recollections from practice.

The district nurse has the floor: stories from district practice

Wijkverpleegkundige in Pieterburen. Foto © FNI

Mia Vrijens

Medeaanvrager: prof. dr. M.S. Parry (UvA)

Florence Nightingale Instituut


Vereniging Verplegenden & Verzorgenden Nederland



vanaf 2024

This oral history project creates a new archive of district nurses’ experiences and memories through reflections on objects from the Florence Nightingale Institute’s existing heritage collection. The project realises an addition to the history and heritage of (district) nursing and offers new insights into how currently district nurses have a place in society.


Read the article on the V&VN website (

LINK to the article 


Lange Lies and Lange Jan

© archief Martin van der Weerden

Director Jeroen Willems interviewed Heerlen miners’ wives and some of those stories he adapted into a stage production with Paul Slangen. He wanted to bring out their experiences and emotions about their men working underground, what the closure of the mines and subsequent unemployment meant to them.


In 1938, an almost 138-metre-high chimney was built on the site of the Oranje-Nassaumijn. Inspired by the chimney’s enormous length, almost 138 metres high, it was soon named “Lange Jan”. In 1953, a second, even longer chimney (155 metres) was built and called the Lange Lies. Neither chimney in itself was of particular architectural value, but both have long dominated Heerlen’s skyline.


Photo: Ben van Duin



Ruyter girls and Verkade women

Ruytermeisjes en Verkadevrouwen Een eeuw vrouwenarbeid bij de Zaanse zoetwarenfabrikant

Hogema, Ineke / Ivonne van der Padt

Scriptum, 1997

ISBN: 9789055940783


Ineke Hogema en Ivonne van der Padt

‘(…) Just know that we have only one interest. We want to reap the fruits of our labour and we can only obtain these through united cooperation.’


For many former employees of the confectionery manufacturer Verkade, this concerns an over-familiar quote. Many a speech, annual report or anniversary book features this quote from Verkade’s founder Ericus Verkade. Ericus uttered these memorable words on Sunday 2 May 1886, when the Steam Bread & Rusk Bakery ‘De Ruyter’ was launched. At the time of this speech, no girls or women were working at Verkade. Five years later, in 1891, the first tin cleaners made their appearance. From that date, women have been an integral part of Verkade’s history. There are even periods in Verkade’s history when as many as four-fifths of the total workforce consisted of women.
Reason enough for Ineke Hogema and Ivonne van der Padt to focus on ‘the fruits of women’s labour’. In this book, they focus on the experiences and memories of four generations of female employees. They were or are working in various positions: we hear from packers, machine managers, secretaries, personnel officers, social workers, a laboratory assistant and various other employees. The oldest woman who tells in this book about her contribution to Verkade’s success was born in 1901, the youngest.

The creation of this book was equally obtained through ‘united collaboration’. First and foremost with the more than sixty women we interviewed. With great enthusiasm, they shared with us their memories of working life at Verkade or their current working experiences at Verkade with Ineke Hogema and Ivonne van der Padt.

With great enthusiasm.


Zaans industrial heritage