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The Hague's Ladies' Reading Museum

The Damesleesmuseum (The Ladies’ Reading Museum, DLM for short), a reading circle with its own premises and collection based at The Hague, has been in existence from 1894 to the present day. For a long time membership was restricted to women.

At the end of the 19th century, book borrowing facilities for women differed greatly from today. Commercial lending libraries in the Netherlands are known to have applied very narrow qualitative criteria: managers were interested in "successful books". In England, by contrast, there was the London circulating library of Mr Mudie, who selected his collection according to strict moral principles (Luger 39). Reading museums and reading circles were geared solely to men, and the Hague ladies were too genteel to patronise the Society for Public Advancement’s public library (Volksbibliotheek of the Maatschappij tot Nut van’t Algemeen ).

In May 1893 twelve women from The Hague started a reading circle. A year later the Damesleesmuseum, based at Noordeinde, was officially founded. There were 141 members after one year, rising to 516 in 1904. In the 1920s the reading museum moved to a building on the Lange Voorhout, then to the Nassauplein after the Second World War. Although nowadays membership is also open to men, they are few in number.

It was thus primarily women who read the books of the Damesleesmuseum. The stock list is valuable today as it provides information not only on women’s reading habits, but also on works whose existence can no longer be traced, either because they are not recorded in the NCC, or simply because there are no extant copies in public collections. The same applies to translations. The fact that the DLM catalogue mentions certain Dutch-language titles of works written originally in, for example, German, is proof of translation, even though they are no longer traceable.

Besides its Dutch-language collection, the DLM also stocked much work by foreign authors in the original language. For many women this was the main reason for becoming a member. There were Italian and Scandinavian collections, for example, though the DLM no longer owns them, due to lack of demand and space.

The lists provided by Duyvendak (2003) are reproductions of the catalogues of various years, concerning the acquisition of Dutch-language books, journals and brochures. They even provide information on actual reading and borrowing patterns: one can work out how often each author’s works were borrowed.

As regards the data input into the WomenWriters database: this was done by means of the structured catalogue lists. We have retained the reception type: “Library catalogue (association, club)”, concerning the nature of the DLM. The input concerns the period 1894-1902. This was chosen because it is a demarcated period in Duyvendak’s study (in connection with her source material). In addition, information on particular women was found and recorded: five authors from the period 1894-1902 were themselves members of the DLM, some being also committee members: in these cases this information has been recorded in “their” database record. Various catalogues of the Scandinavian collection have survived. These are not covered in Duyvendak 2003. They comprise works in the original languages – Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In connection with research carried out in 2003/4 at Groningen University, these lists have been examined and processed into 122 records. These records state whether the information they contain was derived from Duyvendak 2003 or the Groningen survey.

There is a total of 333 reception records derived from the Damesleesmuseum Den Haag (up till now, January 2007). Besides actual reception data, this source has thus also yielded information on authors, works and translations. Sometimes, unfortunately, the authors’ names mentioned in the catalogue did not provide enough leads to merit inclusion. For example, ‘Mevr. G.J.’, ‘Mej. E. Ph.’ and ‘Mara’ are not included in the database, although they may well be women.


  • Duyvendak, Lizet, Het Haags Damesleesmuseum 1894-1994. The Hague, 1994. Jubilee edition to mark 100th anniversary of the Damesleesmuseum.
  • Duyvendak, Lizet, ‘Door lezen wyder Horizont’. Het Haags Damesleesmuseum. Nijmegen, 2003.
  • Bernt Luger, “Wie las wat in de negentiende eeuw?”, in Wie las wat in de negentiende eeuw? [ed. and compiled by Willem van den Berg … et al.]. Utrecht 1997, pp. 33-58.

Susanne Parren, January 2007
Transl. Jo Nesbitt

  • Note that when arriving in the database WomenWriters your status will be "not logged on", meaning that your access to the database is limited. For complete access (and participation in the project), contact Suzan van Dijk.

  • Sources > Dutch sources > Library catalogues (clubs) > Damesleesmuseum, Den Haag

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