Abstract

This paper investigates developments in labour policies and social norms on gender and work from the perspective of colonial entanglements. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, work was seen a means to morally discipline the poor, both in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies. A prime example are the initiatives by Johannes van den Bosch, who first in 1818 established ‘peat colonies(!)’ in the Netherlands, where the urban poor were transported to become industrious agrarian workers. In 1830, the same Van den Bosch introduced the Cultivation System in the Netherlands Indies, likewise, to increase Javanese peasants’ industriousness. During the nineteenth century, ideals and practices of the male breadwinner started to pervade Dutch working – class households, and child and women’s labour laws we re issued. Instead, legislation in the Netherlands Indies was introduced very late and under heavy pressure of the international community. Not only did Dutch politicians consider it ‘natural’ that Indonesian women and children worked. What is more, they p resented the inherent differences between Indonesian and Dutch women as legitimation for the protection of the latter: a fine example of what Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper have called a ‘grammar of difference’.

Abstract

Many historians have pointed out for various countries that nineteenth-century national censuses do not accurately reflect women’s economic activity. This was no different for the Dutch national censuses. In this article, we argue that under-recording was especially severe in agriculture, and that this problem increased towards the end of the century. The rise in under-recording was partly due to an increased irregularity of women’s work on farms, but it also reflected changing living standards and ideologies, in which work was increasingly defined as undesirable for women. In relative terms, agriculture did become less important to men and women alike because of mechanization and industrialization. Nevertheless, agriculture continued to employ many women, especially married women and daughters working on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms. By offering additional source material and methods for estimating women’s labour force participation in agriculture on a regional level, such as relating their occupational status to their husbands’, and estimating the number of days worked, we aim to offer an enhanced methodology for gauging the work of women in agriculture, which may be applied to future research.