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She was the daughter of Gerard William Otto Huygens and Cornelia Adelaide Henriette Elias (1824-1848) and married the German businessman Ignatius Bernardus Maria Bahlmann (1852-1934) in 1902. Her mother died after her birth and she was raised by her paternal aunt Jeanne Marie Huygens, a friend of the feminist Mina Kruseman. Huygens became early known for her feminist articles and made her debut as a novelist in 1877. In 1896, she joined the newly founded Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP) as its first female member and the first woman in the Netherlands to be a member of a political party, and she became known as the "Red Lady". Cornélie Huygens was a known and active socialist ideologist and participator in the political debate, and by her work for women suffrage, she made the work for women's rights, which had in the Netherlands had previously been an issue for upper class women, a part of the socialist movement for worker's rights.
Despite her principled opposition against the institute of marriage, she married on 2 October 1902, at the age of 54, to the Amsterdam-born German businessman Ignazius Bahlmann, who had translated her novel Barthold Meryan into German. Apparently very unhappy in her marriage, she drowned herself within a month after this wedding in a pond in the Vondelpark.