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Portrait of Raden Adjeng Kartini
Born(1879-04-21)21 April 1879
Died17 September 1904(1904-09-17) (aged 25)
Rembang, Central Java, Dutch East Indies
(now Indonesia)
Other namesRaden Adjeng Kartini
Known forWomen's emancipation; national heroine
SpouseRaden Adipati Joyodiningrat (married 1903)
ChildrenSoesalit Djojoadhiningrat

Raden Adjeng Kartini, also known as Raden Ayu Kartini (21 April 1879 – 17 September 1904),[a] was a prominent Indonesian activist who advocated for women's rights and female education.

She was born into an aristocratic Javanese family in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). After attending a Dutch-language primary school, she wanted to pursue further education, but Javanese women at the time were barred from higher education. Instead, Kartini entered a period of seclusion mandated for teenage girls until they married. She acquired knowledge by reading books and by corresponding with Indonesian and Dutch people. Her father allowed her to go into the community beginning in 1896, although she remained an unmarried single woman.

She met various officials and influential people, including J.H. Abendanon. She began the tradition amongst three of her sisters to found and operate schools. After she died, schools were established by a foundation founded in the Netherlands. Some of her Indonesian friends also established Kartini Schools.

After her death, her sisters continued her advocacy of educating girls and women. Kartini's letters were published in a Dutch magazine and eventually, in 1911, as the works: Door Duisternis tot Licht (From Dark Comes Light) and an English version, Letters of a Javanese Princess. Her birthday is now celebrated in Indonesia as Kartini Day in her honor. She opposed the Purdah-like seclusion of teenage girls and polygamy.

Kartini is a National Hero of Indonesia.[2]



During Kartini's life, Indonesia became an important Dutch colony with natural resources of rubber and oil and the production of tobacco that attracted more Dutch immigrants than any other Dutch colonial possession.[3] The Dutch sought to control the entire Indonesian archipelago, which it did by the 20th century. In the meantime, there were technological advancements with the opening of the Suez Canal, the establishment of telegraph lines, and the installation of railroads, which brought the colony into the modern age.[3] As more Dutch people immigrated to Indonesia, more private businesses were founded, and educational opportunities opened up for the Indonesian noble class, as Dutch schools were opened up for immigrants. The knowledge of the feminist movement in Holland began to spread to the traditional Indonesian culture.[3] Polygny was common amongst Indonesian aristocrats. Muslims could have up to four wives. Common wives had little clout in their husband's households. They often supported themselves and lived in separate buildings from their husband.[4] Women generally had little influence in the patriarchal Indonesian society. Men's social standing was determined by the number of wives they had.[5]



Early life


Kartini was born 21 April 1879, in Java, Indonesia, in the village of Mayong.[6][7] Her parents were Raden Adipati Sosroningrat,[8] a member of the priyayi (Javanese gentry), and Ngasirah, the daughter of a religious scholar. Her father worked for the Dutch colonial empire of the Dutch East Indies[6][7] as the administrative head of north-central Java.[1] In 1880, he became the Regent of Jepara, which meant that, in all likelihood, Kartini would marry another Regent.[9]

Kartini with her family, 1890 to 1904

Her mother, Ngasirah, was 14 and a commoner when she married Sosroningrat. Her parents were Nyai Haji Siti Aminah, who had a pilgrimage to Mecca, and Kyai Modirono, likely devout Muslims.[5] Ngasirah was Sosroningrat's first wife, with whom he had eight children.[8] His next wife was the aristocratic Raden Ayu Sosroningrat, with whom he had three daughters. Regents were expected to marry nobility. Kartini called her step-mother "mother", rather than her birth mothers.[10]

Kartini was the fifth child and second-eldest daughter in a family of eleven, including half-siblings. She was born into a family with a strong intellectual tradition. Her grandfather, Pangeran Ario Tjondronegoro IV, became a regent at the age of 25,[11] while Kartini's older brother, Sosrokartono, was an accomplished linguist.[12]



Kartini attended a Dutch school, which was her initiation to the Western world, beginning at the age of six.[7] She was among the first Indonesian children to attend a European school and was treated poorly by teachers and fellow students. Over time, though, she was recognized for her intelligence.[13] Kartini was a fluent speaker of the Dutch language. Most Indonesian girls spoke Malay.[14] While at Dutch school, she also studied with Marie Ovink-Soer, the wife of another regent, who gave Kartini sewing lessons and taught her about feminist viewpoints.[7] She remained in Dutch school until she was a teenager when she experienced the purdah-like "sheltered existence deemed appropriate to a young female noble",[7][15] from 1891 to 1895.[6] During this period, she was expected to be meek and compliant with rigid cultural rules and etiquette. She learned to cook and do other household chores. She made batik fabric and her clothing.[16] Uncomfortable with the hierarchical dictates, Kartini was considerate of her subordinates and did not expect servants, commoners, or her younger siblings to treat her according to the cultural traditions.[17] She was particularly annoyed when women berated or talked in a rebuking manner about young girls, the lowest on the hierarchical ladder.[17] Kartini stood up her ground for all of the females to go to school

Letter by Kartini to Rosa Abendanon (fragment)

During her seclusion, Kartini read feminist and political publications, including that of Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati. She said of the activist for outcastes and women, "So it's not only white women who are able to take care of themselves-a brown woman can make herself free and independent too." [17]

Portraits of the three sisters Kartini, Kardinah and Roekmini by two different mothers. Kartini and Kardinah were daughters of Ngasirah. Roekmini was the daughter of the chief wife, Raden Ayu Sosroningrat.

Kartini and her sisters, Kardinah and Roekmini, were allowed one way they could escape the seclusion periodically. They visited Marie Ovink-Soer for piano and handicrafts training.[18]

Kartini was fluent in Dutch and acquired several Dutch pen pals. One of them was a girl named Rosa Abendanon, who later became a close friend.[7] Kartini shared her opinions about feminism and her concern about traditional Javanese practices with her friends from Dutch school and Ovink-Soer. She was particularly concerned that Javanese girls were often denied an education and forced into marriage when they were young.[7] She believed that education was important to develop oneself and to prepare for motherhood and was against arranged marriages and polygamy.[6] Kartini believed that women should be free to make decisions themselves.[7]

Raden Adipati Sosroningrat, Kartini's father

Beginning in 1896, Kartini was given permission by her father to occasionally leave the room in which she was secluded to visit a village of wood carvers, attend the consecration of a protestant church, and other special occasions.[18] The more that she became acquainted with life outside her home, the more that she became interested in the concerns of other Indonesians. Some of her articles were published during this time. Members of her family and noble Indonesian and Dutch people considered the unmarried Kartini's activities in the community a scandal.[18]

In 1898, a ball was held to celebrate the Inauguration of Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Unusual for the time, Katrina and her closest two unmarried sisters were invited to attend the ball with their father, which Kartini saw as a recognition of her leadership and as a representative for single women.[19] She decided that educational courses in character should be given to students due to the "deceit and hypocrisy" exhibited by Europeans and Asians at the ball.[19]

Marriage and death


By the time that Kartini reached the age of 16, she was expected to marry. Rather than being addressed to society as a woman looking to marry, she was introduced as a single woman. She had no intention of marrying at that age. By 20, her viewpoint had changed. In a letter, she stated, "Some day it will, it must happen, that I shall leave home with a husband who is a stranger to me."[20]

Raden Adipati Djojo Adiningrat (also known as Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat Rembang) was a widowed progressive leader. He learned about Kartini and approached her father to discuss the possibility of an arranged marriage. The couple agreed that Kartini would continue her plans for the school.[7][21] Kartini married Joyodiningrat on 8 November 1903. There was a 26-year age difference between Kartini and her husband. She became the fourth wife of Joyodiningrat, who had 12 children at the time. Her marriage precluded her from accepting a scholarship.[7] Soon after her marriage, Kartini became pregnant and was optimistic about the life her child would have. She continued to work at the school during her pregnancy. Her son Raden Mas Singgih was born on 13 September 1904.[22] Kartini died on 17 September 1904, four days after giving birth to her only child. She was buried at Bulu Village, Rembang.[7]





Kartini wrote letters extensively about matters important to her, including art, politics, education, public health, economic welfare, and literature. The letters were sent to her Dutch friends, including J.H. Abendanon, the Minister for Culture, Religion, and Industry in the East Indies, and his family.[23]

Kartini corresponded with Estelle (Stella) Zeehandelaar, who answered her pen-pal ad in the Daily Lily in 1900. Unlike Kartini, who had been secluded for many years, Stella was a 25-year-old woman from Amsterdam who supported herself.[24] Kartini wrote about her feelings about marriage, polygyny, traditional mores, and education. She also wrote about her relationship with her father and how she planned to improve herself.[25] She met Abendanon, who sought to improve educational opportunities for girls, also in 1900.[25] She began to correspond with Mevrouw (Mrs.) Abendanon-Mandri. Their letters provide insight into the changes in her life and in colonial Indonesian life.[26]

Seven years after Kartini's death, Abendanon collected, edited, and published her letters. The book titled Door Duisternis tot Licht (From Dark Comes Light) was published in 1911.[27] She was the first Indonesian whose opinions were published in Dutch and popular among Dutch-speaking Indonesians and Europeans.[23] This publication was edited to exclude references to colonial figures, Islamic beliefs, and Javanese culture, and the English translation made further changes.[28] The book was translated into English by Agnes L. Symmers as Letters of a Javanese Princess[29] published in 1920.[28] The English book focused on Symmers' view of an Oriental woman in love, focusing on her personal life, and excluding letters that showed her as an intelligent forward-thinking woman.[30] Books were published for Indonesians, a version in Malay in 1922 and another Malay version in 1951 by Armijn Pane, excluding some Kartini's most important letters.[1] In 1960, UNESCO published 19 of Kartini's letters in French.[30] The letters are available at Leiden University Libraries and can also be consulted digitally.[31] A complete English translation of all of Kartini's letters was published in 2014 by Joost Coté in Kartini: The Complete Writings 1898-1904 along with articles and other writings by her.[32]

East and West

Teak wood carvings were a typical feature in wealthy homes, including furniture and doors. A group of woodcarvers from Jepara at work

Kartini coordinated efforts between a group of Indonesian artists and Europeans in the East and West association. Europeans provided funding for an art shop to create carved wood pieces. Kartini operated a school.[30]



Kartini believed that women were paramount in the process of improving the lives of Indonesian men and women, and because of that, she developed an education plan for girls that had the same academics and character-building instruction as for boys but also included hygiene, first aid, and money management.[33] Kartini was particularly concerned about the lack of medical care for Indonesians, and female Indonesians in particular. So much so that she considered attending medical school.[33]

Kartini was introduced to Henri van Kol, a member of parliament, in August 1902, who offered to help her realize her plan to study teaching and first aid in the Netherlands. The goal was to have the knowledge to open a school, teach, and be the school's headmistress. He contacted the States General on her behalf. Kartini received a scholarship, but many people in her life were concerned about her leaving Java.[34]

Kartini, with her husband's support, opened up a school for women in Rembang's Regency Office complex.[7] She operated the school by herself, teaching 10 girls four days a week.[35] In 1903, she wrote a report to the government entitled Educate the Javanese Now that discussed the significance of receiving a quality education and offered some recommended methods for achieving it.[15]

Following Kartini's death, a foundation was established in the Netherlands to continue Kartini's vision for building and operating schools. Indonesian women also opened Kartini Schools from 1913 and into the 1930s in Java.[22] Students of the schools included Java's first female graduate of medical school, and another woman was its first law graduate. Women asserted themselves to create productive lives of their own making. In 1945, equal rights for women was written into Indonesia's first constitution.[36]

Her sisters continued the legacy of operating schools, including Rockmini. Kardinah also wrote textbooks and established a medical school. Soematri also focused on vocational education for women. [36]

Legacy and tributes

Commemoration of Kartini Day in 1953
Kartini statue at the east park of Merdeka Square, Jakarta
  • Kartini was an intellectual who elevated the status of Indonesian women and a nationalist figure with modern ideas, who struggled on behalf of her people and played a role in the national struggle for independence.[38] She is among the first modern intellectuals in Indonesia.[27]
  • Sukarno's Old Order state declared 21 April as Kartini Day in 1963[1] to remind women that they should participate in "the hegemonic state discourse of pembangunan (development)".[41] After 1965, however, Suharto's New Order state reconfigured the image of Kartini from that of radical women's emancipator to one that portrayed her as a dutiful wife and obedient daughter, "as only a woman dressed in a kebaya who can cook."[42] On that occasion, popularly known as Hari Ibu Kartini or Mother Kartini Day, "young girls were to wear tight, fitted jackets, batik shirts, elaborate hairstyles, and ornate jewelry to school, supposedly replicating Kartini's attire but in reality, wearing an invented and more constricting ensemble than she ever did."[43]


See also

  • Gerwani, an Indonesian Women's Movement


  1. ^ Raden Adjeng was a title borne by women of the priyayi or Javanese nobles of the Robe class.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Taylor 1976, p. 643.
  2. ^ a b "Indonesia: Exhibition 'Letters of the Founders of the Nation'". dutchculture.nl. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Taylor 1976, pp. 643–644.
  4. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 645.
  5. ^ a b Taylor 1976, pp. 644–645.
  6. ^ a b c d Ramusack 2005, p. 128.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Raden Adjeng Kartini - Quotes, Letters & Facts". Biography. 21 April 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  8. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 647.
  9. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 644.
  10. ^ Taylor 1976, pp. 644–645, 647.
  11. ^ Jansz, Pieter (1997). Tot heil van Java's arme bevolking: een keuze uit het Dagboek (1851-1860) van Pieter Jansz, doopsgezind zendeling in Jepara, Midden-Java (in Dutch). Uitgeverij Verloren. p. 38. ISBN 978-90-6550-156-1.
  12. ^ "R. A. Kartini's brilliant brother: R.M.P. Sosrokartono". Observer ID. 30 April 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  13. ^ Taylor 1976, pp. 648–649.
  14. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 648.
  15. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 641.
  16. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 649.
  17. ^ a b c Taylor 1976, p. 651.
  18. ^ a b c Taylor 1976, p. 652.
  19. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 653.
  20. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 646.
  21. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 658.
  22. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 659.
  23. ^ a b Taylor 1976, pp. 639, 641.
  24. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 654.
  25. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 655.
  26. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 656.
  27. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 640.
  28. ^ a b Kartini, Raden Adjeng (2014). Kartini : the complete writings 1898–1904. Clayton, Victoria. p. xiv. ISBN 9781922235107.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  29. ^ Taylor 1976, pp. 641–642.
  30. ^ a b c Taylor 1976, p. 642.
  31. ^ Kartini Letters (KITLV) Letters to Jacques Henry Abendanon and his wife Rosa Manuela Abendanon-Mandri from Kartini and others, Digital Collections, Leiden University Libraries
  32. ^ Bijl, Paul; Chin, Grace V.S. (2020). "1. Introduction". Appropriating Kartini: Colonial, National and Transnational Memories of an Indonesian Icon. ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute. ISBN 978-981-4843-92-8.
  33. ^ a b Taylor 1976, pp. 653–654.
  34. ^ Taylor 1976, pp. 656–657.
  35. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 657.
  36. ^ a b Taylor 1976, p. 660.
  37. ^ Christie, Clive J. (6 December 2012). Ideology and Revolution in Southeast Asia 1900-1980. Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-136-60282-5.
  38. ^ Taylor 1976, p. 639.
  39. ^ Liputan6.com (21 April 2021). "Mengenang Perjuangan Kartini Lewat Uang Kertas Rupiah Emisi 1952 dan 1985". liputan6.com (in Indonesian). Retrieved 24 April 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  40. ^ Agency, ANTARA News. "Pahlawan Kartini jadi gambar dalam uang kertas rupiah dua kali". ANTARA News Jawa Barat. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  41. ^ Bulbeck, Chilla (2009). Sex, love and feminism in the Asia Pacific: a cross-cultural study of young people's attitudes. ASAA women in Asia. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415470063. Preview.
  42. ^ Yulianto, Vissia Ita (21 April 2010). "Is celebrating Kartini's Day still relevant today?". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 7 August 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  43. ^ Ramusack 2005, p. 129.
  44. ^ Mayasari-Hoffert, Silvia (14 February 2023). "R. A. Kartini and the many faces of colonial female subject". A Space of Their Own (1 ed.). Routledge. pp. 143–157. doi:10.4324/9781003270102-15. ISBN 9781003270102.
  45. ^ "R.A. Kartini's 137th Birthday". Google. 21 April 2016.



Further reading


Primary sources

  • Anonymous [Raden Adjeng Kartini] (1898), "The Jepara Manuscript." Presented at Nationale Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid 1898.
    Reprinted in Rouffaer and Juynboll (1912), De Batik-Kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar Geschiedenis op Grond van Materiaal aanwezig in ’s Rijks Etnographisch Museum en Andere Openbare en Particuliere Verzamelingen in Nederland.
  • Anonymous [Raden Adjeng Kartini] (1899), "Het Huwelijk bij de Kodja's." Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land, en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch-Indië, vol. 6, no.1.
  • Tiga Saudara [pseudonym of Raden Adjeng Kartini] (1899), "Een Gouverneur Generaals Dag." De Echo: weekblad voor dames in Indië, September 2–November 18, 1899.
  • Tiga Saudara [pseudonym of Raden Adjeng Kartini] (1900), "Een Oorlogsschip op de Ree." De Echo: weekblad voor dames in Indië, April 5–June 10, 1900.
  • Kartini (1903), "Van een Vergeten Uithoekje." Eigen Haard (Amsterdam), no. 1.

Posthumous publications:

  • Kartini (1904). "Ontgoocheling." Weeklblad voor Indië (Surabaya), October 2, 1904.
  • Raden Adjeng Kartini (1912), Door duisternis tot licht, with a foreword by J.H. Abendanon, The Hague
    Partial English translation, 1920: Letters of a Javanese princess, translated by Agnes Louise Symmers with a foreword by Louis Couperus, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-8191-4758-3 (1986 edition), ISBN 1-4179-5105-2 (2005 edition)
    Partial Indonesian translation, 1938: Habis gelap tributlah terang, Balai Pustaka
  • Raden Adjeng Kartini (1987), Brieven aan mevrouw R.M. Abendanon-Mandri en haar echtgenoot : met andere documenten. Dordrecht: Foris.
    Indonesian translation, 1989: Kartini surat-surat kepada Ny. R.M. Abendanon-Mandri dan suaminya. Jakarta: Djambatan.
    English translation, 1992: Letters from Kartini : an Indonesian feminist, 1900–1904. Clayton, Vict.: Monash Asia Institute.
  • Raden Adjeng Kartini (1995), On Feminism and Nationalism: Kartini's Letters to Stella Zeehandelaar 1899–1903. Clayton, Vict.: Monash University.
    Indonesian translation, 2004: "Aku Mau ... Feminisme dan Nasionalisme. Surat-surat Kartini kepada Stella Zeehandelaar 1899–1903" (Jakarta : IRB Press)
  • Raden Adjeng Kartini (2014), Kartini : the complete writings 1898–1904. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University.

Secondary sources

  • M.C. Van Zeggelen (1945), "Kartini", J.M. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam (in Dutch)
  • M.Vierhout (1942), "Raden Adjeng Kartini", Oceanus, Den Haag (in Dutch)
  • Elisabeth Keesing (1999), Betapa besar pun sebuah sangkar; Hidup, suratan dan karya Kartini. Jakarta: Djambatan, v + 241 pp.
  • J. Anten (2004), Honderd(vijfentwintig) jaar Raden Adjeng Kartini; Een Indonesische nationale heldin in beeld, Nieuwsbrief Nederlands Fotogenootschap 43: 6–9.