Mies Boissevain-van Lennep

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Adrienne Minette (Mies) Boissevain-van Lennep (September 21, 1896 – February 18, 1965) was a Dutch feminist who was active in the Resistance before being arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Herzogenbusch concentration camp. After the war, she promoted the idea of a National Commemorative Skirt (Nationale Feestrok), and some of these unique skirts are now in Dutch museums.


Mies Boissevain-van Lennep was born in Amsterdam, the daughter of Anna Eliza Homans and Karel van Lennep. She married Jan Boissevain, who came from the Dutch Boissevain family of Huguenot origin. With her husband Jan and their five children, she lived in Amsterdam, where she was active in the feminist movement through such organizations as the Society for Women's Interests and Equal Citizenship (Vereeniging voor Vrouwenbelangen en Gelijk Staatsburgerschap).[1]

World War II[edit]

During the World War II, Boissevain-van Lennep and her family took part in efforts to house and protect Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.[1] The house where the Boissevain-van Lennep family had moved at the end of 1939 gradually became a center of resistance and sabotage activities.[1] Fugitives were hidden there, false identities were prepared, and explosives and weapons were stored.[1] Her two oldest sons, Jan Karel "Janka" Boissevain and Gideon Willem "Gi" Boissevain, were members of a resistance group known as Group 6 of the Center de Sabotage, or CS-6.[1]

In August of 1943, Mies and all three of her sons were arrested by the Gestapo.[1][2] On October 1, Janka and Gi were executed by the Nazis near Overveen.[1] The night before his execution, Janka engraved the Boissevain family motto, "Ni regret du passé, ni peur de l`avenir" (Neither regret for the past nor fear of the future) on the walls of his cell.[1] Mies and her remaining son Frans were imprisoned in the Herzogenbusch concentration camp in Vught, where Mies worked in the hospital as a nurse.[1] Among the prisoners already in the camp was her husband Jan, who had been arrested earlier.[1]

Mies survived internment at Herzogenbusch and later at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was nearly sent to the gas chamber several times.[1] When the Ravensbrück camp was liberated at the end of April 1945, Mies was seriously ill and weighed only 73 pounds (33 kg).[1] She was evacuated by the Red Cross to Sweden and returned to the Netherlands a few months later.[1] By then her husband Jan was dead, having spent more than three years in various concentration camps (including Amersfoort, Herzogenbusch, and Sachsenhausen) before dying in Buchenwald.[1] Her son Frans was transferred from Herzogenbusch to Dachau but survived.[1]

A National Commemorative Skirt with a National Institute registration stamp, 1947. This skirt is also embroidered with the dates of successive Liberation Day celebrations at which it was worn.
A National Commemorative Skirt showing the dates of Dutch Liberation Day celebrations embroidered near the hem.

National Commemorative Skirt[edit]

After the war, Boissevain-van Lennep was a member of a women's group that decided to create a garment to celebrate the rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war.[2] Mies came up with the idea for a garment she termed the National Commemorative Skirt (Nationale Feestrok: a 'feestrok' is a celebration or party skirt).[3] Also known as 'liberation skirts' (bevrijdingsrok), they were made of colorful patchwork with embroidery.[2][3] The skirt's form was inspired by the fact that during Mies's imprisonment by the Nazis, she once received a scarf or shawl made out of scraps of cloth from friends and relatives that she greatly cherished.[1][2] The idea was that these unique skirts would be worn during national holidays and similar events as a symbol of both individuality and national unity.[1][3] In the words of a song composed in honor of the idea: "Weave the pattern of your life into your skirt."[3]

Boissevain-van Lennep travelled all over Holland and the United States championing the National Commemorative Skirt, and more than 4000 of these patchwork skirts are known to have been made between 1945 and 1950.[3][2] Each had one or more triangles sewn near the front hem on which the date May 5, 1945 (Dutch Liberation Day) was embroidered; some also had the dates of later celebrations in which the makers participated.[2][3] Prominent among the colors in these feestroks were the Dutch national colors of red, white, blue, and orange.[3] The skirts were individually registered in a national archive under the names of their makers, and their identification number was often embroidered into the skirt itself.[2]

On September 2, 1948, some 1500 women wearing feestroks took part in a parade in Amsterdam marking the Golden Jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina’s coronation.[2][3]

Some of these skirts are now in the collections of museums including the Rijksmuseum and the Textile Research Centre in Leiden.[3] The Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam has Boissevain-van Lennep's own feestrok.[3]

In 1994, an exhibition on the life of Mies Boissevain-van Lennep opened at the Verzetsmuseum Zuid-Holland in Gouda and traveled to the Rijksmuseum.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Boissevain Bulletin. Boissevain website.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Feestrok (TRC)". Textile Research Centre website, November 26, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Nationale Feestrok". Rijksmuseum website archived at Archive.org, May 15, 2006.

External links[edit]