In the past, new members of the 'Delftste Vrouwelijke Studentenvereniging' (DVSV – Delft student society for women) were called ‘novieten’ (‘novices’) as opposed to ‘feuten’ (with the connotation of ‘foetuses’), the term used for their male counterparts. After the first year, male students were welcomed into a robust community of men. Women, on the other hand, were a minority group. They were ‘politely ignored’ and expected to first prove themselves worthy. In the past, how did women deal with their role as a minority group?
First-year students at the Delft Institute of Technology and TU Delft in the period 1905-2018
This graph shows the absolute number of first-year students, the distribution of men and women, and the percentage of women. It was only possible for women to follow a full-time technical study at Delft from 1905.
A striking aspect of the graph is that the percentage of women before WWII was higher than in the period that followed. The percentage only increases to more than 11% – the highest pre-war percentage – in 1983.
Over the course of time, the definition of first-year students changed. Up until 1982, no statistical distinction was made between different types of first-year students. From 1982, the numbers given for first-year students include 'internal switchers' (students who changed to a different study) because these figures were best in line with earlier data. The introduction of the bachelor’s-master’s system in 2002 also had an impact on the calculation method which probably explains the ‘dip' the graph shows in that year.
'Don’t be a prudish little miss'
The DVSV (Delft student society for women), established in 1904, was a social club for female students at the Institute of Technology. Up until 1970, virtually all female students were members. In the 1920s, its membership was around 100 students.
Successive society presidents gave speeches to first-year students which included instructions. These speeches were printed in yearbooks. Up until 1940, the most important motto was: don’t stand out as a woman and be grateful for the opportunity to study in Delft. Any openly feminist attitude was rejected. This would only begin to change after WWII. You can read here the speeches given in 1930 and 1931.
In 1954, Antonia Korvezee (1899-1978) became the first female professor at the Institute of Technology in Delft. Although born in Friesland she grew up in The Hague, where she attended the ´HBS for boys´ (former Dutch pre-university secondary school).
Based on her aptitude for maths, she decided to study in Delft. In 1922, she graduated cum laude in Chemical Technology and worked for two years as an analytical chemistry assistant. She continued her studies in Delft by performing PhD research under Professor Scheffer. In 1930, she was awarded a PhD cum laude for her research into copper chloride as a catalyst.
Of the 26 dissertations written in Professor Scheffer’s lab, 5 were by women – a high percentage at the time.
The legal 'incapacity of women' was abolished in the Netherlands in 1956. As a result, married female engineers could actually start to practise their profession.
In the soon to be published book 'Acht Vrouwen in een Mannenwereld: Van Delftsche Novieten tot Ingenieurs' (Eight Women in a Man’s World: From Delft Novices to Engineers) Marian Geense describes the lives of her 1956 DVSV fellow freshers, and the prejudices women had to deal with in their profession. Here you can read a preprint version of the book based on 8 quotations.
Boterbrug 5, one of DVSV’s girls houses, was established in 1969. 10 years later, the residents relocated to Oude Delft 100, but they kept the name Boterbrug. Following the merger of the DVSV and the Delftsch Studenten Corps (student society for male students) in 1976 and the recent purchase of the building on Oude Delft, today, the Boterburg is a 'Corpshuis' for women.
In 2019, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Boterbrug, a book was produced containing interviews with all 75 residents, from 1969 to today. Here, you can read an interview with Margreet de Boer, one of the founders of the house.
From the mid-seventies, both the absolute number and the relative percentage of first-year female students gradually rose. Impacted by second-wave feminism, new initiatives emerged aimed at questioning and changing the prevailing academic culture. This was echoed in education.
While studying Architecture, Anna Vos established a new discipline aimed at questioning existing norms in that field of study. For example, why were students only taught about family housing? To what extent did housing floorplans reaffirm conventional gender roles within the household?
Cracks in the bulwarks?
Despite the rising percentage of female students and the impact of second-wave feminism, the Institute of Technology (renamed TU Delft in 1986) remains a men’s stronghold. In the 1989 project ‘De technische universiteit, een mannenwereld' (The University of Technology: A Man’s World) Studium Generale approaches the problem from the other side: the men’s side. ‘(...) if no cracks appear in the bulwarks and the men also remain resistant to change, there will be no change’ the foreword reads.
But what is a community of men? What are the gender role stereotypes that must be broken? And what obstacles do they present to women’s equality in the workplace and beyond? In the publication, answers are sought to these questions – questions that remain relevant today.
Several source texts have been digitised for this exhibition. Click 'Read More' for a more extensive bibliography.