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Lesbian memory

In the 1980’s, a strong enthusiasm arose within the lesbian community to research, preserve, and pass on the history of women loving women. They began to permanently record who lesbians were and what they were doing at the time. The Lesbian Archive Utrecht was born from these ideas in 1982.

Lesbians in Women’s and Gay History

Since 1935, a special archive for women’s history has existed in the Netherlands, set up by feminists, to collect and pass on the memories of those who have been excised from men’s history. The Archive for the Women’s Movement (IAV) kept documents and publications of all women, including lesbians, but no specific attention was paid to preserving the unique lesbian existence.
From the 1970’s onwards, attention to special archives for groups that had been systematically erased from history, such as people of color and homosexuals, grew and yielded new results.
In 1978, academic initiatives for the study of homosexuality began at the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, which resulted in working groups on gay and lesbian studies, the journal Homologie and the Homodok documentation centre. The Homodok not only collected the results of academic research, but also all kinds of publications and objects that were important to the gay community, such as literature, theses, posters, newspaper clippings and private archives.

Lesbian Herstory

An article in the feminist magazine LOVER in 1981 by the lesbian feminist Maaike Meijer inspired Dutch lesbians to preserve their history. Meijer had visited the Lesbian Herstory Archive in New York, the most important collection of objects and publications related to lesbian history. Using the American archive as an example, she also wanted to stimulate the establishment of lesbian archives in the Netherlands.
The article caused quite a stir and showed that Meijer was not the only one who realized that both the IAV archive and the Homodok collections lacked attention for lesbian existence and experiences throughout history.
Two women from Leeuwarden, Henny Smid and Majo Georgie, had already started privately collecting material about lesbian history in 1976. Their collection was stored in their home and not yet made public, but the spirit of their collection showed a deep need for lesbian history to be recognized.
Readers were enthusiastic about Meijer’s proposal. On the pages of lesbian and gay magazines, a rich exchange of views took place between the leading researchers in the field of women’s and gay studies. In 1982-83 women from different cities came together to discuss the how and where of Dutch lesbian archives. From this meeting it was decided that there should be a constellation of regional archives, to facilitate the access of women across the country. The archives of Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Den Bosch and Utrecht were set up, the archive in Leeuwarden took steps to become accessible to the public.
Questions were discussed such as: What should a lesbian archive collect? What should we understand by ‘lesbian existence’? The answers to this varied, resulting in archives with different types of collections.

The Utrecht Lesbian Archive

After months of preparations, discussions and funding applications, a foundation was established in July 1982. The Utrechts Lesbisch Archief (ULA, sometimes also Lesbian Archive Utrecht) focused on everything that was and has been important to lesbians, including books written by lesbian authors with a ‘straight subject’ or books written by men who were historically important to lesbians. The emphasis was placed on sexual theory and secondarily on fiction and poetry. The material included written documents, audio-video recordings of lectures, seminars, lectures and presentations and photo reports of theatrical performances, events and demonstrations.

The archive was first housed in someone’s home and then moved to more spacious accommodation in the Women’s House on Twijnstraat, a busy activity center for women’s organisations. The archive was run by volunteers and depended for its existence on subsidies from the municipality, the province and donations from the archive’s ‘girlfriends’. In addition to collecting and making material available for consultation, the ULA organized events and participated in meetings of the Landelijk Overleg van Lesbische Archieven/ LOLA (National Consultation on Lesbian Archives).

Material were collected in several ways: through the research of the volunteers in antiquarian shops, archives and bookshops; through donations from the friends of the archive and through specific requests for materials in newspapers.

Between 1984 and 1986 the ULA published a newsletter, En Toen (And then), mainly aimed at the friends of the archive. There could be found descriptions of acquisitions, book reviews and descriptions of the difficulties in gaining government funding.

The archive’s location remained a weak point throughout its existence. Although the space in the Women’s House was accessible, it was not ideal. The collective continued to hope to find an independent space that would meet the needs of the archive and its users, with the dream of starting an activity center for lesbians.

Over the years, getting subsidies from the municipality and province became increasingly complicated. In 1983, the municipality of Utrecht decided to stop funding the ULA on a permanent basis. From that day on ULA could only apply for funding of specific activities.

In 1984, the subsidies already granted by the province were stopped after actions by the Provincial Council that did not recognize the emancipation content of a lesbian archive. In both cases, the archive launched protests against the government’s decisions, but with little long-term results. The chronic lack of financial resources remained one of the biggest problems for the archive until the very end.

In 1987 the archive was no longer able to attract volunteers. After consultation with other lesbian archives, it was decided to keep the ULA as a ‘dormant archive’ for a while, until new collaborators decided to join the team. The collection was preserved but there were no activities.

In 1990 the collective decided to close the Utrecht Lesbian Archive. The collection was donated to the Amsterdam Lesbian Archive, which eventually merged with Homodok and became what is now IHLIA LGBTI HERITAGE.


Gianna Mula




Mieke Aerts en Saskia Grotenhuis, ‘De een is gelukkig de ander niet: over roddel, geschiedenis en andere metaforen’, LOVER, 9 (1982) 3, 99-103.

Joke Auk Dijkstra, ‘Utrechts Lesbisch Archief opgeheven: “Bestaansrecht is er zeker’’ ‘, Nieuwsbrief Lesbisch Archief Amsterdam (1990) 14, 14-16.

Wilma de Hoog, Utrechtse Roze Routes (Nijmegen 1997).

Noah Littel, tentoonstelling catalogus, Het Archief in Ontwikkeling, 22 februari – 01 mei 2021, IHLIA LGBTI Heritage en Atria, kennisinstituut voor emancipatie en vrouwengeschiedenis, Amsterdam.

Maaike Meijer, ‘De roddel van de een is de geschiedenis van de ander’, LOVER 8 (1981) 4, 172-177.

NvdP, ‘Lesbische archieven Nederland’, LOVER 12 (1985) 4, 226-228

Annette van ‘t Sant, ‘Lesbische archieven: hebben is hebben, houden is de kunst’, Sek 15 (1985) 3, 8-9.

Judith Schuyf , ‘Het eekhoorntjeskompleks : lesbische archieven in Nederland’,  Homologie 5 (1983) 1, 4-5.

En Toen, Uitgave van Utrechts Lesbisch Archief, 1 (1984) 1.

Tineke Zwijgers, ‘Lesbische vrouwen hebben recht op hun eigen geschiedenis, Pension Parkzicht : maandblad van COC, afdeling Utrecht 2, 1983, 1-4




En toen… (And then…) Newsletter Utrecht Lesbian Archive, poster 1982 (collection Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history)

Poster for fundraiser Utrecht Lesbian Archive 1982 (collection Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history)

Front page of magazine Pension Parkzicht (guest house park view), with article about the Utrecht Lesbian Archive, February 1983. (collection The Utrecht Archive)

‘The Utrecht Lesbian Archive is looking for’, call for new employees, 1986 (collection Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history)

View of the facade of the building Twijnstraat 69, the Women’s House, in Utrecht, 1987. (collection photo service GAU, photographer The Utrecht Archive)


The latest update of this story: April 05, 2023