1931 – 1994

Ien Dales

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Labour politician and advocate for equal treatment


Ien Dales worked for minorities in the Netherlands for years. Her relationships with Elizabeth Schmitz and Nel van Dalfsen and her fight against discrimination against homosexuals became a source of inspiration for the queer community.


Catharina Isabella ‘Ien’ Dales was born in Arnhem on October 18, 1931, the daughter of a wholesaler in building materials. She had a wonderful childhood together with her brother and sister. Her upbringing in the Dutch Reformed Church influenced her character for the rest of her life. When she was ten, her father died, leaving her mother to take care of the family. The ambitious Ien set herself the goal of higher education, even though the family’s financial situation was now very modest.

The intended study of medicine turned out to be too expensive. Instead, she was able to benefit from a scholarship from the Dutch Reformed Church to continue her education at the Academy ‘Church and World’ in Driebergen. After graduating as a church worker and youth worker in 1953, she completed her training as an evangelist in 1956, after which she went to work at the academy, where she would eventually become director from 1969 to 1974. In 1968 she officially became a member of the Labor Party (PvdA), a membership that would be of great significance for her future.


Political passion

From 1977 to 1981, Ien was director of the municipal Social Services in Rotterdam. During that time she became friends with councillor Elisabeth Schmitz. She then became (until a government crisis in 1982) State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment. Thanks to many preferential votes, she entered the House of Representatives, from which she left in 1987 to become mayor of Nijmegen. She was given the nickname Ma Flodder (a then popular TV-character) because of her unconventional appearance and because she was averse to pretence. At the end of 1989, she became Minister of the Interior in the Lubbers III government and guided the General Equal Treatment Act through parliament with powerful advocacy. She was also concerned with the theme of integrity in the police and government, in which context she uttered the often quoted words “there is no such thing as a little integrity”.



Ien lived in Utrecht from 1976, although she also had an address in Nijmegen during her time as mayor. She lived with Nel van Dalfsen († 1991), former colleague of the Driebergse academy and secretary of the Reformed Council for Church and School. During her work for the municipal Social Services in Rotterdam, a strong bond arose with Elisabeth Schmitz. The two friends and fellow politicians became inseparable inside and outside parliament. Elizabeth was later also given a room in the shared Utrecht house, so that the three of them became familiar faces to visitors to the Dom Church. Ien found relaxation in gardening, in Driebergen, and later at Nel’s summer house on the Veluwe.

In 1986, the National Working Group on Faith and Philosophy (LW G&L) of the COC discussed the planning for the 40th anniversary of the COC. An anniversary day was planned for this in Utrecht, with a forum on the connection between the Equal Treatment Act and the report ‘1+1=together’ from the main Christian political party. While the organizers were thinking of a forum leader who might also be gay or lesbian, one of the members active in the reformed circle suggested Ien Dales, because she assumed she and Nel were a lesbian couple.

Gea Zijlstra, a member of the National Working Group on Faith & Philosophy, was involved in the planning. Because Gea knew Ien from the Dom Church, she was asked to contact her. When asked if she wanted to take on the role of chairperson at the forum and knowing that they wanted to do this by someone who was also gay or lesbian, Ien indicated that she was not a lesbian, but supported the rainbow movement and was therefore happy to take it on.


Legacy and questions

When Ien Dales died suddenly in Utrecht on January 10, 1994, it became clear how loved she was by many. Thousands of people paid their tribute during a packed funeral in the Utrecht Dom Church. The funeral procession from Utrecht to the Arnhem Moscowa cemetery was over a kilometre long and was accompanied by police. Three trucks brought loads of flowers from Utrecht to the cemetery.

Ien Dales was always reserved about her private life. Within the Reformed Church, some assumed that Ien and Nel had a lesbian relationship. In political regions, Ien’s friendship with Elisabeth caused gossip. After her death, then Prime Minister Lubbers ‘outed’ her in his tribute, as if she had a relationship with Elisabeth. Unlike Elisabeth, Nel and Ien never openly confirmed or denied that they were lesbians, which still causes all kinds of speculation. What is certain is that the most important and long-lasting connections in Ien Dale’s life were women and that she would probably only consider acting on rumours if she thought it was something bad or inferior. But most of all, she became a role model for lesbians and the queer community because of the power of her commitment to equality.

Her legacy lives on in the Dales Lecture and the Mayor Dales Prize, both established in 1996 by the COC Nijmegen on the occasion of the 25th anniversary. The prize is awarded annually to a person or organization from Nijmegen that values diversity and respect as referred to in Article 1 of the Constitution.


Gea Zijlstra and Gianna Mula



Dragt, Th.H. e.a., Een beetje integer bestaat niet. Minister Ien Dales – Een leven tussen geloof en dienen, Centrum voor Arbeidsverhoudingen Overheidspersoneel, 2004

Hofman, Paul, ‘ “Laat mij er eens door, verdikkeme!” een portret van Ien Dales’, Gaykrant 9 januari 2020: https://www.gaykrant.nl/2020/01/09/

Kessel, Alexander van, ‘DALES, Catharina Isabella’, BWSA Online (2016): https://socialhistory.org/bwsa/biografie/dales





1 Ien Dales appointed mayor of Nijmegen, 1987, Roland Gerrits / Anefo,

2 Ien Dales appointed mayor of Nijmegen; Ien Dales receives a chain of office by deputy mayor, Annie Brouwer Korf, 1987, Roland Gerrits / Anefo,

3 House of Representatives, discussion of the budget for the Queen’s House; Mrs Ien Dales (PvdA) on the pulpit, 1984, Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo

4 Frans Hals exhibition in the museum of the same name. In the middle curator Peter Biesboer, on the right the ministers Dales and Andriessen, 1990, Collection Fotoburo de Boer

5 House of Representatives, bill to introduce equal benefit rights for men and women, a cheerful moment with Ina Brouwer, Ien Dales and Elske Ter Veld, 1984, Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo

6 In the garden of the Catshuis from left to right: Til Gardeniers, Ien Dales, Siepie Langedijk de Jong, Ineke Lambers Hacquebard, Joop den Uyl and Hedy d’Ancona, 1981, Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo

7 Parliamentary Committee on Emancipation Affairs spoke today with State Secretary Kappeyne van de Coppello about emancipation policy, 1984, Croes, Rob C. / Anefo

8 Mayor Ien Dales. by Haren, Ber van – Regional Archive Nijmegen, Netherlands – CC0. https://www.europeana.eu/item/2021651/https___hdl_handle_net_21_12122_138802

9 ON THE GROWTH – Ien Dales – Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision, Netherlands – CC BY-NC-ND. https://www.europeana.eu/item/2051906/data_euscreenXL_PGM5090955

10 Kippa – other photos Series 2 – Ien Dales – Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision, Netherlands – CC BY-NC-ND. https://www.europeana.eu/item/2051906/data_euscreenXL_PGM5038129

11. Ien Dales and Elisabeth Schmitz

12. State Secretary Ien Dales and Deputy Prime Minister Joop den Uyl during the discussion of the bill for a one-off benefit to minimum incomes (1981)



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