Foto: Eigen beeld

Three remarkable anecdotes about the VU

Marjolein de Jong20 October 2020

Up until this day, the Vrije Universiteit’s rich history manages to inspire many. Three people that have made the VU’s history their life’s work elaborate on their favorite interesting anecdotes. 

Ab Flipse, university historian

„The Vrije Universiteit was founded in 1880 and initially functioned as a church: the building that now houses De Kleine Komedie, to be exact. Five students followed lectures in the church’s attic. The university was constantly being ridiculed at that time. A few students from the University of Amsterdam painted a sentence from Dante’s hell right above the door: ‘Lasciati ogni sperenza, voi ch’entrate’ (‘Abandon hope all who enter here’)."


„Four years later, the university moved to Keizersgracht 62. Gradually, they were able to purchase more and more neighbouring premises that were connected to each other by little hallways. In 1899 they bought a large property next to the university that was meant for Abraham Kuyper. He occupied the house for a while, until the building became part of the university. Professors would often joke that students were being taught in Kuyper’s former bedroom. By now, that property has been turned into a hotel and while doing renovations, they discovered that the attic floor had partially come down due to the huge amount of library books that was stored there.”

Liselotte van Neervoort, curator of academic heritage

„This black and white picture, of the VU’s first female student, holds a special place in my heart. The picture was taken circa 1905 and shows Suze ‘t Hooft, who enrolled in the university’s law faculty in 1905. Her enrollment didn’t go all too smoothly. The academic senate held deliberations first and then voted: nine professors were in favour, two voted against. Then, ‘t Hooft was given permission to enroll as a student. After a well-attended meeting organized by the student fraternity, she was also given permission to join the student fraternity and became a member of I.V.M.B.O."

Suze 't Hooft

„The VU was actually lagging behind when it came to her enrollment, considering the nation-wide trend. Aletta Jacobs was the first female student to enroll in Groningen in 1871. In the following years, it slowly became more and more conventional for women to enroll – although the numbers remained relatively small. It took some time before the first female professor became a reality. That didn’t happen until 1937, when Gezina van der Molen was appointed professor at the VU. Thankfully, those numbers have become more equal over time, but there are still different organisations working on gender diversity and equality at the VU.”

Rolf van der Woude, author, wrote Willem Hovy’s biography

„I always say that without Willem Hovy, Abraham Kuyper wouldn’t have been able to do what he did. The two men formed a successful duo. Kuyper came up with the ideas, Hovy was the one with access to money. Hovy did pretty well for himself at the Gekroonde Valk [Crowned Falcon] brewery that belonged to the Van Vollehoven Family, of which he was partner and director. Once he met Kuyper, he became fascinated with the idea of leading the Dutch people back to the Dutch Golden Age. Hovy really took care of Kuyper financially. For example, he gifted Kuyper money to purchase a house and put a lot of money into the Vrije Universiteit."


„It’s pretty remarkable that a reformed Christian like Hovy would work for a beer brewery, but at that time beer was thought of as a healthy alternative to strong alcoholic drinks, such as gin. Pregnant women were even encouraged to drink it during the course of their pregnancy, because it supposedly stimulated breast milk production. However, beer consumption drastically declined after the Second World War. That’s when Amstel and Heineken took over the brewery. For years, the recipe for Vollenhoven Stout (a dark, top-fermented beer that the brewery was known for) was left untouched, until it was rediscovered a few years ago. Ever since then, only Poesiat & Kater brewery has been allowed to brew it.”