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Historical study on catholic girls' lycea relevant to the Dutch debate on article 23 of the Constitution)

Published: 12th September 2019 Last updated: 12th September 2019

Fons Vitae in Amsterdam, Mater Dei in Nijmegen and the Theresialyceum in Tilburg, three Catholic girls' lycea, are described in detail for the period 1914-1968 in Marieke Smit’s historical dissertation. Central question: how did Catholic, female and intellectual education relate to each other at these schools? The desire to found the lycea on their own philosophical basis and to form good citizens did not contradict. In this sense, the dissertation is relevant to the current Dutch education debate on article 23 of the Constitution, according to Smit in ‘In deugd en wijsheid groeien’ (Growing in virtue and wisdom), which she will defend at Tilburg University, on September 18.

The congregations in question founded the girls' schools in order to give more girls a solid Catholic education and to train them to become good Catholic women. The religious ideal was leading, but the ideal of intellectual training became the core of what it was all about. After all, if these special schools did not offer a good level of education, they could close their doors. But this ideal was not set above the religious ideal. It was a reciprocal process: the religious ideal of catholic education which the nuns had in mind, could only be successful in giving priority to quality requirements.

Relevance to education debate on art. 23.

Dutch  Parliament will soon be debating the scope of the freedom of education. This debate on art. 23 is closely linked to this study, with questions such as: do you form good citizens by subsidising special schools that give pupils a specific identity, or are special schools indoctrination machines that jeopardise integration? In the current education debate - especially about Islamic schools - the discussion only focuses on identity policy. Smit's research shows that identity policy and the level of education are inextricably linked precisely by the way in which the Dutch education system is organised.

Marieke Smit defends her thesis on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at Tilburg University (auditorium, 13.30 hours). The dissertation was published by Valkhof Pers (482 pages). Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld (Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences) and Dr. Hilda Amsing (RU Groningen). For further information:, T. 071-5276597. A review copy (PDF in Dutch) can be requested via

Photo: Class in the 1920s, taken from the school archives of Fons Vitae (Smit, p. 9)