Dutch American Women, Silence, and Storytelling
The fall 2022 issue of Heritage Hall’s print magazine, Origins, included a story by Jane E. Griffioen. Her book London Street: A Memoir has been read widely by people who grew up in Dutch immigrant communities connected to the Christian Reformed Church.
London Street is about her parents, Griffioen herself, her siblings, and the tightknit, often isolated and closed-off Dutch Reformed community in which she grew up. It was a boundary-drawing community, one with clear lines between insiders and outsiders; and it had unspoken assumptions and habits about what you should and should not talk about.
Women and their lives especially were defined by silences, because religious and cultural assumptions discouraged women’s voices in church and society—and often in family life. In recent decades, cultural, religious, and political changes have opened spaces for women to tell their stories. This liberation has also perhaps freed men to talk about aspects of their lives that they kept silent about too.
I know a half dozen people who’ve read London Street in book groups. All of them described how the book triggered the memories of people in the groups–women and men–and inspired conversations about themselves. Some of their memories were nostalgic. But many of the conversations were about the silences in Dutch Reformed communities and their own families–things that weren’t talked about, such as depression and personal and family traumas. I can think of some in my own family and in other families in the Dutch Reformed immigrant communities in which I grew up in Canada.
Griffioen’s storytelling about those silences has inspired others to do the same about themselves, their families, and their communities. Her essay in Origins focuses on her own story and that of her mother. Follow this link to read her article in Origins. If you enjoy the article and want to read more, you can find or order her book London Street at your local independent bookstore or order it at a variety of online bookstores.
William Katerberg is a professor of history and curator of Heritage Hall at Calvin University.
The cover image for the blogpost is courtesy of Heritage Hall.