The writer Theo Thijssen (1879-1943)
Theo Thijssen was born on 16 June 1879 in the Eerste Leliedwarsstraat 16 in the Jordaan. He was the son of an Amsterdam cobbler and shopkeeper from the Jordaan. 50,000 inhabitants then counted the Jordaan, a densely populated and poor neighborhood. Often several families lived in a house. The Thijssen family also lived with seven children on the ground floor of the house where seven other families lived on the other floors and basement. Theo’s father, Jan, died of tuberculosis early in 1890. He was only 37 years old. Theo’s mother started a grocery store in the Pijp and later on the Brouwersgracht. Meanwhile, the shoe store was sold. Theo and his brother were a big support for their mother in the grocery store.
The writer Theo Thijssen (1879-1943)
Training as a teacher
From 1892 to 1894 he studied at the school for the breeding school on the Nieuwe Prinsengracht. For this period, Theo went to school for the first time at the age of four. At a custodial school, where mainly children from middle classes were sitting, school fees had to be paid. Remarkable is the fact that in 1892 he left school with the note “laudable resignation”. After the breeding school in 1894, Theo Thijssen was admitted after an entrance exam for the Haarlem Government Culture School. The family did not have a lot of money, but Theo was very gifted and that gave Theo a government grant. All costs of his training as a teacher were paid. In 1898 he passed the exam positively and went back to Amsterdam.
Statue writer Theo Thijssen (1879-1943)
The publicist Theo Thijssen
The Rijkskweekschool in Haarlem published a handwritten school paper since 1896, Baknieuws. Baknieuws later became a national magazine. Under the chief editor Theo Thijssen appeared in 1917 the first issue of Baknieuws. At first only 400 subscribers but soon there were 1200. His first humorous poems, melodramatic prose sketches and reflections on literature he published in this magazine. The director of the Haarlem Government Culture School did not agree with the content of the articles and forbade the magazine. By transferring the main editorship to another student and through the use of various pseudonyms, Theo continued to publish.
Theo Thijssen as a teacher
Theo Thijssen worked from 1898 as a teacher for years. For 16 years he worked at a free public school (no school fees and for working-class children). According to the stories, he was experienced as a true teacher with an enormous involvement in the social circumstances of his students.
Café Theo Thijssen
Children’s book Boy Days
Theo wrote his only children’s book “Jongensdagen” in 1909. In the magazine “the new school” Theo expressed his critical opinion of the current children’s books. These were too moralistic and badly written according to Theo. Boy Days is a book about ordinary children in Amsterdam. The everyday life of Ko and Henk, who have no father and of Ari and Klaas is described by Thijssen in this book. They live their childhood life full of joy and adventure.
Politics and trade union
In 1921 he stopped as a teacher, he could then focus more on tasks for the Association of Dutch Teachers. Thereafter he became secretary of the Association and later member of the central management in 1930 and 1933 respectively. As educational specialist of the political party SDAP he became a member of the Second Chamber in 1933. He did this job in addition to his work within the trade union. In 1935 Theo also became a member of the city council of Amsterdam by preferential votes.
In 1921 and 1922 appeared in weekly episodes in the magazine “School and House” his best-known novel Kees de Jongen. The main character Kees Bakels flees from the poor existence by daydreaming. Kees is a son of a cobbler and in love with Rosa Overbeek. In 1970 the book appeared as a play and in 2003 it was filmed. In addition, he described three novels about the profession of teacher; Barend Wels (1908), Schoolland (1925) and the Happy Class (1926). On his sixtieth birthday these three books appeared in a band (16 June 1939). In a romantic autobiography “In the morning of life” Theo wrote his childhood memories between October 1940 and February 1941.
Museum Theo Thijssen
After the death of Theo Thijssen in the winter of 1943 (December 23) due to various medical complications, his birth house on the Eerste Leliedwarsstraat was decorated as a museum. This museum is a beautiful tribute to a striking Amsterdammer.