Raden Adjeng Kartini is a Javanese leading figure and the national hero of Indonesia. Kartini is known as the pioneer of the resurgence of indigenous women. Kartini was born in Jepara, Indonesia, on April 21, 1879. She was the child of a noble that still obeyed the nation’s customs and traditions. Kartini was the daughter of R.M Sosroningrat with his first wife, but not the main wife. In that period, polygamy was something that was normal. Her mother’s name was M.A. Ngasirah, a daughter of Nyai Haji Siti Aminah and Kyai Haji Madirono, a religious teacher in Teluwakur, Jepara. The colonial regulation at that time required that a regent must marry a noble. Because M. A. Ngasirah was not a noble, Kartini’s father married again with Raden Ajeng Woerjan (Moerjam), a direct descendant of Raja Madura. After the marriage, Kartini’s father was appointed to be a regent in Jepara.
Kartini was the 5th child in her family. She had full and step siblings. Kartini was the eldest daughter of her real siblings. She was also a descendant of a smart family. Her grandfather, Pangeran Ario Tjondronegoro IV, was appointed to be a regent when he was 25 years old. Kartini’s brother, Sosrokartono, was a person who was clever in languages. Until Kartini was 12 years old, she was permitted to go to school in ELS (Europese Lagere School) and there, Kartini learned Dutch.
But after she was 12 years old, she had to live in the house and be kept in seclusion. Kartini was very sad about this. She wanted to oppose this, but she was scared because she was frightened that she would be regarded as a rebellious child. To forget her sadness, she gathered textbooks and other science books and she read them in the garden while being accompanied by her servant. Finally, reading became her hobby and she did not go a day without reading. She read all the books and the newspaper. If she had difficulty in understanding books or the newspaper, she always asked her father for an explanation.
Because Kartini could speak Dutch, she began to be self-taught and wrote letters to friends from the Netherlands. One of them was Rosa Abendanon, who often supported her. From books, newspapers, and European magazines that Kartini read, she became interested in the progress of the thinking of European women. It became her desire to help indigenous local women progress. Local women had a low social status at that time. Women should become not only housewives but also must be respected and acknowledged – that is what she thought at that time. She began with gathering her female friends together to teach them. She taught writing and science. In the middle of this activity, she did not stop reading and wrote letters to her friends in the Netherlands.
Not long after she wrote a letter to Mr. J. H Abendanon, she asked for a scholarship to study in the Netherlands. The scholarship that she had obtained could not be used by Kartini because she was married off, by her parents, to Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat.
Kartini often read the Semarang newspaper, De Locomotief, which was managed by Pieter Brooshoof. She received cultural and science magazines and also a women’s magazine, Dutch De Hollandsche Lelie. After several tries, Kartini sent in her articles and they were published in De Hollandsche Lelie. From her letters, it seemed that Kartini read everything with full attention, and then she made notes. Sometimes Kartini mentioned one of the articles or quoted several sentences. Her attention was focused not only on the matter of the emancipation of women, but also on public social problems. Kartini saw the struggle of women to receive freedom, autonomy, and the equality of the law, as part of the wider movement.
Among the books that Kartini read before she was 20 years old were Max Havelaar’s book and Surat-Surat Cinta written by Multatuli, which in November 1901, she had read twice. And then she read De Stille Kraacht (The Strength Disappeared) which was written by Louis Coperus. Afterwards, she read Van Eeden’s work that was high-quality, the work by Augusta de Witt, a feminist novel created by Nyonya Goekoop de-Jong Van Beek, and an antiwar novel written by Berta Von Suttner, Die Waffen Nieder (Placed the Weapon). All of them had been written in the Netherlands.
Kartini was married on November 12, 1903. After she was married, she went with her husband to Rembang. Her husband understood Kartini’s wish, and Kartini was given the freedom and support to establish a female school to the east of the main gate complex of the Rembang regency office, or in a building that currently is used as the Scout’s Building. Because of her perseverance, Kartini succeeded in establishing a female school in Semarang, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Madiun, Cirebon and other areas. The name of this school is Sekolah Kartini.
Her popularity did not make Kartini become arrogant. She stayed well-mannered, honored the family and everyone else, and did not distinguish between poor and rich. The first and last child of Kartini and her husband, RM Soesalit, was born on September 13, 1904. Several days after the birth of her son, on September 17, 1904, Kartini died at the age of 25. Kartini was buried in Desa Bulu, Kecamatan Bulu, Rembang.
After Kartini died, Mr. J. H. Abendanon collected and published Kartini’s letters in a book. The book was entitled, DOOR DUISTERNIS TOT LICHT. It means “From Darkness to Light,” or “Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang.”
On May 2, 1964, Kartini was appointed a Hero of National Independence and, at the same time, the day of Kartini’s birth, April 21, was to be commemorated every year as the public holiday that afterwards became known as Kartini’s Day or “Hari Kartini.”
Kartini is my hero because, without Kartini’s struggle to progress, indigenous local women, who at that time had low social status, would not have as many rights. I would not have knowledge now. Kartini made it possible for all Indonesian women to be able to go to school and have knowledge.