Born on 28 August 1875 in Swellendam, Maria Elizabeth Rothmann, M.E.R. was also one of the first South African women to attend university, and received her BA degree from the South African College in Cape Town (later to become UCT). M.E.R was a teacher firstly in Johannesburg, then in Grahamstown, where she met and married Herbert Oakshott, a school principal, whom she divorced nine years later.
Maria Elizabeth Rothmann (writing under the initials M.E.R) was one of the first Afrikaner women to pursue journalism as a career, from 1920 – 1922 at the magazine for women Die Boerevrou in Pretoria, and then from 1922-1928 at Die Burger in Cape Town, where she began the era of professional Afrikaner female journalists as the first editor of the newly established women pages.
When M.E.R. moved with her two children to Cape Town, the editor of Die Burger made it clear that the women’s pages should ‘stay away from politics’. Initially she agreed, because “nobody would regret (staying away from political issues), as one becomes so tired of the bickering…”, but subsequently she happily did the opposite!
Politics for her was a very wide theme that included women’s suffrage and understanding the different worlds of urban and rural women. She regularly ridiculed the notion of the weaker sex and often responded in the newspaper to public remarks aimed at women. After seven years she left Die Burger but continued for a decade to contribute articles in which she exercised what she called; “being partial to women” (vrouepartydigheid) and never flinched from taking on important men such as the beloved Afrikaans writer C.J. Langenhoven who once had to withdraw publicly ‘an unfriendly remark’ about women.
M.E.R. regarded her mother as the first feminist she knew. When her mother sent her daughters to university she was asked whether she did that so that they could get husbands, to which her mother responded: “No, I send them so that they can live without husbands, if they so prefer.”
Afrikaner women were apprehensive about feminism, she suggested, because the whole movement was “English in origin and sentiment”, while “we were busy with our struggle against impoverishment and degeneration, with our whole struggle for rehabilitation”. In this effort she accepted that feminism had a definite role, but in a different way from the movement propagated by English-speaking women who “cared little about the issues of vital concern to Afrikaners”.
She received the Hertzog Prize in 1953 for her oeuvre of prose. In 1961, she received the Scheepersprys vir Jeugliteratuur for Die tweeling trek saam (The twins join the Trek). In 1970, she received the Tienie Holloway-medalje vir Kleuterliteratuur for Karlien en Kandas (Karlien and Kandas).
MER died ten days after her 100th birthday, at her home Kom nader (Come hither) in Swellendam.
Information in Afrikaans can be found here
- Kinders van die Voortrek (Children of the Voortrek) – 1920
- Die Sokka-boek: stories van ‘n skaaphond (The Sokka book: stories of a sheep dog) – 1926
- Vanmelewe: stories van die voorouers (Times past: stories of the forebears) – 1926
- Onweershoogte en ander verhale (Stormy heights and other stories) – 1927
- Die kammalanders (Denizens of Kammaland) – 1928
- Die oorwinnaar: verhale van President Steyn (The victor: stories of President Steyn) collected by M.E.R. – 1929
- Jong dae: ‘n meisies-storie (Young days: a girls story) – 1933
- Sokka se plaas (Sokka’s farm) – 1933
- Na vaste gange (Towards firm corridors) – 1944
- Drie vertellings (Three narratives) – 1944
- Uit en tuis (Home and away) – 1946
- Stoute bengel: ‘n verhaal uit die lewe (Wayward boy: a story from life) – 1947
- Die eindelose waagstuk (The endless wager) – 1948
- Die gewers (The givers) – 1950
- Goedgeluk (Fortuity) – 1958
- The drostdy at Swellendam (The Drostdy at Swellendam), with A. Rothmann—1960
- Die tweeling trek saam (The twins join the Trek) – 1960
- Kom nader; bloemlesing uit die werk van M.E.R. (Come hither; anthology from the work of M.E.R.) – 1965
- So is onse maniere (Thus are our customs) – 1965
- Vroue wat Jesus geken het (The women who knew Jesus) – 1965
- Karlien en Kandas (Karlien and Kandas) – 1969
- My beskeie deel; ‘n outobiografiese vertelling (My humble share; an autobiographical narrative) – 1972
- Familiegesprek: briewe aan haar dogter (Family conversation: letters to her daughter) – 1976
- Van naby gesien: ’n keur uit die kortkuns van M.E.R. (Seen from nearby: choice selection from the short stories of M.E.R.), compiled by Elize Botha) – 1976
- ‘n Kosbare erfenis: briewe 1916–1975 (A treasured inheritance: letters 1916–1975) compiled by Alba Bouwer, Anna Rothmann and Rykie van Reenen—1977
- M.E.R.-versebundel (M.E.R. poem volume), compiled by Carl Lohann, music by Awie van Wyk, illustrations by Ina Pfeiffer—1985
She translated the following works from Dutch to Afrikaans:
- Tant Alie van Transvaal: die dagboek van Alie Badenhorst (Aunt Alie of Transvaal: the diary of Alie Badenhorst) – 1939
- Oorlogsdagboek van ’n Transvaalse burger te velde 1900 — 1901 (War diary of a Transvaal citizen in the field 1900 — 1901), a candid diary of her brother Fritz Rothmann—1976
MER’s adopted granddaughter Miemie Rothman
Many Swellendammers fondly remember Mieime Rothman, herself in line to be considered a Swellendam legend., She was the adopted granddaughter of MER and was a great character, not only to be found dispensing stories and information at The Drostdy Museum until she was of a great age, but also at every single event that was held in town – this spry and extrovert diminutive figure was involved and interested in anything that was happening in her town.