Bosshardt, Alida M. (1913—)

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Bosshardt, Alida M. (1913—)

Dutch lieutenant colonel in the Salvation Army, known for her work in the Red Light district of Amsterdam. Born Alida Margaretha Bosshardt in the Netherlands on June 8, 1913; only daughter and one of three children (one brother was adopted).

Lieutenant colonel Alida Bosshardt, known affectionately in Holland as "the major," has spent the greater part of her career living and working in the section of the Old City of Amsterdam called the Zeedijk, home of the notorious Red Light district. In 1948, "with 100 guilders, a flag and a blessing," Bosshardt began dispensing the social and spiritual services of the Salvation Army to the prostitutes, the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the poor and troubled, and the homeless in the area. From one room in the cellar of an old building, she built a thriving Goodwillcentrum, comprised of four buildings, with a staff of over

135 social workers, district nurses, and home helpers providing services to the city's needy.

Bosshardt grew up in a poor family with two brothers, Henk and Jan. She didn't attend church or Sunday school until she was 12, when her father became a Roman Catholic and occasionally took her to church with him. Around the same time, her mother began attending the Christian Reformed Church. By her own account, Bosshardt was a difficult child and had trouble in school. "When my teacher told me the school was much nicer on the days when I was at home sick, my parents decided they would look for another school, but I didn't want to go any more." She never went to high school, but later attended college for a degree in social work.

In 1931, 18-year-old Bosshardt attended her first meeting of the Salvation Army, filling in for her brother Jan who was taken ill. She was struck by the Salvationist's simple message, "The God who loves me, also loves you," a message she had not so clearly found in church. As she began attending meetings regularly, a new direction for her life emerged. Bosshardt decided to join the Army but obeyed her parents' wishes that she hold off any commitments for a year. On June 19, 1932, she took the oath to "become a faithful soldier of The Salvation Army" until death; with a uniform and bonnet purchased by her father, she set out for training school in Amstelveen.

Commissioned in 1934, Bosshardt was stationed at the Children's Home, "Zonnehoek," in Amsterdam, where she stayed until after World War II. She was then given an administrative post at the Territorial Headquarters across from the Central station and bordering the city's Red Light district. Walking through the neighborhood, she wondered why the Army was not active in such a depressed area and brought the matter to the attention of her commander. She and some colleagues started street-corner work, singing and "witnessing" every Friday night, until they became part of the scenery. For the next ten years, she ate and slept in the same little room, while offering practical help to the poor, finding beds, food, and shelter when needed.

As more and more of Amsterdam's needy found their way to Bosshardt, who was known for her warm smile and outgoing nature, her center and reputation grew. The press discovered her, followed in turn by radio and television. In 1959, she was surprised and honored with an appearance on the Dutch version of "This is Your Life," which brought her new found notoriety, and, more important to Bosshardt, donations from all over the Netherlands.

In 1960, she was one of three honored guests received by Queen Juliana during a stay at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. A royal occasion five years later, involving Princess Beatrix , caught the imagination of press and public alike. Intrigued by the Salvation Army, Beatrix asked if she might accompany Bosshardt one evening. With the princess disguised in a wig and thick glasses, the curious twosome made the usual appointed rounds, visiting prostitutes and residents and selling The War Cry, the Army's biweekly publication. They were unnoticed until they finished up in a popular neighborhood pub, where a photographer recognized the princess and snapped a picture which appeared on the front page of every newspaper the next day.

The Silver Medal of the City of Amsterdam was among the countless honors and tributes received by Bosshardt through the years. In 1962, she was admitted to The Order of the Founder, the highest Salvation Army Order of Merit. In 1966, she was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and received a knighthood in the Order of Oranje Nassau. On another occasion, Air Holland named one of its fleet of planes the Major Alida Bosshardt. Through all, she has remained humble: "I serve the Lord to serve people. He, not me, should be praised."

Bosshardt officially retired in 1978, though her activities continued. She lived on the same canal, in two rooms, on the third floor of a building not far down the street from the center. She still gave lectures, scheduled meetings, kept up an extraordinary correspondence, and sold The War Cry in the Red Light district. In an interview given on a visit to Canada in 1990, she expressed concern over the breakdown of the family and the decline in church attendance. Her greatest concern for the Salvation Army is the lack of leadership from women. "From the beginning women were leaders in the Army, but now I think a lot of women are willing to let the men do it. I don't like that."

Bosshardt's practical approach to her years of Goodwillwerk is exemplified in one of her favorite Bible stories, from Acts 3, "where the lame man is healed at the gate of the temple. That man was helped in his totality," she explains. "He wasn't begging the next day. He went out and got a job!"


Duncan, Denis. Here Is My Hand: The Story of Lieutenant Colonel Alida Bosshardt of the Red Light Area, Amsterdam. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977.

"Women at Work: Lieutenant-Colonel Alida Bosshardt," in Sally Ann. April 1991, pp. 6–7.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts