Sjoukje Maria Diderika Bokma de Boer was born into the fairly well-to-do family of a liberal minister in Nes, a village in the northeast of Friesland. The boarding school that she attends pays much attention to language skills and literature. Young Sjoukje turns out to be a highly gifted narrator. She is twenty when she meets the young poet and lawyer Pieter Jelles Troelstra. They become engaged and get married in 1888. Two children are born during their marriage. Troelstra sympathizes strongly with the working classes and from 1890 he will develop into a great socialist leader.
The married couple work together a lot. From 1888 until 1890, Bokma de Boer contributes to her husband’s magazine For hûs en hiem by way of a children’s feature. In 1894, together with a number of political friends, Troelstra founds the Sociaal Democratische Arbeiderspartij/SDAP (Social Democratic Labour Party). He wants the emancipation of the working class to be brought about by parliamentary action. Bokma de Boer starts writing articles for the socialist newspaper Het Volk.
Their intense commitment to the cause of the working class binds husband and wife, but it also takes its toll of the young family. The children grow up in poverty. Bokma de Boer, weakened by two difficult childbirths, develops a heart condition, from which she will never fully recover. Troelstra devotes all his time and energy to the socialist movement and is away from home more and more often for lengthy periods. By writing children’s books and working as a journalist, Bokma de Boer tries to supplement the family income.
As from 1897, the social democrats fight for the introduction of universal suffrage. By then there is no longer anything at home that resembles family life. In 1900, while her husband spends a month in prison in connection with the Hogerhuis case, Bokma de Boer writes Afke's Tiental, the book about the Feenstra family from Warga that was to bring her worldwide fame. In 1907, after Bokma de Boer spent a long time away from home because of her health, the marriage ends in divorce. A year later Pieter Jelles Troelstra marries his housekeeper Sjoukje Oosterbaan.
Read on: Diverging paths