Who was Margaretha Zelle?
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle grew up in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in 1876. Her father was a hat merchant who went bankrupt, and mother Antje Zelle, fell ill and died when the girl was 15 years old.
In the mid-1890's, she boldly answered a newspaper ad seeking a bride for a bald military captain based in the Dutch East Indies. She sent a striking photo of herself, raven-haired and olive-skinned, to entice him. Despite a 21-year age difference, they wed on July 11, 1895, when she was just shy of 19. Her husband was often drunk & sometimes very abusive. By age 28, her marriage eventually deteriorated and she moved to Paris.
She became the mistress of a French diplomat who gave her an idea of supporting herself as a dancer. All things "Oriental" were the fad in Paris in 1905. The time was ripe for her exotic looks and the "temple dance" she created by drawing on Indies cultural symbolism.
With her great confidence, she billed herself as a Hindu artist, draped in veils & she coined her stage name, 'Mata Hari,' which means "eye of the day" in Indonesian dialect. 'Mata Hari' became a professional dancer who accepted an assignment to spy for France during WWI. Hired by a French army captain she agreed to pass military information gleaned from her conquests to the French government.
Not long after, however, 'Mata Hari' was also accused of being a German spy. She was executed by firing squad on October 15,1917, after French authorities learned of her alleged double agency.