Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida "Grietje" Zelle (7 August 1876, Leeuwarden – 15 October 1917, Vincennes), a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy who, although possibly innocent, was executed by firing squad in France for espionage for Germany during World War I.
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands, the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle (2 October 1840, Leeuwarden - 13 March 1910, Amsterdam) and first wife (m. Franeker, 4 June 1873) Antje van der Meulen (21 April 1842, Franeker - 9 May 1891, Leeuwarden). She had three brothers. Her father owned a hat store, made successful investments in the oil industry, and became affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood. Thus, Margaretha attended only exclusive schools until age 13.
However, Margaretha's father went bankrupt in 1889, her parents divorced soon thereafter, and Margaretha's mother died in 1891. Her father remarried in Amsterdam on 9 February 1893 to Susanna Catharina ten Hoove (11 March 1844, Amsterdam - 1 December 1913, Amsterdam), with whom he had no children. The family had fallen apart and Margaretha moved to live with her godfather, Mr. Visser, in Sneek. In Leiden, she studied to be a kindergarten teacher, but when the headmaster began to flirt with her conspicuously, she was removed from the institution by her offended godfather. After only a few months, she fled to her uncle's home in The Hague.