See D. H. Lawrence's introduction to Siebenhaar's translation of Max Havelaar (1927).
After Indonesian independence, he adopted the Javanese name, Danoedirdja Setiaboeddhi.
After studying in Lower School in Pasuruan, he moved to Surabaya, and later to Batavia. In 1897, he gained his diploma and worked on a coffee plantation in Malang, East Java. Later he moved to a sugar plantation in Kraksaan, East Java. During his years in these plantations, he came in contact with ordinary Javanese and saw the realities of their hard work.
Douwes Dekker was later released and returned to the Dutch East Indies and Paris in 1903.
During these times, he published many articles advocating independence, and "Indies nationalism". In 1913, close associates of Douwes Dekker, including physicians Tjipto Mangunkusumo and Suwardi Surjaningrat, established the Native Committee in Bandung, which later became Indische Partij. This was considered a breakthrough, because most organisations had never so openly advocated independence. In March 1913, the party claimed approximately 7000 members, approximately 5500 of whom where Indos (people of mixed Dutch-Indonesian ancestry) along with 1500 native Indonesians. The Colonial government quickly became worried and the party was forbidden. This led to the exile to the Netherlands of Douwes Dekker and his two Javanese associates. In exile, they worked with liberal Dutchmen and compatriot students. It is believed that the term Indonesia was first used in the name of an organization, the Indonesian Alliance of Students, with which they were associated during the early 1920s.
Later he was allowed to return to the East Indies. In 1922, he taught in Bandung in a lower school. Two years later as head of the school, he renamed it the "Ksatrian Institute". This institute was officially recognised by the government in 1926. In the same year, he married Johanna Mussel, one of its teachers, six years after divorcing his first wife.
Later, however, his activities were branded illegal, and in 1936 he was condemned to three months in prison. He was still actively advocating independence and sharing his thoughts with other intellectuals, among them Sukarno, who considered Douwes Dekker as his teacher. Later, however, his influence was overshadowed by the politics of his student Sukarno's Indonesian National Party (PNI), Islamist Sarekat Islam, and Communist Party of Indonesia.
During World War II, Dutch authorities, who considered him a dangerous activist, exiled him, along with many Indo-European of German descent, to Suriname. He would spend years in a forest prison camp called "Joden Savanne". Douwes Dekker returned to Indonesia on January 2, 1947.
He spent his later years in Bandung, writing his autobiography, 70 Jaar Konsekwent (1950). Douwes Dekker died in 1950.
His legacy is still appreciated in Indonesia; a district and a main street in Jakarta are named Setiabudi in his honour. Also, a main street in Bandung is named Ksatrian after his school. He was recognized as National Hero by President Sukarno. His life is recorded in a biography, 'Het Leven van EFE Douwes Dekker, by Frans Glissenaar in 1999.