Van Andel-Schipper was born as Hendrikje Schipper in Smilde, a small village in Drenthe. She was born prematurely and there were doubts that she would survive. However, thanks to the continuous care of her grandmother during her first four weeks, she recovered. At the age of five on her first day of school, she was sick again and was removed from the school on advice of a local doctor. Her father, who was head of the local school, taught her to read and write.
She had a love of theatre from a young age, but after her mother objected she decided not to pursue a career in acting and became a needlework teacher instead.
The supercentenarian-to-be lived with her parents until she was 47 years old. At the age of 46, she met her future husband Dick van Andel, who worked in Amsterdam. She left her parents' home at the age of 47 and married Van Andel, a divorced tax inspector, at the age of 49 in 1939, taking the hyphenated name of Van Andel-Schipper (which is customary in the Netherlands).
Van Andel-Schipper underwent a mastectomy in 1990 after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 100. She continued to live on her own before moving into a retirement home at the age of 105.
She became the oldest recognized woman in Europe on the death of Maria Teresa Fumarola Ligorio in May 2003, and the oldest recognized person in Europe on the death of Joan Riudavets in March 2004. The death of Charlotte Benkner in early May 2004 left her second-oldest recognized in the world behind Ramona Trinidad Iglesias-Jordan, whose death later that month left her apparently the world's oldest at 113 years 335 days. It was the first time since the 1980s that no one had been recognized as over 114. However, during the next year, "Aunt Henny" outlived several prior "world's oldest" titleholders, including Mitoyo Kawate, Ramona Trinidad Iglesias-Jordan, Eva Morris, Marie Brémont and Maud Farris-Luse.
For her 115th birthday in 2005, she received a visit from the daughter-in-law of the Queen of the Netherlands and a delegation from the Ajax football club. The last time the Ajax team visited her she complained that the other residents of her nursing home were "hicks who don't understand football". She had been a fan of the football club Ajax Amsterdam since she attended a match more than 80 years earlier.
She died peacefully in her sleep on 30 August 2005, 2 months after her 115th birthday, although she had been diagnosed with an unrelated (to her breast tumor) gastric cancer. Template:Fact Van Andel-Schipper remained mentally alert up until her death, but suffered from increasing frailty. Several days prior to her death she told the director of her nursing home, Johan Beijering, that "It's been nice, but the man upstairs says it's time to go".
According to Beijering she felt grateful for her long life, but being the oldest person in the world for over a year was long enough.
She had agreed to leave her body to science when she was 82. An autopsy at the University of Groningen revealed that she died of undetected gastric cancer, the tumor in her stomach being the size of a small fist (see ). It was malignant and would likely have killed a far younger person. Following her death, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden became the newest "oldest known living person".
In June 2008, Gert Holstege, a professor at the University of Groningen, said following a post-mortem analysis of Van Andel-Schipper's brain that there was little indication of the kinds of problems in the brain, some related to Alzheimer's disease, that are normally found in individuals who survive to extreme ages. According to Holstege, hers was the first known brain of such an advanced age "that did not have these problems".
On 9 December 2005, Guinness World Records recognized the claim of then 116-year-old María Capovilla of Ecuador to be the world's oldest person, supplanting Hendrikje from the revised title. Hendrikje was thought to be the oldest from 29 May 2004 to 30 August 2005.
Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper had stated that the secret to her longevity was a serving of herring every day and drinking orange juice. She later jokingly added "breathing." On another occasion, she gave the following advice: "Don't smoke and don't drink too much alcohol. Just a small advocaat with cream on Sundays and holidays. And you must remain active."
The complete genome of Andel-Schipper has been analysed by the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, who are researching longevitygenes. The team also reported that post-mortem examination of her brain showed no traces of damage due to Alzheimer's disease, and no hardening of the arteries. Although the genome results have not yet been published, it is hoped that it will reveal some of the genes responsible for preventing life-threatening illnesses, which are normally caused by ageing. She appears to have rare beneficial mutations in her genome, which might have some protective function, according to reports from the Dutch team.