Aletta Jacobs

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Aletta Jacobs
Aletta Jacobs3.jpg
Aletta Jacobs
Born Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs
9 February 1854
Sappemeer, Netherlands
Died 10 August 1929(1929-08-10) (aged 75)
Baarn, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Fields Medicine
Known for First Dutch female to complete a university degree (medical doctor)
Influenced Feminism and birth control in the Netherlands

Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs (Dutch pronunciation: [aːˈlɛtaː ɦɑ̃ːriˈɛtə ˈjaːkɔps]; 9 February 1854 – 10 August 1929) was a Dutch physician and women's suffrage activist.[1] Born into a Jewish family in the small village of Sappemeer in the Netherlands, she had many accomplishments in different fields such as women's suffrage, medicine, and lower class aid. Aside from all the accomplishments she made throughout her life, she was also the first woman to attend a Dutch University officially and the first female physician in the Netherlands.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Aletta was born on 9 February 1854 to Abraham Jacobs and Anna de Jongh, the eighth of an eventual twelve children. Her father was a country doctor from whom she developed an interest to follow the field of medicine. As a child, she would go on many doctor visits with him and seeing all the help he brought to his patients made her pursue the aim of becoming a physician.[1]

Even though she dreamed of being a doctor like her father, access to education for women in 19th century Netherlands was a big struggle.[citation needed] Jacobs was able to finish primary school in 1867, but at the time no girl in Sappemeer was allowed to enter high school.[citation needed] This did not stop Jacobs from learning, and in 1870 she passed the exam for assistant chemist. Thus, she gained recognition and eventually, on 28 April 1871, she was given permission to attend the University of Groningen by minister of education J.R. Thorbecke. On 8 March 1879 Jacobs graduated from the university as the first female physician in the Netherlands.

Life after college[edit]

After graduating, Jacobs moved to London. There she started meeting many feminists as well as birth control and suffrage activists. In London she was greatly influenced by new ideas, one being the need for women to have contraceptives available to prevent unwanted pregnancy.[3] Afterwards, she moved to Amsterdam where she set up her own practice clinic for the lower class who could not afford other physicians.[1] Many women also began asking her for some form of contraception. She began thinking of solutions to this problem and helped W.P.J. Mensinga improve the diaphragm, and make it useable. However, most people accredit the invention of the diaphragm solely to W.P.J. Mensinga.[4] Although Mensinga made the original diaphragm, Jacobs contacted him and made great contributions and changes to the design of the device to perfect it.[4]

Women's suffrage, peace work and death[edit]

Women's peace congress in The Hague, 1915: Mia Boissevain, Thora Daugaard, Fanny Fern Andrews, Jane Addams, Rosa Manus, Aletta Jacobs, Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney, Emely Arensen and Anna Kleman.

After going to the International Council of Women's meeting in London in 1899, Jacobs decided to leave her medical practices and devote herself to women's suffrage.[1] After the beginning of the First World War Jacobs was one of the initiators of the International Congress of Women, held in The Hague from 28 April until 1 May 1915,[5] which was attended by more than 1200 representatives from twelve countries.[6] In September 1915 Aletta and some other women went to the United States to meet president Woodrow Wilson to present the proposal for a "League of Neutral Counties" that could help mediating to end the war.[7]

Throughout the war she continued to fight hard for women's suffrage and even up to her death still talked at different conferences. Her own country, the Netherlands, granted women the right to vote on 9 August 1919.[8] She died in Baarn, Netherlands on 10 August 1929.[1]


She is included in the Canon of Dutch History, which was prepared by a committee headed by Frits van Oostrom and presented to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science in 2006; the Canon consists of fifty articles and aims to provide a chronological summary of Dutch history to be taught in primary schools, and the first two years of secondary school in the Netherlands. A revised version, which still includes her as one of the topics, was presented to the Dutch government on 3 October 2007.

Her personal archive has been donated to the Atria Institute on gender equality and women's history, a public library and research institute in Amsterdam.[9]



  1. ^ a b c d e "Aletta Henriette Jacobs | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  2. ^ Windsor, Laura Lynn (2002). Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA, USA: ABC-CLIO. p. 107-108. ISBN 1576073920. 
  3. ^ "Aletta Jacobs". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  4. ^ a b "Jacobs, Aletta – FREE Jacobs, Aletta information | Find Jacobs, Aletta research". Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  5. ^ Kramer, Ann (2014). Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword. pp. 16–17. ISBN 184468119X. 
  6. ^ International Congress of Women opens at The Hague
  7. ^ John Whiteclay Chambers (January 1991). The Eagle and the Dove: The American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy, 1900-1922. Syracuse University Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-0-8156-2519-3. 
  8. ^ The Women Suffrage Timeline Women [sic] Suffrage and Beyond. Retrieved 7 August 2015
  9. ^ The collection’s history

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