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
Known for First Dutch female to complete a university degree (medical doctor)
Influenced Feminism in the Netherlands

Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs (Dutch pronunciation: [aːˈlɛtaː ɦɑ̃ːriˈɛtə ˈjaːkɔps]; 9 February 1854 – 10 August 1929) was the first woman to complete a university course in the Netherlands and the first female physician in that country.

Early life and education[edit]

Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs was born to a Jewish doctor's family in Sappemeer. She left the local school when she was 13 to study at a ladies' school but did not enjoy the experience, returning home after just two weeks where she was taught housework by her Dutch mother, Anna de Jong, but also learned French and German in the evenings, and later Latin and Greek from her father.

In 1871, she began studying at the University of Groningen, initially on a one year basis, but her request for permanent admission was granted after that year. In 1876 she continued her studies at Amsterdam University, receiving a medical degree in 1878 and a medical doctorate a year later. In her time at university she became increasingly concerned with social injustice and decided to travel to England to see how women's attempts to study medicine were being sabotaged. On her return a few months later she began to practice as a doctor and psychologist.

Career and activism[edit]

She began to associate with members of the Dutch General Trade Union and Dutch government officials. In the winter of 1880 Bernardus Hermanus Heldt, the leader of the Union, allowed her to use rooms in the Union's building to run a class to teach women about hygiene and caring for infants. In response to what she found she began to run a free clinic for destitute women and children, which she continued until she retired from practice. She made pessaries available to these women in order to help them limit the size of their families; some consider this the first birth control clinic.[1]

In 1883, Jacobs became technically eligible to vote, but it was ruled that it was not within the spirit of the law to allow women to vote, despite her appeal. The law was then altered to specify 'male citizen' wherever enfranchisement was mentioned. Jacobs joined the Dutch Association for Woman's Suffrage, becoming its leader in 1903. She helped initiate the Hague Congress of 1915 that led to the formation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)[2] and also worked to support the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, travelling widely.

In 2013, the first moving images of Aletta Jacobs (a film of 20 seconds) were found in the archives of Critical Past.[3] The film is shot in 1915 in Berlin where she walks with Jane Addams in front of the Brandenburger Tor.[4]


  1. ^ Harriet Feinberg. "Aletta Henriette Jacobs 1854 – 1929". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Women, peace and transnational activism History and Policy (2015)
  3. ^ "Jane Addams, Gertrud Baumer, and Aletta Jacobs in Berlin, during World War I" (Video). May 1915. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  4. ^ "Eerste bewegende beelden van Aletta Jacobs gevonden" (in Dutch). 11 November 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 

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