Bertha De Vriese

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Bertha De Vriese
Bertha De Vriese.jpg
1904 at the Anatomical Convention of Jena
Bertha Coletta Constantia De Vriese

(1877-09-26)26 September 1877
Ghent, Belgium
Died17 March 1958(1958-03-17) (aged 80)
Ghent, Belgium
Other namesBertha Vercoullie
Years active1903–1958

Bertha De Vriese (26 September 1877 – 17 March 1958) was a Belgian physician. When she earned her degree as a doctor of medicine, she became the first woman physician to graduate from Ghent University, where she also holds distinction as the first woman to research at the school. Though she was not allowed to pursue an academic career, De Vriese opened a private pediatric clinic and served as the director of the Children's Ward at the Bijloke Hospital in Ghent.

Early life and education[edit]

Bertha Coletta Constantia De Vriese was born on the 26 September 1877 in the Coupure neighborhood of Ghent, Belgium to Coralie Pannenmaeker and Lodewijk De Vriese (nl).[1][2][3]

Until 1864, secondary education did not exist for women in Belgium[4] and they were not able to attend tertiary schooling until the University of Brussels opened to them in 1876.[5] A law passed in 1890 which allowed women the right to attend medical school, but it required that women have a certificate for secondary schooling or pass an equivalency test.[6] Home schooled to prepare for her university studies, De Vriese passed the exams of the Central Jury in 1893.[7] She immediately enrolled in the Ghent University, as the first woman admitted to medical school in Ghent.[8] She graduated summa cum laude with a diploma for medicine, obstetrics and gynecology in 1900,[7] as the first female graduate in medicine.[9] The following year she was awarded a prize and distinction as Laureate in the University Competition, which also earned her a gold medal from the mayor of the city of Ghent.[7] Competing with the male students, her paper, Etudier les modifications que la distribution des vaisseaux sanguins des extrémités subit chez l'homme au cours du développement (Investigating the changes humans undergo on the distribution of blood vessels in the extremities during development) was awarded 95 out of 100 possible points.[9] The fellowship she earned as laureate was for the period from 1899 to 1901 and allowed her to study abroad in Berlin, Freiburg, London, Munich, Paris, Strasbourg, Vienna, and Zürich.[7][10]


De Vriese returned to Ghent in 1903 and applied for a position in Hector Leboucq [de]'s anatomy laboratory, hoping to have an academic career.[7] There was no precedent for a woman to work in a laboratory and Leboucq sought approval from the faculty council, the rector and the managing inspector from the Education Ministry before consent was given. De Vriese was hired as the first woman to serve as an assistant in an anatomy laboratory. If she was able to complete a two year training and successfully published during her assistanceship, De Vriese would be able to become an associate professor and eventually a full professor.[11] In 1905, she obtained her specialist certification in anatomy with the dissertation Recherches sur la morphologie de l'artère basilaire (Research on the morphology of the basilar artery). At this time, the university was undergoing to change in curriculum to focus more on research[7] and De Vriese applied for an extension to her assistant's position to gain the necessary requirements for a lead researcher. Though praised by her colleagues, the rector and the minister, the ministry refused to grant the extension. After a protracted period of petitioning,[12] De Vriese left Ghent University in 1908 and Leboucq approved the candidacy of his son for the position.[7]

That same year, De Vriese took a position at the Bijloke Hospital [nl] as a service provider in the pediatric ward.[13] In 1914, she married a doctor, Josef Vercouillie, and opened a private practice[7] for children's health care.[13] She later became the head of the pediatric department of the Bijloke Hospital and served as a medical inspector for the public schools.[7]

Death and legacy[edit]

De Vriese died on 17 March 1958 in Ghent.[3] The samples of bones, muscles and organs which she collected and prepared for study are preserved at the Anatomical Museum of the Department of Basic Medical Sciences and there is a dormitory on the campus of Ghent University which bears her name.[7]




  • Bonte, Maud; et al. (2010). De Coupure in Gent. Scheiding en verbinding (in Dutch). Ghent, Belgium: Academia Press. ISBN 978-90-382-1323-1.
  • Clark, Linda L. (2008). Women and Achievement in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65098-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Goosens, Noël (2002). "De Vriese, Bertha, Coletta, Constantia: eerste vrouwelijke arts afgestudeerd te Gent" [De Vriese, Bertha Coletta Constantia: First Female Doctor Graduated in Ghent]. University of Ghent (in Dutch). Brussels, Belgium: Royal Academy of Belgium.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Gunst, Petra; Danniau, Fien (16 December 2015). "De Vriese, Bertha (1877–1958)". University of Ghent (in Dutch). Ghent, Belgium: Department of History. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Schandevyl, Eva (2016). "Women and the Courts in Twentieth-Century Belgium". In Kimble, Sara L.; Röwekamp, Marion (eds.). New Perspectives on European Women's Legal History. New York, New York: Routledge. pp. 152–173. ISBN 978-1-317-57716-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Simon-Van der Meersch, Anne-Marie (1982). De eerste generaties meisjesstudenten aan de Rijksuniversiteit te Gent (1882-1930) [The first generations of girls students at the Ghent University in Ghent (1882–1930)] (PDF). Uit het verleden van de Rijksuniversiteit te Gent (in Dutch). 13. Ghent, Belgium: Rijksuniv. OCLC 46053484.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Van der Meersch, Anne-Marie (2007). Een Universitaire Loopbaan voor Vrouwen aan de Universiteit Gent (1901–1965): Een Glazen Plafond? [A University Career for Women at Ghent University (1901-1965): A Glass Ceiling?] (PDF). Uit het verleden van de Universiteit Gent (in Dutch). 46. Ghent, Belgium: Rijksuniv. ISBN 978-90-75184-49-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Van Hee, Robrecht H. (July 2012). "The first female surgeon in Belgium : Dr. Jeanne Sel-Verschueren of Antwerp". Acta Chirurgica Belgica. 112: 240–250. ISSN 0001-5458. Retrieved 3 October 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)