February 9, 2017
Aletta Jacobs’ 163rd Birthday
Aletta Jacobs was a woman of many firsts. Growing up in the Netherlands in the 1800s, she watched the profound impact her father, a doctor, had on his patients’ lives. She longed to do the same, but she knew it wouldn’t be easy – no Dutch woman had ever studied medicine. Jacobs didn’t let that stop her.
Since girls weren’t permitted to attend high school, Jacobs pursued her studies independently and went on to pass the assistant chemist exam in 1870. That was as far as most women could go at the time, but Jacobs was determined to go further. So she petitioned and was granted permission to attend classes at the University of Groningen in 1871. She graduated with a medical degree in 1879, becoming the first female physician in the Netherlands.
During her time as a doctor, she again focused on achieving progress for women. Despite strong opposition from her colleagues, she worked to make contraceptives more widely available and established the world’s first birth control clinic. She also became largely involved in the women’s suffrage movement, leaving her medical practice in 1903 to focus on winning the right to vote. She helped do just that in 1919, the same year she co-founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Today, on what would’ve been Jacobs’ 163rd birthday, we celebrate all that she did to pave the way for those who came after her.