Colorizing Remarkable Women - Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, Dutch physician and women's suffrage activist
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, Dutch physician and women's suffrage activist.
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
Early life and education
Aletta was born into a Jewish family in the small village of Sappemeer in the Netherlands in 1854 to Abraham Jacobs and Anna de Jongh, the eighth of an eventual twelve children. Her father was a respected country doctor from whom she developed an interest to go into the field of medicine. As a child, she would accompany him to many of his consultations and seeing how he helped his patients made her realise that she wanted to be a physician. In addition, her father taught her new languages such as Latin and Greek and mathematics and history, which at the time were subjects only for men.
Even though she dreamed of being a doctor like her father, access to education for women in 19th century Netherlands was a big struggle. Jacobs was able to finish primary school in 1867, but at the time no girl in Sappemeer was allowed to enter high school. This did not stop Jacobs from learning, and in 1870 she passed the exam which qualified her to be an assistant chemist. After that, she wrote to the first minister of the Netherlands, the liberal J.R. Thorbecke, requesting permission to go to university. Thus, she gained recognition and eventually, on 28 April 1871, she was given permission to attend university by the minister of education J.R. Thorbecke who responded with a letter addressed to her father, Abraham Jacobs, where he granted the authorization for her to attend the University of Groningen. Aletta took on the challenge with courage and optimism, and because of her persistent attitude higher education was made available for women in the Netherlands. On 8 March 1879, Jacobs graduated from college, becoming the first woman to attend a Dutch university, as well as the first woman with a medical degree in the history of the Netherlands and a year later, the first to obtain a doctorate.