Aletta Jacobs

by Elaine from Poway, California

Aletta Jacobs was a woman with a 20th century mind in a 19th century world. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to go to a university and become a doctor. Also, she was a strong reformer that fought for others' rights and welfare. She was born on February 9, 1854 in the Dutch city of Sappemeer and died on August 10, 1929 in Baarn, the Netherlands. She was the eighth child of eleven in a Jewish family that highly valued education, and she had dreams of becoming a doctor like her father (Encyclopedia of World Biography). However, she had trouble pursuing such careers due to society's views of what women should and shouldn't do. With the support of her father, she was able to attend a university and fulfill her dreams of becoming a doctor. While working and even after retirement, she fought for change when she witnessed the social problems that plagued her community and other countries, and later fought for peace during World War I (Notable Women Scientists). Aletta Jacobs had far-sighted dreams for reform and improvement, and worked industriously to fix the social problems around her, proving that she was a courageous, determined, and compassionate woman.

Jacobs braved severe opposition and many difficulties to achieve her goals. While studying in a university, she received hostility from other students, her own brother, and sometimes the faculty members. However, she was able to get her degree and become a doctor (Encyclopedia of World Biography). The hostilities she endured in the university only made her stronger and didn't stop her dreams. She had every chance to quit and be what others wanted her to be, but she didn't give in. Also, after announcing that she could provide a safe and effective contraception, she faced the full wrath of Holland's medical establishment and dealt with many rumors surrounding her personal life. Nevertheless, she was undeterred and didn't lose her determination (Encyclopedia of World Biography). She saw the need for contraception for women with too many pregnancies. So, she decided to work on it, despite the intense hostilities she faced, because she knew that these women really needed this: "Many of her patients were worn down from too many pregnancies, and in 1882 she began prescribing diaphragms as birth control, effectively opening the first birth control clinic in the world. Despite intense opposition from medical and religious sectors, her patients were grateful. Prompted by the large number of women who came to her with venereal diseases, Jacobs began campaigning against state-run and regulated prostitution, again unleashing a storm of opposition" (Notable Women Scientists). She was appalled by the misery of the women with too many children and with STDs. She did everything she could to help these women and built up her courage to fight for them. Lastly, during World War I, Jacobs and her strong group of women strove to end the violence diplomatically, despite government resistance and the hazards of war (Feinberg). She was a brave pacifist that was willing to risk her own life to end the war. She knew that if she did nothing, many lives would be lost and that people needed to know that destruction was not a solution. Jacobs wouldn't let her fears get in the way dreams and was willing to risk her herself for others.

Furthermore, Jacobs had the inner strength to follow her dreams and fight for what was right. While attending the university, she had to go through her rigorous three-week examination with two of the professors who aggressively opposed a woman being a doctor, yet she earned her license to practice medicine anyway (Notable Women Scientists). She was willing to go through the hardships to become a doctor because she knew what she wanted, and she was going to get it. The professors were another obstacle that she had to overcome. Also, when Dutch lawmakers made it illegal for women to vote, Jacobs became the president of the Dutch Association of Women's Suffrage and spent much of her time to the cause after retirement. Her efforts eventually paid off when women were allowed to vote in the Netherlands in 1919 (Encyclopedia of World Biography). She was enraged when she heard that the Dutch government had restricted women's right to vote, to have a voice. She knew that women deserved to be equals to men and couldn't tolerate such injustice. Furthermore, "she was limiting her practice to women and children, conducting a free clinic for the poor two mornings per week, and teaching courses on hygiene and child care. This experience increased her awareness of social problems and she began campaigning for shorter working hours and workplace safety. When the medical community ridiculed her efforts, she took her campaign to the women of Holland and eventually the laws were changed" (Notable Women Scientists). Even when she was simply doing her job, the social issues were still very obvious. Her conscience told her that she must fight for reform and must not let others stop her. Lastly, after retirement and her husband's death, she became a full-time reformer, fighting for women's suffrage, women's rights, sex education, and prison reform (Notable Women Scientists). Despite her age and husband's death, she still had the desire to change the world. Her drive to reform was still in her and would be until her death. Even though she had gone through much, nothing had weakened her determination.

Finally, Jacobs was a benevolent woman with a fighting spirit; not only did she want to help others, she loved them. While working as a doctor, she made improvements in the field of women's health, held a free clinic for poor women two mornings a week, and worked to improve the working conditions of sales girls (Feinberg). She worked industriously to help the suffering, poor women in her community. She couldn't let their plight continue and had to do something. Next, despite the constant hardship she faced, she loved her country and wanted to prove that a feminist could also be a good Dutch citizen (Bosch). Her love for her country and strong sense of nationalism transcended the burdens of opposition she faced at home. She wanted to improve her country and was determined to make it a better place through reform. Her heart belonged to her home country. Also, she and her friend, Carrie Chapman Catt, travelled to several countries for two years to help the women improve their lives (Feinberg). Her feminist views traveled with her and urged her to continue her reform work. Her heart reached out to other women and she felt sympathy for their conditions. Lastly, during her travels with Catt, Jacobs worked to improve the educational system in Java and to bring female doctors there to treat the native women (Bosch). She wanted to give more opportunities to the people of Java and improve their welfare. The sexist views of Java were hurting the women there, so she knew reform needed to happen. She saw the plight of others and worked to see that their living conditions improved, no matter how difficult the situation.

Aletta Jacobs endured much opposition and hardship to pursue her dreams and to do what she felt was right in her heart. She stayed strong in the face of so much opposition and stayed true to her goal. Almost everything she did enticed hostility from her community, but she was as stubborn as a bull. Because of this, she was able to do the reforms to give women more opportunities and better living and working conditions. She believed in the power that women could have if given the opportunity, and had the need to care for the welfare of others. Thanks to her bravery, inner strength, and loving heart, Aletta Jacobs was able to improve society with her campaigns for justice and showed what it really takes to be called a hero.

Works Cited "Aletta Jacobs." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 26. Detroit: Gale, 2006. N. pag. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. "Aletta Jacobs." Notable Women Scientists. Detroit: Gale, 2000. N. pag. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. Bosch, Mineke. "Colonial Dimensions of Dutch Women's Suffrage: Aletta Jacobs's Travel Letters from Africa and Asia, 1911-1912." Journal of Women's History 11.2 (1999): 8. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. Feinberg, Harriet. "Aletta Henriette Jacobs." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive, 1 Mar. 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

Page created on 5/9/2013 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 2/8/2021 7:16:55 PM

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