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Aletta H. Jacobs

Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, better known as Aletta Jacobs (9 February 1854 – 10 August 1929) was the first woman to complete a university course in the Netherlands and the first female physician. She 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.

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.

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) and also worked to support the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, travelling widely.