It was Thorbecke himself who, in 1871 in a letter to Mr Jacobs, announced that he agreed to allow his daughter Aletta to be the first woman to enrol at the University of Groningen. On 20 April of that year, Aletta Jacobs was the first woman in the Netherlands to register as a regular student at a university. On 20 April 2021, 150 years later, the UG will honour Aletta Jacobs by celebrating the start of the Aletta Year.
Jacobs initially received permission to study at the university for a one-year trial period. On his deathbed, however, Thorbecke also gave Jacobs permission to sit exams. In 1877 and 1878 she successfully passed her state examinations, becoming the first female doctor in the Netherlands. After obtaining her doctorate in 1879, she started working as a general practitioner in Amsterdam. With these achievements, Jacobs was the first woman in the Netherlands to complete a full academic degree at a Dutch university.
Aletta Jacobs’ enrolment in 1871 was a turning point in Dutch history for the position of women in science. And since then, many women have followed in her footsteps. To commemorate this, on 20 April 2021 the UG will be launching a year of activities, organized in collaboration with UMCG, the AJSPH, the University Museum and Studium Generale. In doing so, the UG and its partners will celebrate and highlight the importance of this special moment in history and continue to raise awareness of the role of diversity in science.
The Aletta Year will get underway on 20 April with the release of the first of two special podcasts on the influence of women. One of the guests will be Marian Joëls, Dean of the UMCG and author of the new book ‘Baanbreeksters’ (Pioneers). The second podcast – which will be in English – will follow on 28 April, in which the influence of women will be discussed in an international perspective. Cisca Wijmenga, Rector Magnificus of the University of Groningen, will be one of the guests.
Joëls: ‘Aletta Jacobs was ahead of her time in many ways. She paved the way for all those female students who went to university after her, especially to study medicine. She has made a tremendous difference and, as members of Groningen’s academic community, we are proud of this remarkable woman.’
Wijmenga: ‘As one of the women interviewed for the book Baanbreeksters, I know from experience what it’s like to have to forge your own path as a pioneer. I am privileged that I can now be a role model for other women, as Aletta Jacobs was for me.’
The UG will be organizing several activities throughout the Aletta Year, including the spring edition of a city walk devoted to the first women at the University of Groningen. There will also be an artists’ project with Aletta Jacobs as the central theme, which will culminate in the unveiling of a mural at a special location in Groningen. For the latest information on all activities throughout the Aletta Year, visit rug.nl/alettajaar.
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