JACOBS, ALETTA HENRIËTTE (1854–1929), Dutch suffragette and physician. Jacobs is primarily known for her advocacy of women's suffrage in the Netherlands. She was the daughter of Abraham Jacobs and Anna de Jongh. In 1892 she married Carel Victor Gerritsen, a businessman. Their only child died at a very young age. At the age of 16, Jacobs had corresponded with Minister J.R. Thorbecke and obtained his permission to be admitted to the University of Groningen, where she started studying medicine as the first Dutch female student in 1871. In 1879 she obtained her degree with a dissertation titled On the Localization of Physiological and Pathological Phenomena in the Cerebrum. Jacobs had her own medical practice and she was also involved in a number of social initiatives. She criticized the shocking housing conditions of the poor working class in the press and emphasized the difficult circumstances in which poor, illiterate, working-class women had to live. Her fight for equal rights for women led to her taking an active part in the women's movement. In 1889 she joined the recently founded Vrije Vrouwen Vereeniging (Free Women's Association), which started the separate Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (Association for Women's Suffrage) in 1894.
In 1903, Aletta Jacobs took over the leadership of the latter association and in this position decided to devote herself to the task of revising the Dutch constitution in order to give women the right to vote and to be elected. Thanks to the foundation of the Bond voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (League for Women's Suffrage) in 1907, this demand was brought to the international forefront. The Netherlands was neutral in World War I and therefore The Hague was chosen to hold an international women's congress on May 3, 1915. Women's rights were on the agenda as well as a potential contribution to peace. Jacobs' ardent struggle bore fruit only in September 1919, when Queen Wilhelmina finally signed the Jacobs Act, which gave Dutch women the full right to vote.
A.H. Jacobs, Herinneringen aan dr Aletta H. Jacobs (1924); idem and H.N. Haenen (eds.), Dr. Aletta H. Jacobs reist door Palestina en eet in China: fragmenten uit haar reisbrieven uit Afrika en Azië (2004); M. Bosch, Aletta Jacobs 1854–1929. Een onwrikbaar geloof in rechtvaardigheid (2005); "Aletta Jacobs," at: www.iiav.nl (website of the International Information Centre and Archives for the Women's Movement in the Netherlands); W.H. Posthumus-van der Goot, in: Biografisch Woorden-boek van Nederland: www.inghist.nl/Onderzoek/BWN/lemmata/bwn1/jacobs.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.