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Aletta Jacobs

Aletta Henriette Jacobs (1854 - 1929) was a Dutch feminist and suffragette. She was the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in the Netherlands, and through her work as a doctor she helped to promote contraception and fight for improved healthcare for prostitutes and working class women. Jacobs was a key figure in the Dutch and international suffrage movement, including the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and she became president of the Dutch Association for Women’s Suffrage in 1903. Jacobs was also involved in the peace movement and in 1915 helped to organise The Hague Congress that resulted in the formation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

As part of a ‘world suffrage tour’, Jacobs visited South Africa in 1911 with, among others, Carrie Chapman Catt, an American friend and colleague who had been head of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance since 1902. Jacobs with a Dutch friend spent a day visiting Schreiner at her home in De Aar in August 1911, with Schreiner subsequently describing this in letters as a “red letter day” for her, and describing Jacobs as a “wonderful woman”. Schreiner also wrote letters of introduction for Jacobs to Isie Smuts and Mary Sauer, commenting to Jacobs, “I am only sending you letters of intro-duction to Dutch [i.e. Boer] women because I know you will have only too many introductions to the English.”

Schreiner maintained contact with Jacobs after this visit, with her letters focusing mainly on their shared feminist concerns, including the differences between women’s educational opportunities and legal position in South Africa and in Holland. In this vein, Schreiner wrote in 1913 to introduce her niece Ursula Schreiner, then a medical student in Britain, and asked whether she might call on Jacobs if she travelled to Holland. After her departure from South Africa at the end of 1913, Schreiner stayed with Jacobs for some days in late July 1914 in Amsterdam, just as Word War I broke out. Later Jacobs played an important role in ferrying information to Schreiner and her friends the Rose Inneses about their daughter, Dorothy Von Moltke, who was married to Count Helmuth Von Moltke and living in Germany during the war. Schreiner’s last extant letter to Jacobs dates from July 1920 on the eve of her return to South Africa, where she expresses the hope that they might one day meet again. Jacobs also translated Schreiner’s Woman and Labour into Dutch.

For further information see:
Mineke Bosch (1999) ‘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, 8-34
Mineke Bosch, with Annemarie Kloosterman (1990) Politics and Friendship: Letters from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, 1902-1942 Columbus: Ohio State University Press
Aletta Henriette Jacobs (1996) Memories: My Life as an International Leader in Health, Suffrage, and Peace New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York
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recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon Aletta: The Aletta Jacobs collection is extensive and available on microfilm at the Aletta IIVA archive in Amsterdam. Schreiner’... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Aletta: The Aletta Jacobs collection is extensive and available on microfilm at the Aletta IIVA archive in Amsterdam. Schreiner’... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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