For other women in Aletta Jacobs’ village, primary school was the most formal education they could hope to get. But Aletta was different.
As Tulsa-based author K.N. Smith notes in her wonderful write-up on Forbes, Aletta — the daughter of a doctor who showed an aptitude for and interest in STEM subjects at an early age — took the small Dutch village of Sappemeer’s rules excluding women from high school as a personal challenge. In 1870, three years after she finished primary school, she passed the exams required to become an assistant chemist. Then she sought admission to college and went on to become the first woman to attend a Dutch university. In 1879, she graduated and notched another milestone by being the first woman with a medical degree in her nation’s history. And a year later, the first to receive a doctorate.
Aletta’s gutsiness didn’t end there, though. The newly minted physician devoted herself to the reproductive health of prostitutes and other vulnerable women. Later, she became active in the suffragist movement, becoming leader of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1903. She traveled the world helping spread the message of equality, and in 1919, she saw her country grant women the right to vote.
Aletta lived to be 75 years old — and fought for others until the very end.