Aletta Jacobs becomes world heritage

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UNESCO has declared the RUG alumna Aletta Jacobs archives to be world heritage. It is now officially part of Memory of the World Register.
By Thereza Langeler / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Jacobs’ correspondence and personal documents can currently be found at Atria, the Amsterdam knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history. Atria and the RUG submitted a joint application with UNESCO to declare the archives to be world heritage. Mineke Bosch, professor of modern history at the RUG, as well as author of a Jacobs biography, is happy to hear the news.

‘I think it’s great, both for the university and for Atria’, says Bosch.  ‘It’s a great way to recognise Aletta Jacobs.’ There are few archives belonging to women that became world heritage, says Bosch. ‘So that makes it extra special.’

‘Truly special’

The Memory of the World Register contains so-called documentary heritage: documents that UNESCO feels are important for everyone in the world. The Declaration of the Rights of Man, for example, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the oldest known copy of the Koran, and now Aletta Jacobs’ archive.

Mineke Bosch feels it is a worthy addition. ‘She was such an important feminist icon. As a historian I know we can sometimes go a little too far in our hero worshipping. But Aletta was truly special.’

American president

Indeed she was. Aletta Jacobs was the first girl to attend the higher civic school, the first Dutch woman to get a university degree (medicine at the RUG), and the first female doctor in the Netherlands. She had progressive ideas about contraception and was a fierce proponent of women’s suffrage.

‘The Aletta Jacobs archives show the impact of the pioneering role she played in various areas’, says Atria director Renée Römkens. It contains, among other things, the extensive correspondence between Jacobs and Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the International Alliance of Women. It also contains letters from international feminist icons such as Olive Schreiner, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Susan B. Anthony, as well as a report of Jacobs’ visit to the American president Woodrow Wilson in 1915.

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