Universiteit Leiden

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Narrative overview

The Past

We begin with the first women to attend the university, who enrolled in 1873 and left shortly thereafter. Female students did not enroll again until 1878. The turn of the century saw many firsts for Leiden’s ladies, including the first female PhD, and in 1929 the appointment of Leiden University’s first female professor. Despite the obstacles they encountered, these early women at the university fought to make a place for themselves - a spirit that has retained its fervor over time through today.


Women’s collective efforts to gain visibility and support each other led to the establishment of their own organizations, as students (VVSL, est. 1900) and as wives of professors who had followed their spouses to Leiden (VROLEC, est. 1913). The VVSL and VROLEC have had a great impact on the university, and their story runs through the entire exhibition. VVSL has changed its name (now called Minerva), and VROLEC fused together with Holec in 2017 to form "Proparte," but both associations have remained active at Leiden for more than 100 years.

World War II

World War II introduced a period of crisis at the university, with Jewish students and staff being forced to leave. Resistance at the university against the occupational forces was in the minority, but there were some organizations devoted to Nazi opposition. Women played a part on both sides of the war.

The Present

Since the founding of Leiden University, only 179 female professors have been appointed, and today only 23 of the professors are female; this is in contrast to the exponential increase in female students since their first admission in the 1870s. There have been many improvements towards the goal of gender equality at Leiden University in the relatively short time frame presented, but there is still more work to be done. We hope that with this exhibition we can both attest to the strides already made and inspire everyone to keep fighting for future generations.

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