Universiteit Leiden

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Women in the past

The place of women in Leiden University was not steadily established for a very long time. Their roles spanned beyond the realms of academics and students. Seeking equality with men, they fought to obtain the right to work, to study and teach at university, to attain high-level jobs and to vote.

Each step was a victory and each woman a heroine. Leiden University was founded in 1575, but women didn't gain access to the classrooms before 1873, two years after the first Dutch woman, Aletta Jacobs, enrolled at the University of Groningen. Those women of the past opened the way to female students throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They obtained doctorates, were expelled, criticised, became professors, founded women associations, advocated for women’s rights, became politicians or economists. They were women from the shadows, women from far away, Dutch women and foreigners. They were women at Leiden University, and they wrote their own history.

Although female students first enrolled at the University in the 1870s, their numbers increased slowly.  Most of the students that registered in this early phase only attended lessons as auditors and therefore did not take any exams. It was not until 1891 that the first student graduated and only in 1929 did Leiden appoint its first female professor. Even though women could now pursue an academic career, they were often only promoted after their male colleagues and it was much harder for them to reach higher positions.

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