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Charlotte Jacobs, first female pharmacist in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies

External PhD candidate Annette Jenowein investigated how women have changed the meaning of gender by claiming their place in traditionally male-dominated domains. Her research focuses on the life of Charlotte Jacobs: the first woman to establish herself as an independent pharmacist in the Dutch East Indies, a profession that was then regarded as a male profession. Promotion on October 16.

Charlotte Jacobs. Picture: Studio Jacob Merkelbach, Collectie Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam.

A conflict between gender and ambition

Since 1866, when girls were allowed to take the apprentice pharmacist's exam, a woman in the pharmacy was no longer a peculiarity. But when the first woman graduated as a pharmacist in 1881, (male) colleagues openly questioned whether a woman could also manage a busy pharmacy and establish business contacts just as well as a man could. As a sister of seven years younger Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929) - who herself was a doctor and an advocate for women's suffrage - Charlotte Jacobs managed to run her pharmacy in Batavia for nearly thirty years, all of which she managed exclusively with female assistants. And all this while subjects such as the careful integration of women into male professions, women's suffrage and the 'future of women' had been discussed a great deal during Charlotte Jacobs’ life.

An autonomous figure

What made her career so successful? Jenowein juxtaposes the history of Charlotte Jacobs' life with the way in which the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) views modern man: as an autonomous figure who relates to himself and prevailing codes and rules, and who has the freedom to shape his own existence. Women like Charlotte Jacobs created a new identity of their own that did justice to their desires but were in harmony with existing power structures.

Charlotte Jacobs’ legacy

Jenoweins research shows that the entry of women into male domains, such as science and higher professional work, has not only changed the meaning of gender, but has also radically changed the meaning of these institutions. After her death, Charlotte Jacobs earmarked a large part of her assets for a study fund for women and girls who wanted to study at a university but could not pay the costs themselves. This Charlotte Jacobs Study Fund still exists and flourishes and annually supports an average of thirty women and girls who want to study at a Dutch university.

Banner picture: Charlotte Jacobs (center) and family. Batavia, October 1899 (private collection).

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