The Birth Control Clinic from Amsterdam to Brooklyn
The social reform campaign in the United States had many movements and one of them in 1914 revolved around birth control. The idea was to increase the education and legalization, and ultimately availability of contraception.
Three political radical women fought for the rights of low-income women who suffered from childbirth and self-induced abortions. These radicals were Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman and Mary Dennett. Modeled on the World’s first birth control clinic in Amsterdam, which she had visited, Sanger opened up the first birth control clinic in the United states (Brooklyn, NY) In 1916. Right away it was shut down, and she was jailed for 30 days.
The next birth control clinic was not opened in the United States until 1923. It wasn’t until after WWI and the outbreak of venereal diseases by soldiers that the topic drew wide attention again.
More than half a decade earlier Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs was born (9 February 1854) 8th of 11 children in Sappemeer, the Netherlands to Jewish parents. In her early years, she studied as a dressmaker and her parents taught her French, German, Greek and Latin.
She grew up to be a leader in Dutch and international women’s movements such as
“deregulating prostitution, improving women’s working conditions, promoting peace and calling for women’s right to vote.”
She was the first Dutch woman to go to university (in Groningen) and in 1879 received her doctorate in medicine. She opened up her practice on the Herengracht canal in the Werkmansbond building to treat women patients. She introduced the diagram, what English speakers still refer to as the Dutch Cap, and began recommending it to women with instruction.
She connected women’s health with economic stability and was the first in 1882 in Amsterdam and the World to found a clinic devoted to birth control. She provided the advice, instruction, and device free of charge.
Jacobs’ accomplishments inspired activists to reach out to her, including Carel Victor Gerritsen, a social reformer, who later became her husband. In 1914, shortly after the start of WWI, she was responsible for the International Women’s Congress taking place in The Hague because of the country’s neutrality. The meeting was meant to provide a place for women around the world to discuss opposition to the war with Jane Addams from Chicago among other top women activists and coordinated by Jacobs.
It opened on 28 April 1915 with 1136 participants and resulted in the establishment of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which fought to unite women worldwide who oppose exploitation and oppression. She travelled the world speaking on women’s topics and women’s rights and contributed to campaigns in the Netherlands for work breaks and for the vote for Dutch women which came about in 1919.
On 10 August 1929 Jacobs died while on holiday in Baarn at the Badhotel in the Netherlands.
In 1928 before she died, Jacobs wrote a letter later published in her Memories (1996, p. 194):
I feel happy that I have seen the three great objects of my life come to fulfillment during my life … They were: the opening for women of all opportunities to study and to bring it into practice; to make Motherhood a question of desire, no more a duty; and the political equality for women.