Peace Palace

Aletta Jacobs and Bertha von Suttner

On March 8, it is International Women’s Day. According to the United Nations, this day “is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities”. We take this as an opportunity to commemorate Dr. Aletta Jacobs and Bertha von Suttner. Two women who were of great importance for women’s rights and the peace movement.

Female delegates to the International Congress of Women in The Hague, aboard the ”MS Noordam”, April 1915. Bain Collection Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Dr. Aletta Jacobs (1854 – 1929) is renowned as the first Dutch woman to earn a university degree. She pursued medicine at the University of Groningen, where she was surrounded by male students only. Later, she actively participated in the Suffragette movement, advocating passionately for women’s rights. Additionally, Aletta Jacobs played a crucial role in organizing the International Congress of Women, held in The Hague in 1915. This significant international gathering during World War I was an opportunity to discuss the role of women in peace processes, and the conference served as a public protest against the ongoing war.

A hundred years later, in 2015, Dr. Aletta Jacobs became the second woman in history to be honored with a bust in the Peace Palace for her efforts and work for peace. The first woman to be honored with a bust was Austrian peace activist Bertha von Suttner.

Bertha von Suttner (1843 – 1914) was an Austrian pacifist and one of the key figures in the fascinating Peace Movement that arose at a time of great mutual tension between the European states. She surrounded herself with statesmen and pacifists, maintained close ties with Henry Dunant, discussed the role of women with Aletta Jacobs and was a close friend of Alfred Nobel.  She expressed her aversion to wars in the novel “Lay down your arms!” (1889) which made people worldwide think.

During the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, Von Suttner spent weeks in The Hague. Although she was not an official member of a delegation, Von Suttner organized several meetings to speak to the various diplomats and convince them of her ideas.

Aletta Jacobs and Bertha von Suttner first met during this Peace Conference in 1899. As a result of the Conference, the Permanent Court of Arbitration was established and the Peace Palace was built to house that Court and a Library.

Bertha von Suttner was present at the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913, a year before her death.

Aletta H. Jacobs (left) & Bertha von Suttner (right)

Busts of Aletta H. Jacobs (left) & Bertha von Suttner (right) in the Peace Palace.


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