The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636)

Who was the first female university student in the Netherlands? Pose this question to anyone in the Netherlands and the incorrect answer Aletta Jacobs will probably come your way. But more than two centuries earlier, in 1636, Anna Maria van Schurman had become the first female university student in Utrecht, and thereby the first in the Netherlands and even in the whole of Europe. Anna Maria van Schurman attended not only private lectures at the University of Utrecht, but also public disputations and “listening” lectures in the fields of languages and medicine, but especially in theology. She wrote poetry in many languages and published a dissertation on women’s rights to academic study.

Her book Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica was reprinted several times and was noted internationally. Her knowledge of languages was astounding. She was proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian, Samaritan, Arabic and Ethiopian, to name but a few. Van Schurman was well-known internationally and became a key figure within a European network of learned women which included Birgitte Thott, Christina of Sweden, Marie le Jars de Gournay, Bathsua Makin and Dorothea Moore. But in 1669 Anna Maria van Schurman, watched by many in disbelief, left the city, church and university of Utrecht to join the Labadists, a radical Protestant group.

She attempted to explain the reasons for this turnabout in her Latin autobiography, the Eukleria. The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636) provides a detailed picture of the life and times of Anna Maria van Schurman: her position in the academic world of the seventeenth century, her role within the Republic of Letters, and the content and influence of her publications in the Netherlands and Europe.

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