Tag Archives: London

Jew of the Week: Aletta Jacobs

A Great Pioneer for Women’s Rights

Aletta Jacobs

Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs (1854-1929) was born in a small village in the Netherlands, the eighth of twelve children. Growing up, she often accompanied her doctor father to work and developed a passion for medicine. Unfortunately, medical school (as well as high school) was barred to women at the time. Undeterred, Jacobs studied on her own, and passed the exam to become a pharmacist. This made her quite famous, and in 1871 the Dutch Prime Minister personally granted her permission to attend the University of Groningen. Jacobs was the university’s first female student, and eight years later became the first female physician in the Netherlands. During a brief period of study in London, Jacobs joined a group of suffrage activists and became a noted feminist. She discovered the need for effective contraceptives for women, and back in Amsterdam, starting to work on a new type of diaphragm. Many credit her as a co-inventor of the device. Jacobs opened her own medical clinic, focused on serving the poor. She fought tirelessly to alleviate the terrible living conditions of Amsterdam’s impoverished neighbourhoods, campaigned for public housing, worker’s rights, and for an end to prostitution. By 1903, Jacobs left the field of medicine and devoted herself full time to women’s rights. She traveled around the world to speak about women’s issues, and inspired many along the way. She also wrote regularly for a Dutch newspaper. During World War I, she was a staunch peace activist, meeting with European leaders to stop the conflict. She even met with US President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 to try to convince him to mediate an end to the fighting. In 1919, Jacobs saw the fruits of her labour when the Netherlands finally granted women the right to vote. She continued her important work until the last days of her life. Jacobs is included in the official ‘Canon of Dutch History’, which is taught in all primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands.

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Words of the Week

I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation… They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind, more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.
John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, in a letter to F.A Van der Kemp, 1809

On February 9th (her birthday), Aletta Jacobs was featured in a Google Doodle

Jew of the Week: Morris Cohen

China’s “Uncrowned Jewish King”

Morris Cohen sitting next to Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek (Credit: Joe King)

(Credit: Joe King)

Moshe Morris Abraham Cohen (1887-1970) was born in Poland to a poor Orthodox Jewish family. While he was still an infant, his family fled the pogroms and settled in London, England. Growing up, Cohen often got in trouble so his parents sent him to work on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, hoping to mend his ways. There, he learned the value of hard work, in addition to playing cards and shooting guns. He became good friends with Chinese railroad workers, and even defended a Chinese man who was being robbed – a big deal at a time when white people rarely stood up for the Chinese in those days. Cohen’s friends invited him to join the revolutionary party of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who would become modern China’s founding father and first president. Cohen agreed to train Chinese-Canadians in military combat and helped secure weapons for China’s revolutionary army. Meanwhile, he settled in Edmonton and became a successful real estate broker. Cohen was soon appointed as the province of Alberta’s Commissioner of Oaths. With the outbreak of World War I, he fought valiantly with the Canadian Railway Troops. Finding it hard to make a living in Canada after the war, he moved to China. Cohen was hired by Sun Yat-sen to train his forces, procure arms, and serve as his personal bodyguard. After once taking a bullet while protecting Sun Yat-sen in an assassination attempt, he started carrying two guns, and henceforth was known as “Two-Gun Cohen”, though the Chinese called him Ma Kun, “Clenched Fist”. Following Sun Yat-sen’s death, Cohen continued working for China as a military commander and head of their secret service. During World War II, it was Cohen that proved the Japanese were using poison gas against Chinese civilians. Cohen was captured in battle by Japanese soldiers. He was nearly beaten to death before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Cohen then returned to Canada, settled in Montreal, and finally married. He spent the rest of his life in relative quiet, working as a consultant in various capacities, and often traveling to China. (He had the distinction of being the only person allowed to travel freely between China and Taiwan – as he was friendly with leaders of both nations, despite their antagonism towards each other.) Perhaps his last great act was convincing the Taiwanese not to oppose the UN Partition Plan that gave birth to the State of Israel. Taiwan’s position on the UN Security Council made their vote critical, and they intended to oppose the plan until Cohen stepped in. He also helped to arm the nascent State of Israel in its War of Independence. Cohen’s life inspired two books, as well as the 1936 film The General Died at Dawn, and the 1984 film The Gunrunner, starring Kevin Costner. As a major general in China’s revolutionary army (to this day, the only Westerner to hold such a high rank in the Chinese military), one-time head of China’s secret service, and Sun Yat-sen’s personal aide, Cohen played an instrumental role in the founding of modern China. He was once described as China’s “uncrowned Jewish king”.

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Words of the Week

“All lovers of democracy cannot help but support… the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightly deserves an honourable place in the family of nations.”
Dr. Sun Yat-sen, on his support for the Zionist movement