Isala Van Diest and Marie Popelin, founders of feminism.

Isala Van Diest (1842-1916) was the first female doctor in Belgium. She had to do her studies abroad because Belgian universities did not allow women in 1870. In 1884 she was given permission to open her practice, A Special law had to be made to give her that permission. She opened her practice in Brussels, where she also worked in a shelter house for prostitutes. Van Diest was one of the founders of the Ligue Belge du Droit des Femmes in 1892, along with Marie Popelin. Their organization is was the beginning of feminism in Belgium and the rest of the world.

Marie Popelin (1846-1913) had worked as a teacher for years when the ULB, university admitted female students in 1880. Almost immediately she enrolled at the law faculty and graduated with honors. However, her application to become a lawyer has rejected: the Court ruled that she was not suitable for that as a woman. Popelin subsequently emerged as one of the leading ladies of Belgian feminism. It was not until 1922, almost ten years after her death, that women were allowed access to the courtrooms as lawyers, much later as judges.

Picture by G. De Martelaere


The National Bank of Belgium had 5 million 2 euro coins made to honor them. The coin was issued on the occasion of 100 years of International Women's Day in 2011. It is the first time that women who are not members of the Belgian Royal family are on an official coin.

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