Google has commemorated Isala Van Diest – Belgium's first female doctor – with a doodle displayed on their search engine home page on Wednesday, marking the day she was granted permission to practice the profession.
On this day in 1884, 137 years ago, a government decree came into effect that allowed Van Diest to practise medicine in Belgium after she became the first Belgian woman to graduate from university in Switzerland.
To honour this achievement, tech company Google has created a doodle in the same way that it alters its logo on holidays or to mark events, achievements, and notable historical figures.
Van Diest was born in Leuven in 1842. Her father was a doctor who owned a medical practice and her mother was active in progressive, feminist organisations. Going in against gender conventions at the time, Van Diest decided early on to take over her father’s practice.
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As she was not able to study at a medical school in Belgium due to gender discrimination, she left home to study in Bern, Switzerland, where she became the first Belgian woman to graduate with a university degree in 1879.
Belgium allowed women to formally study medicine in 1880, and in 1883, Van Diest graduated as a doctor of medicine, surgery, and obstetrics. After years of working in a women's shelter and advocating for women's rights, Diest opened her own practice in 1886.
In 2018, the street where her practice was located was named after her and for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011, the Belgian government issued a €2 coin in Van Diest’s honour.