Rīga Stradiņš University, Institute for the History of Medicine (Latvia)
Elizabete Jakovleva: The First Female Latvian Medical Professor in Latvia
This year the University of Latvia is celebrating its centennial. The history of higher education in the field of medicine dates back to 2 February 1920, when the first lecture in anatomy was delivered to students.
Women who wanted to pursue an education in medicine could not do so in the Russian Empire. The first Latvian women to receive medical diplomas did so in 1906 in Switzerland. The first woman to become a professor of medicine was Elizabete Jakovleva (1892–1955). She was born into the family of a working man, Ansis Berzins, in Rīga and grew up in Jelgava. Her parents died young. During World War I, Elizabete worked as a nurse in Vologda, Russia, and later began her medical studies at the State University of Perm in the Ural region. She received her degree in 1922 and found work as a forensic analyst not far from the Latvian border – in Porkhov in the Pskov region (1922–1926) and then in Pskov itself (1926–1937). From 1930 to 1937, Jakovleva was chairwoman of the Pskov Medical Association. During her term in office, she wrote her dissertation on the exhumation of human remains, burying and then exhuming 250 remains. The dissertation was defended in Moscow in 1935, and Jakovleva received her doctorate in 1937. She was sent to the Tomsk Institute of Medicine in Siberia, where she became a professor of forensic science in 1938. After the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1940, Jakovleva moved to Rīga in January 1941 to chair the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Latvia. Six months later she moved back to Tomsk. In December 1944, Jakovleva returned to Rīga and worked there until October 1945, when she was arrested for anti-Soviet activism. She spent nine years in prison in Moscow and Kazan until her release after Stalin’s death in 1954. After her release, Jakovleva could return to her profession, but her years in prison had weakened her, and she passed away one year later. Jakovleva was buried at the Rainis Cemetery in Rīga, though her grave has been lost. Her criminal case contained five volumes that remained confidential for many years at the Latvian State Archives. A prosecutor dug up the files in 2001, and ensured Elizabete Jakovleva’s rehabilitation nearly 50 years after her death. Such a tragic life for this distinguished Latvian scientist!