Louise Weiss: a committed European


L. Weiss standing in front of group of people with posters "La Française doit voter" (The Frenchwoman must vote)

In 1934, Louise Weiss launched herself into a new struggle: the campaign for women’s emancipation. Inspired by the activities of the British and American suffragettes, she founded the association La Femme nouvelle to fight for women’s voting rights and created an information centre to campaign for equal civil and political rights for French men and women.

Although ineligible to stand, Louise Weiss made a powerful statement by putting herself forward as a candidate at several elections.

After an initial abortive run in local elections, she chose to join other suffragettes in Paris in 1936 to symbolically campaign for election to the French National Assembly. A special postcard showing Louise Weiss with a detailed curriculum vitae was produced and distributed across the city.

She also organised a nationwide tour of France, stepping up action and protests to demand the right for female emancipation.

But she would again be disappointed by the progress in Europe: the women of France would have to wait until the end of the Second World War to win the right to vote and be eligible to stand in elections under the same conditions as men.

Weiss soon realised that her efforts were needed elsewhere in Europe. In 1938, recognising that a new conflict was inevitable, Weiss became involved with the work of a Central Refugee Committee set up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to manage the influx of Jewish families fleeing Nazism. She later worked with the Union of French Women Decorated with the Legion of Honour, where she helped to run a women’s civil service ‘for passive defence against air attacks’.

The arrival of war once again saw Weiss continue her tireless efforts to help others. She volunteered for a mission to the United States to gather medicines and essential food for the French Red Cross. On her return to occupied France, although she could not prevent the Gestapo from seizing her library and personal archives, she successfully evaded anti-Jewish persecution and managed to protect several of her friends from capture.