Louise Weiss: a committed European

The early years: war and peace

Card in French announcing the birth of Louise Weiss

Louise Weiss was born on 25 January 1893 in Arras (in the Pas-de-Calais region of France) as the oldest of six children in an upper middle-class family of Alsatian origin with patriotic, secular republican values. Her father was a prominent mining engineer. Also from Alsace, her mother was from a Jewish family with roots in central Europe, a family history which made Weiss aware from an early age of the dangers of history and the difficult relations between France and Germany.

Portrait of L. Weiss as a young woman in 1909

She spent her youth in Paris where she received a strict education in the country’s best schools. Despite opposition from her father, Weiss pursued a successful academic path, gaining a degree from the University of Oxford and a prestigious qualification in the arts (agrégation de lettres) by the age of 21. Louise was now qualified to be a teacher, but her future lay outside the schoolroom. On her graduation in 1914, life changed forever – both for Louise Weiss, and for all of Europe.

Two young girls (L. Weiss and her sister) dressed in traditional Alsatian costumes  (1913)

The slaughter which took place on the battlefields of the First World War and the suffering of a sacrificed generation would mark Weiss for life. She turned down a lucrative career opportunity in education and instead set up a small military hospital to treat soldiers wounded in battle and, later, a centre for victims in northern France.

Group of people in a war hospital created by L. Weiss, 1914

However, Weiss was soon looking further afield for other ways to use her talents. Attracted by debate and the exchange of ideas she became a journalist, publishing her first articles in Parisian newspapers.

Weiss family portrait, 1932