Louise Weiss: Chairwoman by seniority

European Diary, 26.5.2021: Today, the main building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is named after her. 38 years ago today, Louise Weiss died in Paris.
Born in Arras in 1893, her parents – her mother Jewish, her father Protestant – came from Alsace. Already during the First World War, which was fought between France and the German Reich not least symbolically over Alsace-Lorraine, Louise Weiss – working as a war nurse – began to write under a pseudonym. Many more novels, plays and political writings were to follow, for example about the newly founded Czechoslovakia, to which Weiss was also particularly attached in private relationships. After 1945 she also became known for her documentary films and literary accounts of her travels to Japan, China, India and Vietnam, Kenya and Madagascar, Alaska and the Middle East. Her art and ethnographic collection is now housed in the Chateau de Rohan in Saverne, Alsace.
In 1918, at just 25 years of age, she already founded the magazine L’Europe Nouvelle, in which she promoted Franco-German understanding and the unification of Europe. Its authors included Thomas Mann, Aristide Briand, Gustav Stresemann and Rudolf Breitscheid. In 1930, she founded the École de la Paix, a private institute for international relations – whose dreams were for the time being dashed in 1933 when the National Socialists came to power in Germany. In 1934, Louise Weiss therefore concentrated on another social struggle, the fight for women’s suffrage. Together with Cécile Brunsvig, she founded the association La femme nouvelle; their campaigns caused a public sensation, not only when they chained themselves to a lamppost in Paris with other suffragettes. Their complaint to the French Council of State, the Conseil d’Etat, was unsuccessful. It would be another ten years before women’s suffrage was introduced in France. At this time, Louise Weiss was active in the Resistance against the Nazi occupiers and the French Vichy regime. In 1945, she founded an institute for war and conflict research in London with Gaston Bouthoul. She was denied admission to the Académie Francaise as late as 1975. It was not until 1980 that Marguerite Yourcenar became the first woman to be admitted to this elite circle, which had previously been reserved for men.

In 1979, Louise Weiss was elected as a French MEP for the Gaullists in the first direct elections to the European Parliament. And she was its first “chairwoman by seniority” until her death in 1983. Strangely enough, she does not appear in the many celebrations of the “founding fathers” of Europe. But then, she was not a “father”.