A lifelong progressive and a steadfast witness to many of the 20th century’s great upheavals, Louise Weiss (1893-1983) has left an indelible mark on the Europe we know today.
As both a determined intellectual and a tireless activist, she was a pioneer of the European ideal. She was born on 25 January 1893 into a liberal, upper middle-class family from Alsace. After obtaining a prestigious qualification (agrégation de lettres féminine) in 1914, she became a journalist, and from the 1920s was involved in efforts to build peace and unity throughout the continent.
A passionate campaigner for women’s rights, she organised suffragette demonstrations in the 1930s to demand the right to vote and equal civil and political rights for women. After the war she travelled the world making ethnographic documentaries and became a well-known conference speaker, writer and diarist, working alongside some of the greatest politicians and thinkers of her age.
In 1979, she was elected to the European Parliament at the first European elections held by direct universal suffrage. As the oldest Member of the European Parliament she chaired the constituent session of Parliament and delivered its first inaugural address. Louise Weiss died in 1983. In 1999, the building containing the Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg was named in her honour.