Louise Weiss, feminist of the 1930s

Louise Weiss, feminist of the 1930s

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Title: Propaganda Center for the Women's Vote

Creation date : 1936 -

Date shown: February 1936

Technique and other indications: Propaganda center for the vote of women, directed by Louise Weiss, leader of French feminist associations. From left to right: Maryse Demour, Hélène Roger-Viollet, Jeanine Nemo, Louise Weiss and Clara Simon. Paris, February 1936

Contact copyright: Roger-viollet

Picture reference: 3759-2

Propaganda Center for the Women's Vote

© Roger-Viollet

Publication date: March 2017

Historical context

The cause of women's suffrage in 1936.

During the First World War, the vast majority of French feminist associations put their demands on hold. During the conflict, however, many women entered the world of work, replacing absent or fallen men, also acquiring new responsibilities and autonomy that nurtured a desire for emancipation.

Despite some progress, 1918 marked a sort of return to "normalcy" for women in France, even though their demographic weight and their economic role have never been so important in society. Thus, and unlike Great Britain where the right to vote (partial and censal) was granted to women in 1918, French activists still did not win their case.

On May 20, 1919, however, the Chamber of Deputies adopted for the first time a bill establishing the vote for women in local elections which was finally rejected by the Senate in 1922. This pattern was then repeated four times (1925, 1927, 1932 and 1935), despite increasingly firm injunctions from the House calling on the government to use its influence over the Senate.

For the various suffragist movements, local or national elections become the occasion for major awareness-raising and propaganda campaigns that take many forms: petitions, press campaigns, leaflets, posters, votes and “parallel” elections, etc. in the municipal elections of 1925 in Paris or of 1935 throughout France. Six so-called additional councilors are thus elected after a “parallel” and mixed election in Louviers, who will sit with voting rights. Photograpgy Propaganda Center for the Women's Vote, shows one of these events organized for the suffrage of women, as well as several feminist figures of the interwar period.

Image Analysis

Feminist figures

Propaganda Center for the Women's Vote, was taken in February 1936. As the legislative elections of April-May 1936 approached, hoping for a victory for the progressives, five activists held what appeared to be an improvised wicket (wooden panel, right) that we imagine installed on a sidewalk (facade of a building in the background) of one of the streets of the city of Paris.

A sign occupies the background of the space thus delimited, which claims for women, in black letters on a white background, "the right to vote in the next elections" (those of April-May) and apparently evokes it, their "freedom".

Around a small table covered with papers (letters, bulletins and petitions), we recognize, from left to right: Maryse Demour (seated with a hat), Hélène Roger-Viollet (standing, holding a sheet in her hand), Jane Nemo (seated), Louise Weiss (seated with a hat) and Clara Simon (standing with a hat).

Louise Weiss and Clara Simon stare at the lens, seeming at that precise moment to pose for the photographer. The determined faces and bodily demeanor speak to the seriousness of their commitment and the importance they place on their walk on this February day. However, we perceive in both of them a certain mischief (smirk), even an air of defiance (the way Clara Simon stands and looks at us). Jane Nemo looks elsewhere, straight ahead, in the same direction as Maryse Demour. The youngest of them, Hélène Roger-Viollet, seems to enjoy reading the letter or document that she dyed in her hands.


Louise Weiss and The New Woman

In France, the fight for women's right to vote is mainly led by the two largest suffragist organizations, the French Union for Women's Suffrage (UFSF) led by Cécile Brunschvicg and the French League for Women's Rights ( LFDF) led by Maria Verone. In the 1920s and 1930s, the UFSF and the LFDF saw the number of their members increase considerably (100,000 in 1935 for the UFSF). With increasingly substantial resources, they can make their demands heard better, especially during each local or national election. There are, however, other feminist figures who operate (relatively) apart from these two associations. This is particularly the case with the women seen in the photograph studied here.

Louise Weiss, an associate of Letters and an Oxford graduate, has a career in journalism with the weekly New Europe where she campaigns for peace. In 1934, she founded the association The new woman, which intends to promote a form of activism for women's suffrage that is more radical and more original, also more modern, inspired by the English and American suffragists. In May 1935, she stood for municipal elections in Montmartre, where she ironically transformed hat boxes into ballot boxes and obtained 18,000 votes. That same year of 1935, she organized a tour throughout France where, accompanied by activists from The new woman, she multiplies the happenings aimed at getting feminism talked about in the press.

Taken a few months later, this photo shows her surrounded by her accomplices in the struggle, who also share the same taste for provocative activism. Jane Nemo, for example, has become known for openly using "straw men" to indirectly run for office in Paris. The very name of the Propaganda center and the a little mischievous look that Weiss and Simon wear testify to this activism of a new kind, which worries politicians (that Louise Weiss does not hesitate to take to task down to their homes) as well as others feminist activists, more traditional.

  • women
  • women vote
  • feminism
  • Universal suffrage
  • Weiss (Louise)
  • Montmartre


BARD, Christine. Marianne's Daughters: History of Feminisms 1914-1940. Paris: Fayard, 1995.

BARD, Christine. Women in French society in the 20th century, Paris, Armand Colin, 2001

BERTIN, Célia. Louise weiss, Paris, Albin Michel, 1999

BOUGLE-MOALIC, Anne-Sarah. Le Vote des Françaises, one hundred years of debate, 1848-1944, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012.

HUARD, Raymond. Universal Suffrage in France Paris, Aubier, 1991.

WEISS, Louise. What woman wants, Paris, Gallimard, 1946.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Louise Weiss, feminist of the 1930s"

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