First Johanna Löwenherz Prize awarded to Simone Veil
July 17, 1987
Löwenherz (1857 – 1937) was a German woman active in the socialist women’s movement of the late 19th century whose seminal work Prostitution or Productivity, Property or Marriage?: A Study for the Women’s Movement was published in 1895. Persecuted by the Nazis for her political beliefs, she willed her house and property shortly before her death to a “benevolent fund for women’s welfare.” It was another 38 years before the city where she died was able to establish an award in her name.
In the intervening decades, Simone Veil (who was 10 at the time of Löwenherz’ death) had survived the Nazi camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen while losing her parents in the genocide. She became a lawyer, then a judge, and was eventually appointed as Minister of Health, where she presided over the first bill legalizing abortion and establishing women’s reproductive rights in France in 1974. In other government positions, Veil championed the rights of incarcerated women and legislated for dual parental control of family legal matters, the rights for mothers and their children by undeclared fathers, and adoption rights for women. Having been the first female minister in the French government, she later rose to be elected the first woman president of the new European Parliament.
One hundred and fifty years after the birth of the persecuted German radical, Simone Veil became the first beneficiary of the legacy of Johanna Löwenherz.