Ruth Dreifuss

In Switzerland, where women did not get the right to vote until 1971, Ruth Dreifuss made history when she became the country’s first woman president in 1999. Dreifuss earned a commercial diploma in Geneva in 1958 and began working as a hotel secretary before becoming deputy editor of Coopération, the weekly publication of the Swiss Union of Cooperatives, an organization of consumer cooperatives. After earning an economics degree from the University of Geneva in 1970, she taught at the university for two years before spending a decade with the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1981 Dreifuss became the first female general secretary of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions and served from 1989–1992 on the Bern City Council. In 1993 she was elected by Parliament to the seven-member Federal Council as Minister for Domestic Affairs (the second woman and first Jew elected to the Council), serving as president in 1999. In her decade on the Council, she fought for women’s issues such as paid maternity leave and took an active role in discussions of restoring Swiss bank accounts to Holocaust survivors and their families. After leaving office in 2002, Dreifuss chaired the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health for the World Health Organization in 2004.


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An outspoken and strong feminist, Ruth Dreifuss was the first woman and the first Jew to hold the office of President of the Swiss Confederation—a significant achievement in Switzerland, where women received the right to vote only in 1971 and which was the last country in Western Europe to recognize Jewish rights.

Institution: Ruth Dreifuss.

Date of Birth

St. Gallen

Editor, Professor, Politician

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ruth Dreifuss." (Viewed on January 17, 2021) <>.


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