Meta von Salis
She dared to do something that no-one before her had attempted: in 1887, Meta von Salis wrote a newspaper article calling for Swiss women to be given the vote. Today, the ALLEGRA mainline rail car 3101 recalls this advocate of women’s rights.
Graubünden’s Meta – Barbara Margaretha – von Salis was born on 1 March 1855 at Marschlins Castle just outside Igis. She grew up in a lofty environment in which she learned aristocratic and conservative values. But, as a teenager at a typical girls’ school, Meta von Salis soon realised that merely learning to become a good housewife was not the kind of education she desired. She wanted to become a teacher – one of the few occupations open to upper-class women at the time.
She moved to Naumburg in Germany to train as a teacher. There, she met Friedrich Nietzsche’s mother and sister, with whom she would remain friendly for years. From 1883, Meta von Salis studied history and philosophy in Zurich. In 1887, she became the first woman from Graubünden to obtain a Ph.D. On graduating, the noblewoman championed women’s rights as a writer, journalist and public speaker. As well as political equality, Meta von Salis was particularly keen to achieve legal equality for women. In 1894, she experienced the injustice of the system for herself when she campaigned on behalf of disgraced Zurich doctor and suffragette Caroline Farner, leading to the latter’s legal rehabilitation. But the embarrassed judge, smarting at his defeat, subsequently involved Meta von Salis herself in a contempt of court case, ultimately handing out a prison sentence. Meta von Salis increasingly withdrew into her private life. She lived on Capri for a few years, and later in Basel. In the final years of her life, she distanced herself from the women’s movement, becoming more and more anti-democratic and nationalist. Meta von Salis died on 29 March 1929 in Basel.