The WWI women who fought for recognition

Their catering skills helped them launch a canteen empire, but these pioneering Swiss women found it wasn’t quite enough to earn them the right to vote. (SRF 10vor10/

This content was published on August 7, 2014 minutes

Using a Zurich restaurant as its headquarters, the Swiss women’s temperance movement established an association for the welfare of soldiers in 1914. While their mandate was catering for Swiss soldiers, they were also trying to prove themselves by taking a more active role in civil society. Ultimately, they hoped that their commitment to a cause dear to the state would earn them the right to vote.

The organisation was launched by Else Züblin-Spiller, a 33-year-old journalist who was active in the sobriety movement. Under her leadership, the so-called soldiers’ inns became an important part of feeding the troops. Spiller worked closely with the central government and the army authorities, but still retained control of the organisation.

After the war ended, the soldiers’ canteens became the template for the first modern Swiss catering company. For businesses, feeding employees was similar to the army’s challenge of feeding throngs of soldiers.

So the women’s movement began opening  workers’ canteens – using the same models they had pioneered when tending to soldiers on the front. Their catering business has since developed into Switzerland’s biggest catering provider: the SV-group.

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