What struggles were faced by the first twelve women to sit in Parliament? As a very small minority in the Federal Assembly, how did they express their political commitment and pass on their ideas to their male colleagues? The Valaisanne Gabrielle Nanchen and Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer from the canton of St Gallen were both just twenty-eight years old when they were elected as members of the Social Democratic Party in 1971. They tell their story to encourage young women wanting to enter politics.

Gabrielle Nanchen was born in the canton of Vaud in 1943. After studying social sciences, she and her husband moved to live in his home canton, Valais, which meant that, as a woman, she lost the right to vote at cantonal level. She joined the Valais Socialist Party. In addition to being a member of the Federal Assembly, she was president of the ‘Women, Meetings, Work’ association, vice president of the Federal Commission for Women's Issues, president of Swissaid, delegate to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for North-South Issues, president of the Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions and member of the ICRC Assembly. She is co-founder and former president of the Association Compostelle-Cordoue, which fosters exchange between cultures by walking, talking and understanding.


Gabrielle Nanchen is the author of:

  • Hommes et femmes, le partage, Ed. Pierre-Marcel Favre, 1981
  • Amour et pouvoir, Des hommes, des femmes et des valeurs, Ed. Pierre-Marcel Favre, 1990
  • Compostelle, de la Reconquista à la réconciliation, Ed. Saint-Augustin, 2008
  • Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, De Suisse en Galice, un chemin vers soi-même, Vevey, 2009, Ed. Mondo
  • Compostelle-Cordoue, Marche et Rencontre. Un témoignage collectif sous la direction de Gabrielle Nanchen et Louis Mollaret, Ed. Saint-Augustin 2012. JB
  • Le goût des autres. Des nouvelles du vivre ensemble, Ed. Saint-Augustin, 2018.

The first woman in Parliament to become a mother

Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer was born in Flawil (SG) in 1943. She studied Protestant theology, but when she became the first female member of the National Council for the Canton of St Gallen, she had to resign from her post as pastor, as members of the clergy were not permitted to be MPs.

As a social democrat, she focused on tenants’ rights, the introduction of civilian service, the facilitated naturalisation of refugees and a 40 km/h speed limit in localities. She also criticised the low wages of Swiss companies in South Africa. Her second child was born during her term of office.

Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer was re-elected in 1975, she did not to take up her seat as her husband Rolf could not find work in the canton of St Gallen because of his wife's political commitment. The family emigrated to Germany, where Hanna was an advocate of development policy and co-founded Les Magasins du monde.

Video in German


  • Boos, Susan: Zu früh am richtigen Ort, in: Widmer, Marina; Witzig, Heidi (ed.): Blütenweiss bis rabenschwarz. St. Galler Frauen – 200 Porträts, 2003, pp. 328-329.
  • Graf, Karl (ed.): Pfarrerinnen und Pfarrer der Evangelisch-reformierten Kirche des Kantons St. Gallen, 1971-2009, 2010, p. 53.