Streets named after women: paying tribute to great women from Luxembourg (I) A profile of eight extraordinary women celebrated in Luxembourg's public spaces

To mark International Women's Day, celebrated on 8th March in several countries worldwide, we look at the profiles of eight extraordinary women in Luxembourg's history who are remembered in the country's public space. This is an opportunity to look back at their past struggles and achievements, and also to inspire future generations of women, those who will have streets named after them in Luxembourg in the years to come. This first article explores the lives of Marie-Thérèse Hartmann, Aline de Saint-Hubert, Lou Koster and Joséphine Jaans. A second article will focus on the achievements of Marie Heffenisch, Lily Unden, Annette Lacroix and Marie-Paule Peffer.

Marie-Thérèse Hartmann (1858-1923), a pioneering painter


Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Hartmann by the artist Michael Emonds (1903).
© Public domain

Marie-Thérèse Hartmann was one of the first Luxembourgish women to study abroad. Her father, the architect Antoine Hartmann, supported his daughter in her artistic education. At the tender age of 19 she went to Düsseldorf to study with the artist Gustav Süs, then spent two years in Munich as a student of Sandor Liezen-Mayer. It was in Paris, at the school run by Émile Carolus-Duran and Jean-Jacques Henner, recently opened to female artists, that she found her vocation as a portrait painter. When she came back to Luxembourg, she married the lawyer Mathias Glaesener and pursued her artistic career.

The pioneering painter was characterised by her audacity and independence, at a time when very few women were able to attend public schools; those who did receive an education generally went to religious schools. Luxembourg City and Sanem have streets named after her.

Did you know?

You can see two portraits of former Luxembourg Prime Minister Paul Eyschen by Marie-Thérèse Hartmann in the Nationalmusée um Fëschmaart.

Aline de Saint-Hubert (1874-1947), a feminist philanthropist

Aline de Saint-Hubert can be considered as the founder of the bourgeois women's movement in Luxembourg. She married Émile Mayrisch in 1894 and in 1906 she set up the Organisation for Women's Interests, the first women's organisation in Luxembourg. The association was active in various fields, including providing legal protection for women and improving living conditions for worker families.

But the main aim was to establish a secondary school for girls: a non-denominational school offering a school certificate that would give girls access to university studies and liberal professions.

Aline de Saint-Hubert also pioneered various social movements and was the founder and chair of the Luxembourg section of the Red Cross. In 1932, Grand Duchess Charlotte awarded her the Cross of Honour for Ladies of the Order of Civil and Military Merit of Adolph of Nassau.

In her will, shebequeathed the Château de Colpach to the Red Cross in. The building is now a rehabilitation facility that houses the National Post-Oncological Rehabilitation Service and the National Physical Rehabilitation Service. The towns of Bertrange, Dudelange, Esch-sur-Alzette, Walferdange and Steinfort have named roads and public spaces after her. Her married name was also used for the Lycée Aline Mayrisch.

Did you know?

Aline de Saint-Hubert was also interested in art and literature, and she sought to mediate between French and German cultures. She was an admirer and friend of many intellectuals and writers, including André Gide, and she turned her Château de Colpach – where she settled with her husband in 1920 – into a literary salon and a meeting place for artists.

She also wrote literary articles and reviews, as well as an autobiographical travel memoir: Paysages de la trentième année. She often wrote under pseudonyms, the most well known being Alain Desportes.

A book containing her correspondence with André Gide is available at the National Library of Luxembourg.

© Post Luxembourg

Les rues au féminin

In 2009, the National Council of Women of Luxembourg (Conseil national des femmes du Luxembourg-CNFL) launched the project 'Les rues au féminin' (streets  named after women) to raise awareness among political leaders of the need to increase the visibility of deserving, active women in public spaces in Luxembourg.

As part of the project, a list of streets compiled in 2021 showed how women are under-represented in public streets, squares and buildings compared with men. In Luxembourg City, for example, just 5.7% of streets and squares were named after women, compared with 49% named after men. In that year, of the 102 municipalities in Luxembourg, 59 had no public spaces named after women. It is not just about the figures, but rather what they represent: 'We need to remember that the names of streets, squares or buildings are vectors of memory and that this gives them a political aspect. As this official memory is selective, it is important not to forget deserving and committed women and to make them visible in public places,' explains the CNFL.

Lou Koster (1889-1973), a pioneering composer

Lou Koster was one of very few girls in Luxembourg who had access to musical education in childhood. In the absence of formal education, her grandfather, Franz Ferdinand Bernhard Hoebich, Kapellmeister at the Grand Ducal Court, gave her musical theory, violin and piano lessons. Her formal education at a musical institution only began when the Conservatoire de Luxembourg was founded in Luxembourg City in 1906 and she was able to perfect her violin, piano, music theory and harmony skills. She taught at the Conservatoire herself between 1908 and 1954. When it came to composition and orchestration, she was self-taught.

As a composer – her real passion – she was particularly interested in Luxembourgish poetry. Her adaptation of Batty Weber's libretto An der Schwemm (In the swimming pool) as an operetta marked the beginning of her career as a composer in 1922. It was in 1972, at the age of 83, that she experienced her greatest success, when her oratorio Der Geiger von Echternach (The violinist of Echternach), based on a text by Nik Welter, was played by the RTL Orchestra and the Uelzecht Choir in the Basilica of Echternach.

Her musical career never distracted her from her involvement in social issues and efforts to improve the rights of oppressed people and minorities, especially feminist movements. Streets in Luxembourg City, Mersch and Strassen are named after her.

© Source: CID Fraen an Gender Luxembourg

A little anecdote

In Lou Koster's family, musical education was not just a hobby. Lou and her sisters, Lina and Laure, learned from a young age how to make a living through music: they accompanied silent films and performed in café-concerts, for weddings and parties... and also in swimming pools. Lou Koster was an enthusiastic swimmer, and during the breaks in her swimming classes at the Luxembourg Swimming Club, she provided a piano accompaniment for the musical interludes played by an orchestra positioned above the shower cubicles.

Joséphine Jaans (1890-1988), a pioneer in women's sport

Joséphine Jaans (married name Jacquemart) can be considered as a pioneer in women's sport in Luxembourg. She was proactive and committed to sport, dedicating herself to what would become her profession. After attending two gymnastics training camps in Switzerland, she became a teacher and started teaching at the Lycée de Jeunes Filles d'Esch-sur-Alzette in 1916, where she sought to introduce new approaches to physical education.

In 1925, together with Andrée Mayrisch and Paula Weber, she founded the Luxembourg Women's Sport Federation, the first official women's sports body. The founders chose basketball as the flagship discipline of the new federation – a successful strategy, as by 1926 Luxembourg had 14 women's clubs! But the enterprise was doomed to failure: a lack of financial resources and especially the question of appropriate clothing proved to be too great an obstacle in a traditionalist context which rejected a woman considered too modern for her time. Joséphine Jaans refused to let that stop her, however, and in 1937 she organised the third Federal Women's Gymnastics Festival, where she led the parade.

Her efforts were not limited to women's sport. During the Second World War, she joined the Lëtzebuerger Patriote Liga, a resistance movement that fought against the German occupation. In 1941, she was arrested with two other resistance fighters and spent two years in prison. After the war, she worked to help people in need. Luxembourg City and Bertrange have named streets after her.

Did you know?

Joséphine Jaans firmly believed that women should be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games. Given the stiff opposition within the leadership of the International Olympic Committee, a number of women, including Alice Milliat from France but also Joséphine Jaans, had the idea of organising Olympic Games for women. The first Women's World Games were held in Paris on 20 August 1922

© Source: Conseil national des femmes du Luxembourg, project "Les rues au féminin"

Editor's note

Several sources were used to write the biographies of the women presented in this article, especially the 'Les rues au féminin' project (National Council of Women of Luxembourg / Conseil national des femmes du Luxembourg), the project (CID Fraen an Gender) and the Dictionnaire des auteurs luxembourgeois (National Literature Centre / Centre national de la littérature).