Interview with…

Published : 24.06.2020

Alain Missoffe, co-author of the book entitled “Femmes
de fer

In “Femmes de fer“, (“Women of iron”), published by Tallandier on June 4, 2020, co-authors Alain Missoffe and Philippe Franchini pay homage to the exceptional women in the Wendel family. Alain Missoffe tells us more about their book.

Your new book, “Femmes de fer, elles ont incarné la saga Wendel” (“Women of iron, an integral part of the Wendel saga”), co-authored with Philippe Franchini, was published at the beginning of June. What is the common theme that runs through your book?

Beginning with the French Revolution and continuing up to the present day, “Femmes de fer” is a sweeping
portrait of the surprising careers of 15 exceptional women who were part of the Wendel family. This family of industry leaders, originally from the Lorraine region of the country, has left its mark on France’s economic history and is a rare example of entrepreneurial continuity over more than three centuries.

In this book, we discover Marguerite and Joséphine de Wendel, who ran the forges in the 18th and 19th centuries. As well as Berthe, who experienced the hardships of the occupation of the Moselle by Germany after the Franco-Prussian war and created the “Union Lorraine”, which offered support to people from the Lorraine region. Andrée and Hélène de Wendel take us on a tour of Paris during the Roaring Twenties. Two Wendel grandchildren, the wife of Maréchal Leclerc and Elisabeth de La Bourdonnaye (who married Robert Debré after the Second World War), and the latter’s three daughters surround us with the intrigue of the Resistance and France’s Free Zone. Françoise Schneider, passionate about aviation, invites us to join her alongside her husband Jean, an heir to the Creusot metallurgy forge. Marguerite de Mitry, Renée Seillière, and Ségolène de Wendel illustrate the social commitment of the women in the Wendel family, particularly in the Lorraine region. Finally, we read about Hélène Missoffe, the first descendent of Jean-Martin de Wendel, the founder of the dynasty, to become a French government minister, in 1977.

Today, gender parity has become a key societal issue. Is this why it was important for you to paint the portrait of these women, who left their mark on the Wendel dynasty?

We realized that one of the reasons this family of entrepreneurs has been so resilient, from 1704 to the
present, is because of its women. These 15 women captured our imagination, whether they played a role in the company or in other endeavors. They shared all the qualities that enabled the Wendel group to overcome the vicissitudes of history: energy, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, authority, strong character,
courage, generosity, and a sense of obligation. And underneath it all, they shared a love of freedom.

These women chose their destiny, willingly; it was not imposed on them. Yet they did not revolt against their milieu. Take the first of them, Marguerite and Joséphine. Without reference to any ideology, they took to heart the demands of the first feminists of their period, such as Olympe de Gouges and George Sand. In the end, what comes through clearly in this book is that these women were above all free and independent women.

Among these 15 women, which one has inspired you the most?

That’s a difficult question; they’re all endearing heroines. But if I had to choose, I’d say it’s Marguerite de Wendel, known as Madame d’Hayange. After becoming a widow in 1784, she took over the management of the forge with determination. She was a corporate leader before there were corporate leaders, and she commanded respect. A monarchist at heart, she threw her lot in with the Revolution and filled orders for its
armies as they went off to fight off foreign enemies. She was above all a patriot. While almost all of her descendants emigrated to escape the Reign of Terror, she stayed in Hayange, suffering daily harassment
and humiliation at the hands of the local authorities. She directed the company with a strong hand, never
gave up, suffered the pain of personal loss: one of her grandchildren was executed, and her son François Ignace, a brilliant engineer who embraced the Enlightenment and was a friend of Goethe, died of despair in Weimar. She was imprisoned in Metz, and then, after the end of the Reign of Terror, she returned to a devastated Hayange. She died destitute in Metz. She was a pure product of the Lorraine region, a woman who would not compromise her principles.