Five great French women from history you need to know about

Five great French women from history you need to know about
Photo: Comité Memoire Esclavage
To mark International Women's Day here are five leading female figures from French history who don't get the recognition they deserve, according to feminist group Osez le Feminisme.


An anthropologist, World War II resistance fighter, and holocaust survivor. Tillion became a commandant in the Resistance army in Paris in 1940, before being sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin in 1943. She performed a musical play for her fellow prisoners, and even conducted anthropological studies of the camp inmates. She escaped in 1945, and after a life of activism against torture, and for women’s rights, died in 2008 at the age of 100.


A mytholigised figure, “Guadeloupe Solitude” was a freed slave on the island of Guadeloupe. Born in 1772 after her mother was raped by a French colonialist, Solitude was freed by the abolition of slavery. In 1802, however, Napoleon reinstated slavery in the French colonies. Solitude took up arms, was captured, and given the bittersweet privilege of having her execution delayed because she was pregnant. She was hanged exactly one day after giving birth.


Born in 1830, the “Red Virgin of Montmartre” was an anarchist activist and schoolteacher who took part in the Paris Commune in 1871, and spent much of her life in and out of prison for her acts of libertarian revolution. When deported to New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, she refused privileges reserved for women, and at other times in her life wore men’s clothing. She died in 1905, and a Paris metro stop on Line 3, near Levallois, is named in her honour.


A prominent playwright and political activist in 18th century France. Dismayed by the gender inequality of the French Revolution, she wrote the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen.” The title was a scathing reference to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” a 1789 essay which led up to the Revolution. In the end, de Gouges was guillotined in Paris in 1793 for her criticisms of revolutionary authorities.


OK the chances are you have heard of Simone de Beauvoir, but do you know exactly why she was such a great figure in Frnch history?

A 20th century intellectual and feminist, whose book “The Second Sex” was a ground-breaking work in feminist theory. She famously spent her life with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she had an unconventional relationship. A series of affairs with female students (whom she “shared” with Sartre), jeopardised her academic career, but de Beauvoir became a celebrated feminist and advocate for women’s rights throughout the decades until her death in 1986.

A version of this article was published previously on The Local.