French figures: The anarchist who is now part of the Paris Metro

Revolutionary, feminist and anarchist icon, Louise Michel is one of the only French women with a Metro station named after her.

French figures: The anarchist who is now part of the Paris Metro
A school north of Paris is named after Louise Michel. Photo: AFP

Louise Michel (1830-1905) was a leading figure in the Paris Commune of 1871, a radical left-wing militia that seized power in the capital and ruled for two months.

An anarchist and a feminist, Michel rallied the masses to take up arms against the government.

The Paris Commune is recognised as one of the four great events that shaped modern France. Women played a key role in the commune, organising, building barricades and fighting.

READ ALSO Prostitutes, nuns and anarchists: The untold story of the women who shaped Paris

When the Commune was put down, some 20,000 participants in the revolts were executed.

Michel was one of those spared and deported, and she spent years in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia before the government granted amnesty to her and the other participants of the Commune in 1880.

She returned to France still full of revolutionary passion that she continued to spread before she was arrested in 1890 and subsequently moved to London.

Outside her more revolutionary activities, Michel opened a school in Paris in 1865, which became renowned for its progressive methods.

She also corresponded with Victor Hugo, the famous French author, and published some poetry herself.

When she died in 1905, her funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people.

Michel is the only French woman to have a Metro station named after her (although Polish-born Marie Curie has one jointly named after with her husband Pierre and Simone Veil also gets half a station name).
This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France.

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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.