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  • Writer's pictureMallory Warner

5 French Women Who Helped Shape France

In honor of women's history month, I am highlighting five of my favorite French women from history.

1. Sainte-Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris

Sainte-Genevieve was born around 420 AD in Nanterre. In her teenage years, she moved to Paris and became a nun. Through the church, she formed a close relationship to the King of Gaul, Childeric and later Clovis I. It is said that when Attila the Hun was approaching Paris, she convinced the city to pray, rather than flee and that the Lord would protect them. Attila and the approaching Huns suddenly changed course and Paris was saved. Genevieve's relics can be found at St-Etienne-du-Mont in the 5eme arrondissement of Paris. Her feast day is celebrated January 3rd.

2. Eugenie Eboue-Tell, the first woman of African descent to serve in the French Assemblee Nationale

Eboue-Tell was born in French Guiana and later married colonial officer Felix Eboue. Together they believed the people of the French overseas territories (colonies at the time) deserved more autonomy. In 1944, she received the Croix de Guerre for her service to the French during WWII. In 1946, she was elected to the Council of the French Republic (Senat). She would serve as senator until 1951 when she became Vice President of Overseas Commission.

3. Olympe de Gouges, the revolutionary feminist

Born Marie Gouze in 1748, Olympe de Gouges was a women's rights activist and playwright during the French Revolution. Notably in 1791, as a response to the "Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen", de Gouges published the political pamphlet "Declaration des droites de la femme et de la citroyenne." Politically aligned witt the Girondist party, she argued "A woman has equal right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform." She also advocated against the slave trade and argued for the rights of women in France. In 1793, de Gouges was imprisoned by the Jacobins, the Girondist political rival party. On November 3rd of that year, she was executed by guillotine.

4. Simone Veil, French politician and women's rights activist

Simone Veil (nee Jacob) advocated for and helped bring to law abortion and reproductive rights to women in France. In 1944, the Jewish 16-year-old Veil along with her family was rounded up by the Gestapo and she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau via Drancy. She survived and was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Veil would go on to serve as French Minister of Justice from 1956-74, to then serve as Minister of Health. As Minister of Health, she made her most significant mark, passing the "Loi Veil", which legalized abortion in 1975. In 1979, she also served as the President of the European Parliament. She would continue to serve the Republic through numerous public positions including a seat on the Academie Francaise. Veil died on June 30th, 2017. In 2018, she was reburied in the Pantheon.

5. Jeanne d'Arc, secondary patron Saint of France

Jeanne helped regain control of medieval France from English control during the Hundred Years War. As a young teen, Jeanne had visions of the Archangel Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine. These visions drover her to the side of the French dauphin, Charles VII and lending her support in the fight alongside him at Orleans and other battles across the Loire valley. She was at the side of Charles when he was crowned King of France at the Cathedral in the newly reclaimed Reims in 1429. Jeanne was later captured by the Burgundians at Campiegne and exchanged to the English. She was tried as a heretic for her visions and burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431. She was 19-years-old. Later investigations, led by Charles found the ruling of heresy to be unfounded. In 1920, Jeanne d'Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church. Her feast day is May 30th, the day of her martyrdom.

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