If you ever visit Paris, among other famous places like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, you’ll probably want to visit a famous French monument called the Pantheon. Located in a very nice area, the Pantheon is a gorgeous building where exceptional French people are buried. While you visit this incredible place, you can learn more about the history of France’s most well known scientists, writers, and politicians. But of the 79 great people that are in the crypt, only four are women! Since the theme of the month is “Extraordinary Women in History”, it’s the perfect time to talk about those four – and more!
I can understand why a tradition that began in 1791, when the first “great man” was buried, didn’t allow room for many “great women”. I can understand that the times were not the same as today, and that it was probably considered normal then. But since the 1960’s, only three women out of 14 people were allowed in the necropolis! There are also thousands of names that are written on the walls, and they are the names of the Nation’s sons. Yes, sons. Sounds a little too 19th century for you? For me, too. To be chosen, a “great man” has to be important to France and represent some major periods of History. So let’s see who are the only four women who seemed to have made history in France.
The Great Women of the Paris Pantheon
The first woman buried at the Pantheon was Sophie Berthelot, in 1907. She is there for only one reason: her husband, Marcellin Berthelot, was a famous chemist and politician. Both husband and wife died the same day, and they asked not to be separated after death. So when her husband was admitted in the Pantheon, Sophie was too. She’s kind of there because she was a good wife – and that’s all. Until 1995, she was one of two women buried at the Pantheon, and it was not because she was honored for her merit.
Two centuries after the first ceremony, finally, Marie Slowdowska-Curie was buried in the Pantheon with her husband, Pierre Curie. Marie Curie is perhaps the most famous French scientist in the world. From her incredible work on radioactivity, to her two Nobel prizes in two different categories, to her discovery of polonium and radium, everything this woman has done has changed the world. This place in the Pantheon was well deserved.
For years, every time anyone asked why she was the only notable woman buried there, nobody seemed to want to answer. In 2015 after a citizen mobilization, the decision was made to welcome two more women to the Pantheon. Out of a huge number of incredible French women, Germain Tillon and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz were chosen.
Germaine Tillon was an ethnologist and a well-known figure of the Resistance. She fought for France against the Nazis, and after that, did her best to let people know what happened during the Algerian war. Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz was also active in the resistance, and after the war, she became a politician. She did her best to try to catch most of the nazi criminals, and also fought for a law against poverty that took years to become reality.
Other French Women Deserving of a Place in the Pantheon
We have three incredible women in the place where we are supposed to bury the greatest French people. But we want more! There is still time to catch up for all those years we decided to only honor men. Lots of great women have lived here in France, and could join Tillon, de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Slowdowska-Curie. For example Olympe de Gouges, a politician, playwright, feminist, and abolitionist who took part in the Revolution. Or maybe the incredible writer George Sand, who wrote tons of beautiful books and is one of the most important authors in France. Why not, as with two other members of the resistance, welcome in this temple Lucie Aubrac, who continued fighting until she died? Not to mention mathematician Sophie Germain, philosopher Simone Weil, feminist anarchist Louise Michel, and so many more…
To be fair, the Pantheon featured temporary exhibitions trying to make up for all the missing ladies. So the problem is not exactly ignored by French government – it is postponed. Postponed to better times perhaps, when we’ll have finally the time to pay homage to women who did incredible things for our country?
Sadly, the Pantheon is mostly visited by children. The young are able to hear all those amazing stories, about amazing people who can inspire them to grow up to be incredible, too. How do you explain to little girls that politics, science, writing, and social and political fights are for girls too, if they don’t actually learn that women have done all those things before? Paying tribute to historical female figures would be wonderful for the future generation.