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France: Two Tales of Tenacity

Celebrating two heroes: Louise Weiss and Marie Marvingt ((Photo by T. Brack), Girl Power Graffiti by @_kvich, Montmartre)

Celebrating two heroes: Louise Weiss and Marie Marvingt ((Photo by T. Brack), Girl Power Graffiti by @_kvich, Montmartre)

Let’s pedal push it up to Montmartre—Louise’s old “fight for the right to vote” stomping ground (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Let’s pedal push it up to Montmartre—Louise’s old “fight for the right to vote” stomping ground (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

By Theadora Brack

This week, I’d like to introduce you to one of my heroes: suffragette and writer Louise Weiss.

So grab your bicycle and helmet, and let’s get to pedal pushing up the Montmartre slopes to Abbesses—Louise’s old “fight for the right to vote” stomping ground. It’s time to pay homage.

Traffic is heavy, but don’t fret yet. The autumn sun is still on our side of the rue.

As we round the butte, we spot the spot, close by Vincent Van Gogh’s former digs (at 54 rue Lepic). At the school just around the corner is where publicity maven Louise instigated one of her famously stormy powder puff battles.

Let’s prop our bikes up against the lamppost, and try to imagine the scene.

A story I tell often

Louise had organized a “straw vote on the woman’s suffrage issue outside of schools and city halls where men were voting for men, in solemn masculinity. As ballot boxes, hatboxes were being appropriately used,” according to a 1935 newspaper report.

“But the police would not allow these unofficial ballot boxes. Thirty-six of them had been organized all over Abbesses, and one by one they were put out of action. Weiss refused to surrender. With a table, hatbox, and surrounded by a joyous crowd, she continued to urge electors to vote for votes for women.”

Thanks to the efforts of Louise and countless other activists like her, French women eventually got the vote in 1945, Hippodrome de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Thanks to the efforts of Louise and countless other activists like her, French women eventually got the vote in 1945, Hippodrome de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Because haters are going to be haters

Of course, it didn’t take long for the policemen to reappear. After seizing the hatbox, “the face powder went into action.” Armed with beaucoup boxes of rose-scented talcum, the women waited for a cue from Louise.

She was the first to blow, and then the others followed suit. Clouds of talcum settled on the officers’ uniforms. Arrests were made but so were headlines and legends, too.

By the end of the day, 16,000 votes had been cast in favor of women’s right to vote. Times were changing. See, men cast half the “hatbox” ballots.

Thanks to the efforts of Louise and countless other activists like her, French women eventually got the vote in 1945.

She Persisted: Daredevil Marie Marvingt was a balloonist, mountaineer, sharpshooter, skater, skier, fencer, writer, and aviator. (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

She Persisted: Daredevil Marie Marvingt was a balloonist, mountaineer, sharpshooter, skater, skier, fencer, writer, and aviator. (Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

One more tale of tenacity

By the 1890s, thanks to the introduction of the Starley Rover Safety Bicycle and its pneumatic tires, “all Paris was a-wheel,” and the women were not only zipping around in public but also unblushingly flaunting menswear or “something alarmingly like it.”

One rebel stirred by the bike boom was Marie Marvingt. In 1908, she attempted to register for the Tour de France bicycle race. “Impossible!” the officials told her. After all, she was a lady. But Marie persisted, defiantly cycling each stage of the race incognito and becoming the première femme to complete the grueling two-week competition.

Marie at the joystick: Heroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they rock the world with powder boxes, bikes, and helicopters, instead (Newspaper Clipping,1955)

Marie at the joystick: Heroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they rock the world with powder boxes, bikes, and helicopters, instead (Newspaper Clipping,1955)

Ahead of the curve

Marie was  a balloonist, mountain climber, sharpshooter, skater, skier, fencer, writer, and aviator. During the Premier Guerre Mondial (World War I), she worked as a Red Cross surgical nurse in field hospitals at the front. She also fought in the trenches disguised as a man, and flew in combat rescue missions.

Never applying the breaks: after learning how to fly a new-fangled-at-the-time Djinn jet helicopter in 1955, our daredevil later told reporters, “I’m eighty. So what?”

Congratulations to the 122 women elected last week to serve in the 116th United States Congress, bumping the percentage of women representatives in Washington D.C. from 20 to 23 percent.

We can do it. As Marie Marvingt liked to say, “It’s so delicious to fly like a bird!”

We Can Do It: Rosie the Riveter by artist J. Howard Miller for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation , 1942 (Pay homage at The National Museum of American History, Washington D.C.)

We Can Do It: Rosie the Riveter by artist J. Howard Miller for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation , 1942 (Pay homage at The National Museum of American History, Washington D.C.)

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27 thoughts on “France: Two Tales of Tenacity

  1. This is a great post. We need to recognize how long the battle for women’s rights has been going on around the world and still persists today–out of necessity. The women elected to the US congress and judgeships in Texas are proof we can do it. A moment of remembrance and pride…then back to work! Thanks for your storytelling!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Violet. I completely agree. A moment of remembrance and pride . . . and then back to work.

      One more moment of thanks: During my research phase, I found the 1912 Associate Press story below. Title: The Suffragettes Are Coming. I love the last line.

      On Saturday 20,000 women marched through the streets of New York. Thousands of sisters followed their banners and showed their colors. This is New York’s second suffragette parade. In one year the suffragette paraders has increased from 3,000 to 20,000.

      Then there was the attitude of the spectators a year ago, showing a marked contrast with the sympathy of the vast crowds which watched this year’s parade.

      This year, according to the Tribune, the great crowd was there to cheer and encourage. No longer were the paraders the victims of jest, but there was astonishment at the growth of the movement . . . It is regarded as marvelous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. May we embrace all the opportunities and possibilities granted by life. Let’s live big, bold and share the indomitable spirit of those that came before. This is our time, our watch – we must continue to seek positive outcomes for our communities, both local and global. Another inspirational post with a marvelous call to action. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for your inspirational words. And I agree. Let’s live big, bold and share the indomitable spirit of those that came before. Now, that’s a Pep Talk. Louise would have agreed. I am certain.

      Here’s one more moment of remembrance. One more clipping! I promise. The story below appeared in The New York Times on the 13th of May in 1935.

      Weighed down by the chains of political bondage—real iron chains slung from necks and shoulders—hundreds of women advanced from the tables of the numerous cafes around the Place de la Bastille yesterday and there, under the shadow of the Column of Liberty, asserted their emancipation by lighting a fire and smothering it with their iron emblems.

      The ceremony was meant to be a demonstration in favor of votes for the election of the municipal councilors of Paris. The organizer and inspirer of the symbolic act was Mme. Louise Weiss, French suffragette leader.

      A taxi dashed round and round the huge square, with a woman standing in it and stopping at every cafe. It was the signal for the women at the tables. They rose in groups, paid hastily for the drinks, and from their handbags they took out chains of all sizes, which they proceeded to wind about their necks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What an extraordinary moment in history – one that has inspired me today. We are defined by our moments, even a small act of kindness signifies makes a difference. One conversation can change the course of destiny – not just those who are near to us, but to others who we may never know. Mme. Louise Weiss changed history – my history. May we continue in her footsteps and embrace her courage, her determination, her belief that there is a better way.

        Liked by 2 people

      • What an extraordinary moment in history – one that has inspired me today. We are defined by our moments, even a small act of kindness signifies that we have embraced a greater journey. Louise Weiss – courage personified. It is very difficult to be an outlier! May we continue in Louise Weiss’s footsteps – let’s hope our feet are big enough to fit her shoes.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I was so excited about this post, that I answered twice. Have a wonderful week – sunshine in Vancouver! Heading out on an adventure.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. May we never take the right to vote for granted! Hats and hat boxes off to theoe French women who fought for the vote. Even in the US women have made a difference as they won the right to represent their state in the 2018 midterms. Who cares if we are over 70 and pushing 80 – we can still vote! Cheers, Theodora!

    Liked by 3 people

    • YES. YES. YES. May we never, ever take the right to vote for granted. According to The New York Times this morning, the number of women elected to serve in the 116th United States Congress is up to 124. Times are a-changing.

      Cheers,
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for these women’s stories – I had no idea French women couldn’t vote until 1945?! My great grandmother out in Oklahoma territory kept her voter registration card in the family Bible and we still have it today. That’s how much she valued that right. We must keep working until everyone can enjoy the right to make their voices heard at the voting polls without fear, and all governments truly reflect all voters, not just one sector.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wonderful info Theadora. I am proud to say that New Zealand women were the first in the world to get the vote – in 1893! 😀 Off to NY in a couple of weeks armed with lots of good into from the book you so generously sent….

    Liked by 2 people

    • So yes, the women in New Zealand got the right to vote in 1893. Thanks to your comment, today I’ve been reading about suffragette Kate Sheppard—the editor of The White Ribbon.

      Have a wonderful trip. The weather in New York during of May is usually pretty darn great. You’ll be able to do quite of strolling. Enjoy every moment! And if time permits, visit the Statue of Liberty.

      Theadora

      Like

      • I’m glad it piqued your interest. Surely will visit Liberty – but not in May – we will be there early December – chilly! Leaving her for LA on Nov 27 – where it won’t be quite so chilly …

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Cheers to the trailblazers who fought for what was right and needed to be done. Current life has a history – everything has a history – and too often we not only take something for granted, we forget (or don’t know) the fight like this one that brought about change. Well done, Theadora!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Frank. Everything has a history. So many stories. So many folks to thank. I just discovered spy Rose Valland.

      A story I’m now telling often: Rose was an administrator at the Musée Jeu de Paume. In 1940, when the Nazis began using the former tennis court as a storage depot for art and personal belongings seized from deported Jewish families, Valland secretly recorded details about the objects. Repeatedly risking her life to keep track of the art, she was fired several times, but kept returning.

      After the summer of 1945, when most of the Louvre’s art made its way back to Paris and the museum, Valland joined the French army to spend the next decade in Germany, helping the “Monuments Men and Women” recover an additional 45,000 works of stolen art.

      Again, thanks for your thoughtful words.
      Theadora

      Liked by 2 people

  7. What a wonderful post, Theadora — both because you remind us of how the women before us had to fight for the most basic rights, and because you give us hope for true equality for future generations of women. Thank you for both.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations to all those women who paved the way.
    I remember when I was in “prépa” there was a mere 15% of women to enter French business schools. They are now close to 60 I hear.
    According to the Pew researcentre, 60% of Millenial women are or intend to be in college. Only 40% of men. 🙂
    So congrats too to the women who made it to Congress, but there still are 27 points to gain to 50%.
    Cheers Theadora. (Pas trop froid?)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Bravo Theadora We should never take for granted our right to vote. And we should never take for granted freedom of the press. In her biography of Voltaire Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post and of course I enjoy any link to aviation! Interestingly given Australia is at the end of the Earth and especially back then was a “manly place”, we were pretty progressive in the late 19th and early 20th Century in regards to Women’s Suffrage. In the 1890’s two colonies (later states) had allowed women to vote. By 1902 after the federation of the colonies of Australia (1901), women could vote in federal elections and by 1911 all other states had passed laws for women to vote in state elections.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love the hatboxes and the talcum powder and the balloon and…the post in general. I’m especially proud that the state where I love to go each summer, Wyoming, (then still a territory), was the first to give women the vote in 1869.

    Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, Theadora.

    janet

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Une histoire merveilleuse, de courage et ténacité: une leçon pour aujourd’hui? 🙂

    Like

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