8 Inspirational Women From France

We Can Do It! © J. Howard Miller l WikiCommons
We Can Do It! © J. Howard Miller l WikiCommons
Photo of Hattie Ditton
24 October 2016

Of course, you do not need to be famous nor powerful in order to inspire people around you. Here is a selection of French women whose lives and varying careers are inspirational and who posses qualities that make them prominent female figures. They are proof that courage, determination and in many cases kindness, can be the most powerful tools to success.

Marie-José Chombart de Lauwe

Born on May 31st , 1923, Marie-José Chombart de Lauwe showed an unfathomable level of courage in her work for the Resistance during the second world war, against the nazi occupiers. At just nineteen years old, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Rennes. She was moved around camps and eventually deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. At the time of liberation, she was among the survivors at Mauthausen. Because of her medical education (she had studied medicine at the University of Rennes), she was placed in the ‘nursery’. The incomprehensible brutality she had witnessed here against new born children was perhaps a contributing factor in her later decision to study and work in children’s psychology. Now in her nineties, she has continued to campaign for human rights throughout her long and heroic life and was an important figure in fighting against the atrocities that were committed during the Algerian war. She has written books, bearing witness to the horrors she experienced and saw inflicted on others, in order to prevent future injustice. Marie-José Chombart de Lauwe really is an example of a courageous and selfless woman who risked her own life to save others.

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Florence Montreynaud

Born in 1948, Florence Mpntreynaud is a lady who knows how to get stuff done. A leading French feminist, activist, historian and author, she has written articles, had multiple books published and is regularly quoted on issues relating to gender equality in France. She also co-founded the organization “Chiennes de garde” in 1999, alongside Isabelle Alonso — a feminist organization that fights for the abolition of sexism and has seen enormous success in France. Since then, she has been responsible for numerous manifestos and campaigns, including “NON à la pub sexiste” (NO to sexist adverts) and written Le XXème siècle des femmes, which is a bible of information about women and events relating to women’s liberation and history from 1900 to 1999.

Florence Montreynaud | © Kelbonpseudo l WikiCommons

Jacqueline Auriol

Born on November 5, 1917, Jacqueline Auriol is France’s first female test pilot. She won numerous awards, including four Harmon trophies and being made chief of the Légion d’Honneur. She sustained a serious and disfiguring injury in 1949, but she did not let this stop her career. Quite the contrary — not only did she continue flying, she also went on to beat five world speed records in the years preceding 1960. This is truly a mark of an incredibly determined woman, who would let nothing come in the way of her passion. Further to this, she wrote and published autobiography Vivre et Voler (I live to fly), which tells the tale of her extraordinary life.

Jacqueline Cochran | © WikiCommons

Anne Hidalgo

Born the 19th June, 1959, Former National Secretary for Culture and Media, Anne Hidalgo was elected as the first female mayor of Paris in March 2014. She has been a member of the socialist party since 1994, and fought strongly for cultural diversity throughout her career. Since being elected as mayor, she has developed her international presence and been very active in community and social development projects across the city. Although she has received criticism on some of her motives, her fierce confidence and complete lack of fear when speaking out against norms and society are admirable, particularly in the strongly male-dominated world of politics.

Anne Hidalgo | © Remi Jouan l WikiCommons

Louise Michel

Louise Michel, who often went by pseudonym Clémence, is best known for her active contribution to the Paris Commune, which is said to have been the first known example of a successful worker’s revolution. However, not only was she an anarchist, but also a teacher and medical worker, teaching only in “free-schools”, as she believed that every child should have equal rights to education, contrary to what she believed was an elitist system, under the Emperor Napoléon III. This is a woman who fought ferociously for what she believed in and dedicated her life to combatting social inequality, even while many of her techniques may have seemed radical at the time and despite having been arrested on numerous occasions.After her death in 1905, there were memorial services and people mourning her death across France and England. Today, her legacy lives on. There is a metro station in Paris named after her, which is a clear mark of the enduring respect that she inspires.

Benoîte Groult

Benoîte Groult is a feminist activist, who has used her career as a journalist and writer to transmit her beliefs. Her numerous publications challenge misogyny and the discrimination of women. She can be thanked for surfacing issues such as the oppression of women and other topics that had gone un-talked about for endless years. She did not declare herself a ‘feminist’ until she was in her forties, but the years following that saw the founding of monthly magazine ‘F MAGAZINE’, which although had a fairly short-lived existence, certainly played a large role in the dissemination of feminist-related debates. Among her numerous successes, was being appointed Chief of the Légion d’Honneur in 2010. Just one of the documentaries made about her was “Benoîte Groult, the time to learn how to live”, written by Marie Mitterrand and directed by Jean-Baptiste. Throughout the film, she reflects on her life and highlights the main points that she wishes to pass on to future generations, relating to the degeneration of women in society.


Marthe Richard

Born on August 15th, 1889, she was commonly known as the “heroine of two wars.” Marthe Richard became a prostitute at the age of 16, and went on to be a spy for France during the war and a prominent political figure. After the success of her plan to close brothels in the 4th arrondissement in 1945, she began a campaign to end prostitution in the whole of France. By May 1946, over 1000 brothels were closed and many acts surrounding prostitution had become illegal. She is an example of someone who did not like the treatment she had received but rather than accept it and move on with her future partners, she used this inside knowledge and her experiences to fight to prevent women suffering in the same way as she had in the future. Despite being falsely accused of various crimes and a number of accusations being thrown at her, she stuck to her guns and continued to fight, going on to write a number of erotic fiction novels; seemingly scandalous at the time.

Marthe Richard | Courtesy of spymuseum

Coco Chanel

And of course the glorious Gabrielle Chanel could not go without mention. The ultimate tale of rags to riches, but on a deeper level than just her financial success. Through sheer perseverance and plain hard work, this lady managed to create a brand and single handedly revolutionize the entire fashion industry as we know it. Her brand, as we all know, continues to influence the way women dress, around the globe and she will continue to inspire women all over the world, as someone who relied entirely on herself and her talents, to succeed.

Chanel | ©The Coincidental Dandy/Flickr

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