"Great women, a grateful fatherland" Portraits of celebrated women in the Pantheon
Joséphine Baker’s induction into the Panthéon on 30 November 2021 provided the opportunity to discover other French women who have already been laid to rest there.
A place of remembrance dedicated to the great figures of the nation, the Panthéon is the final resting place of 75 men and now 6 women. Who are these women?
Originally from the United States, Josephine Baker was a music-hall performer. World renowned, engaged in the Resistance and a relentless antiracism activist, she always stood by the sides of those fighting for what was right, in France and all over the world.
In the 1920s in France, the talent of Josephine Baker found success at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées then the Folies Bergères. Her popularity grew with the release of her song, J’ai deux amours.
During World War Two, Josephine Baker joined the Free French Forces, performing counterintelligence missions. In recognition of her action, she was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. In the 1960s, she was active in the civil rights movement in the United States.
She would then move to Dordogne, to the Chateau des Milandes, where she lived with her twelve adopted children from different countries.
Simone Veil is known for her advocacy for women’s rights and for being the first President of the European Parliament elected by universal suffrage in 1979.
At 16, she was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. Simone Veil and her two sisters were the family’s only survivors. After the Liberation, Simone Veil went back to school. She would then become a magistrate.
As Health Minister in the 1970s, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was President, she championed and had a law passed on voluntary interruption of pregnancy (VIP) which legalized abortion. Her courage to stand up against the many people against this law made her very popular.
Dedicated to work for European integration, she performed her duties as President of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1982. In 2010, she became a member of the Académie Française.
The life of Geneviève De Gaulle-Anthonioz was marked by her struggle against the Nazi Occupation and poverty.
In 1940, while still a university student of History in Rennes, she decided to join the Resistance. She was imprisoned and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. As she was General de Gaulle’s niece, Henrich Himmler attempted unsuccessfully to use her to influence her uncle leading Free French Forces. She would then become the first woman awarded the Grand-Croix of the Légion d’Honneur.
After the war, Geneviève De Gaulle-Anthonioz was active in the ATD Fourth World movement fighting poverty and worked for the adoption of a law against poverty, which was passed in 1998.
Germaine Tillon was an ethnologist and resistance fighter during the Second World War.
She went to the northeastern region of Aurès in Algeria to study the Shawiya, a Berber ethnic group. During the war, she took part in activities of a network of resistance fighters against the Nazi Occupation. She was arrested and deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1943. Her work on the camp to collect documents clandestinely while being held there won her a Pulitzer Prize for her heroic action.
The second woman to be awarded the Grand-Croix of the Légion d’Honneur, Germaine Tillon would then work to promote education in prisons in France, which would be introduced thanks to her efforts. She fought against colonization and torture and for women’s empowerment.
Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist, who was originally from Poland.
Her best-known work concerned radioactivity, and namely the discovery of polonium and radium. She won the Nobel Prize in Physic (1903) and in Chemistry (1911). An exceptional scientist, she was the first woman to ever have won this award. She was also the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and the only person to win it in two different areas. During the First World War, she helped design mobile radiological ambulances, called “Little Curies”. Marie Curie performed X-rays on the front lines alongside her daughter Irène.
Her ashes are moved the Panthéon in 1995, along with those of her husband. Until 2014, she was the only woman honoured in the Panthéon on the basis of her own merit.
The first woman buried at the Panthéon, Sophie Berthelot entered with her husband, upon the family’s wishes not to separate the couple.