STORIES FROM FRANCE

EMILIE DU CHÂTELET, SCHOLARLY MARQUISE AND WOMAN OF THE CENTURY OF ENLIGHTENMENT

“I would involve women in all human rights, especially the rights of the spirit. It seems that they were born to deceive, and this exercise is left only to their souls.”

-Emile Du Châtelet

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These words were written in the 18th century by Emile Du Châtelet, an extraordinary woman who was able to develop her intellectual qualities and impose herself in the exclusively male world of science.

Emilie du Châtelet, whose full name is Gabrielle Emile Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, was born an aristocrat on December 17, 1706, in Paris, at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment of which she was one of the leading figures. The daughter of an open-minded man who offered her an exceptional education for a woman of that era, she danced, played the harpsichord, learned Latin, Greek and German, was interested in fine dress, opera and, science. She married the Marquis Florent Claude du Châtelet, who seemed dazzled by her intelligence, and the two entered into a flexible relationship that left the Marquise du Châtelet free to spend time with the great men of her time, such as Bernoulli, and Voltaire.

She was passionate about physics and analysed Leibniz’s theoretical work on kinetic energy, which she illustrated with the help of experiments. Emilie du Châtelet wrote a physics treatise, published by the Academy of Sciences, a first for a woman.

She was interested in Newton’s work and began a translation of his Principia Mathématica one of the most important scientific books ever published, which became The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, published in 1756. This work was to be the only French translation, which is still the case today.

At the age of 43, Emilie du Châtelet died four days after the difficult birth of a daughter who did not survive.

MARIE-ANNE PIERRETTE PAULZE, THE MOTHER OF MODERN CHEMISTRY

Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, wife of Lavoisier, then Rumford, was born in Montbrison on January 20, 1758 and died in Paris on February 10, 1836. She was a French scientist, painter and illustrator.

She was the wife and collaborator of the chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794).

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Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze is the daughter of the general farmer Jacques-Alexis Paulze. She lost her mother when she was only three years old. Her father then decided to send her to the Visitation convent in Montbrison, so that she could receive the classical education of a young girl from the upper bourgeoisie. It was there that she forged her character, taking a special interest in science and drawing. At the age of 13, Marie-Anne married Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, a general farmer known as the founder of modern chemistry and respiratory physiology.

The couple had no children. This circumstance perhaps explains the exclusive devotion that Marie-Anne and Antoine devoted to each other during their union. She was a precious companion for her husband and collaborated in his scientific work by translating various publications into French and by drawing all the plates illustrating his “Elementary Chemical Treaty” published in 1789.

In particular, she took numerous notes and drawings of their experiments, which enabled them to disseminate their discoveries, which were none other than the precepts of modern chemistry.

Gerda Taro
1910 - 1937

Pioneer of war photography
Gerda Taro, nee Gerta Pohorylle, was born in Stuttgart and educated in Leipzig, Germany. As she is from a Jewish family, she flees from the Nazis to Paris in 1933. There she lives a bohemian lifestyle with her friend Ruth Cerf and eventually meets Endre Ernő Friedmann, better known today as Robert Capa. Together, they start documenting the Spanish Civil War in 1935, after Gerda had invented their alter egos in order to better sell Endre's and her own pictures. Inspired by their own political convictions, they only take pictures of the the fight of the republican troops against the rebellious franquist troops. Both of them try to be as close to the action as possible - a goal which eventually led to Gerda's death. Despite the fact that her pictures only cover 1 year of the war, her pictures are those that went around the world. Together with Robert Capa and with David Seymour, she developed modern war photography as we know it today during this short period of time. Since she officially was Capa's agent and he sold many of her pictures as his own, it took until the 2000s until people began to recognize her as an artist in her own right rather than only his partner: In 2007, the so-called Mexican Suitcase was found in Mexico City, a suitcase containing thousands of negatives believed lost by Capa, Taro and Seymour. Since then, many photographs originally attributed to Capa are known to have been taken by Gerda. However, during her short life, Taro was well known and when she was killed in 1937 by a tank, - she was only 26 - thousands of people attended her funeral in Paris. The funeral procession, led by Pablo Neruda and Louis Aragon, became a demonstration against fascism.

Marie-Claire Chevalier
1955 - 2022

The one whose trial for illegal abortion changed the law against abortion in France
In 1971, Marie-Claire Chevalier was 16 years old when she became pregnant after being raped by a boy two years older than her in high school. The young woman asked her mother to help her have an abortion. The mother turned to an underground doctor, but her daughter suffered a hemorrhage that forced her to the hospital. Her rapist, arrested for stealing a car, decides to turn her in against his own freedom. She is directly accused, as are four other women, including her mother, because in 1971 the voluntary termination of a pregnancy was illegal in France and punishable by six months to two years in prison. She was then convicted at the Bobigny trial and all were defended by lawyer Gisèle Halimi. Gisèle Halimi made of this trial and of Marie-Claire Chevalier a political symbol for the right to abortion. The case will forever mark French history and symbolize real progress for women's rights. Extremely mediatized, the trial closely followed by many personalities ends on a brilliant victory. Three years later this judgement, things started to move. This event contributed to the adoption of the Veil law and the legalization of abortion in France in 1975.

Having suffered greatly from this trial, she attempted suicide. Then, she chose to return to anonymity by changing her name. At her death, she received tributes from the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron and feminist associations.

Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very talented and ready to share her ideas and stories with the world. But, that´s where she bumped into a big obstacle. At the beginning of the XX century being a female writer was seen as immoral work, especially for an educator. If she had risked meeting her goals, she could have lost her teaching job. She found a solution to this problem in her marriage by publishing her works under her husband's name. So, she was writing and waiting at home and he was the one receiving praise and applause at the premiers of the plays. Before dying, her husband confirmed the rumours circulating in theatre circles that she was the true author of his works.
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Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very talented and ready to share her ideas and stories with the world. But, that´s where she bumped into a big obstacle. At the beginning of the XX century being a female writer was seen as immoral work, especially for an educator. If she had risked meeting her goals, she could have lost her teaching job. She found a solution to this problem in her marriage by publishing her works under her husband's name. So, she was writing and waiting at home and he was the one receiving praise and applause at the premiers of the plays. Before dying, her husband confirmed the rumours circulating in theatre circles that she was the true author of his works.
continue reading

Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very...
continue reading