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Who are the six women in the Panthéon Paris? Who are these six women honoured to have a place in the crypt?
Originally erected as a church to honour Sainte Geneviève, after the French Revolution the Panthéon was transformed into a temple where famous French men (yes, mostly men) are interred. Wandering through the crypt, you’ll find a real who’s who of the French greats.
Tombs of philosophers including Voltaire, writers including Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and scientists including Pierre and Marie Curie are found in the crypt. The latest addition to the Panthéon (November 2021) was Josephine Baker, one of the six women honoured in the Panthéon.
These six women in the Panthéon Paris have incredible stories and extraordinary life achievements. This article is a brief introduction to the remarkable women who are honoured in the Panthéon. They are listed in the order in which they entered the Panthéon.
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Sophie Berthelot
Entered into the Panthéon: 1907
Sophie Berthelot is the first woman to have been buried in the Panthéon and is referred to as the “unknown of the Panthéon.’ It was her husband, Marcellin Berthelot, a world-renowned chemist, who received the honour of being interred in the Panthéon. They died on the same day and Marcellin’s Berthelot’s last request was to be buried beside his wife.
Thus, the first woman was buried in the Panthéon in 1907, not exactly on her own merit. It took eighty-eight years before the second woman was buried in the Panthéon, this time on her own merit.
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Marie Curie
Entered into the Panthéon: 1995
Marie Curie, an outstanding Polish-French physicist and chemist, is the only woman to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes. The first, in 1903, was awarded to Marie and her husband Pierre along with Henri Becquerel for their research on radiation. In 1911, Marie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her research on polonium and radium.
Both Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, who died in an accident 28 years before her, were moved to the Panthéon in 1995.
Pro Travel Tip: Just a few steps from the Panthéon is the Musée Curie. You can visit the laboratory where Marie Curie did her research.
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Germaine Tillion
Entered into the Panthéon: May 27, 2015
May 27 is Resistance Day and in 2015 it was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. On this day, two brave and strong women of the French Resistance entered the Panthéon: Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz. Two male resistance fighters were also entered into the Panthéon on this day: Pierre Brossolette and Jean Zay.
I first “saw” Germaine Tillion wandering the streets of Belleville in 2020. There she was painted on the roll-down screen of a bookstore. I was intrigued by the warmth of her grandmotherly face and the words written below: “Résistante” and “Ethnologue.”
I needed to know more.
Germaine Tillion was an ethnologist who studied the Berber ethnic group in Algeria between 1934 and 1940. When she returned to Paris, it had been invaded by the Germans.
Germaine Tillion was an active French resistance fighter during WWII. She was a member and eventually head of the prisoner-of-war escape network called Musée de l’Homme. The group was infiltrated and she was denounced, arrested, and sent to Ravensbrück, one of the Nazi concentration camps.
Germaine Tillion miraculously survived the concentration camps. In 1973 she published a book entitled, “Ravensbrück: An eyewitness account of a women’s concentration camp” telling her story along with her in-depth post-war research.
In 1947 she received the Pulitzer Prize for her heroic acts in WWII.
In 2008 at 100 years old, Germaine Tillion died. Seven years later, she was honoured with a place in the crypt of the Panthéon although her family did not wish to move her physical remains.
“At the end of my journey, I realize how fragile and malleable man is. Nothing is ever acquired. Our duty of vigilance must be absolute. Evil can return at any time, it smoulders everywhere, and we must act at the time when there is still time to prevent the worst.” Germaine Tillion
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz
Entered into the Panthéon: May 27, 2015
And there, right beside her friend Germaine Tillion was a depiction of Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz.
Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, the niece of General Charles de Gaulle, was a member of the French resistance during WWII. In 1943 she was arrested and then in 1944 sent to Ravensbrück, Hitler’s concentration camp for women.
After her liberation, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz was active in politics in the Ministry of Culture and was the President of an association dedicated to helping former WW II deportees. Later in life, she wrote a book recounting life in the Ravensbrück camp entitled, La Traversée de la Nuit.
Thirteen years after her death, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz was honoured with a place in the crypt of the Panthéon although her physical remains are at the cemetery where she was buried in Bossey, France.
Thank you street art for introducing me to these two brave women and piquing my curiosity to find out more. These portrayals are still intact and can be found on rue de Tourtille in the 20th arrondissment.
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Simone Veil
Entered into the Panthéon: July 1, 2018
Simone Veil’s entire family was deported in April 1944. Along with her mother and sister, the three women were sent to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen. The men in her family were never heard from again and Simone Veil’s mother perished in the camps.
Simone Veil and her sister Madeleine returned from the camps and Simone started her studies in law and political science. She had an extraordinary career as a dedicated lawyer, magistrate, and politician. Using her strong voice as a women’s rights activist, she led change to the French laws around contraception and abortion. Simone Veil also played a key role in protecting the rights of prisoners, immigrants and AIDS victims. Simone Veil was the President of the European Parliament and was entered into the Academie Française, an honour normally reserved for men.
After her death, French citizens rallied to have Simone Veil honoured in the Pantheon.
October 2022: A new film is being released about Simone Veil’s life – Simone: Le Voyage du Siecle. It is a moving and monumental tribute to Simone Veil’s extraordinary life and message to humanity. The English title is Simone Veil, A Woman of the Century.
Women In The Panthéon Paris: Josephine Baker
Entered into the Panthéon: November 30, 2021
Josephine Baker grew up extremely poor in St. Louis Missouri and was married for the first time at age thirteen. And how then, did she end up inducted in the Panthéon in Paris?
Josephine Baker could sing and dance and joined musical comedy troupes playing to black audiences in New York. From there, she was chosen to star in a show called La Revue Negre in Paris. She was a complete sensation, moved to Paris, and became the darling of the Roaring Twenties with her exotic and erotic dances and her cheetah!
Josephine Baker became a French citizen in 1937 and was very active in the French Resistance during WWII. After the war, she was honoured with the Croix de Guerre from the French military.
Josephine Baker adopted twelve orphans, her “Rainbow Tribe,” from around the world. She lived with them in her Château des Milandes. When she became bankrupt, the Princess of Monaco came to her rescue.
Flamboyant and determined, Josephine Baker was the first American and first black woman honoured in the Panthéon.
On November 30, 2021, I stood and watched the grand procession and dedication to Josephine Baker as her coffin was carried up rue Soufflot towards the Panthéon. Inside were four handfuls of earth from Josephine Baker’s life: Saint Louis, Paris, Milandes, and Monaco.
President Emmanuel Macron spoke highly of Josephine Baker during his moving speech “War heroine, fighter, dancer, singer, black defending blacks but first and foremost a woman defending the human race, American and French.”
He ended with these words,
“You enter our Pantheon because born American, basically there is no more French than you.”
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the women in the Panthéon.
Until next time,
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Other Paris and France Travel Tips:
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If you are going further afield in France, make sure to check out my page on France.