Six Women in the Paris Panthéon

“To its great men, the grateful fatherland,
” says the inscription at the entrance of the Panthéon in Paris, a magnificent mausoleum honoring many heroes of French history, including Jean Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo or Voltaire. Only six of them are heroines though. Let’s uncover who these exceptional women were and what their stories that keep inspiring until today are. 

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie was the first woman in history to be buried in the Panthéon for her merits. First woman to win the Nobel Prize, first person to win the Nobel Prize in two different fields, both Marie and her husband Pierre were transferred to the Panthéon in honor of their scientific achievements in 1995.

Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz (1920-2002)
Heroine of the French resistance, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz joined the Resistance movement after the German occupation of France in 1940. She was imprisoned and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. She had managed to survive and after the liberation at the end of the war, Geneviève became the president of Association Nationale des Anciennes Déportées et Internées de la Résistance. She spent her life fighting for laws against poverty, healthcare rights, housing rights. She was transferred to the Panthéon in 2015.

Germaine Tillion (1907-2008)
Germaine Tillion was French ethnologist and member of the Musée de l’Homme resistance network during the World War II. She is honored for her many acts of kindness and selflessness, among then helping a Jewish family to escape by giving them her family’s papers. She was also helping prisoners to flee and she collected intelligence for the Allied forces. She was eventually arrested and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. She managed to escape and spent rest of her life fighting for emancipation of women and protesting against torture. She was transferred to the Panthéon in 2015.

Simone Veil (1927-2017)
Feminist icon Simone Veil’s death started a landslide of petition signatures for her body to be buried in the Panthéon. Her eventual burial in the mausoleum represents one of the few expression of society having its say on honors in the Panthéon. Simone was a holocaust survivor and lifelong women’s rights advocate. Her most prominent act as a Minister of Health was legalizing contraception and abortion in France in the face of strong opposition. She was buried in the Panthéon in 2018 together with her husband as was their wish. 

Josephine Baker (1906-1976)
American born actress and singer, Josephine Baker became active in the French Resistance movement during the World War II after obtaining French citizenship. She is the first Black American to be buried in the Panthéon. She adopted twelve orphans from around the world, and was a fearless defender of rights for African-Americans. She was put into the Panthéon in 2021 and was the last person to be added so far.

Sophie Berthelot (1837-1907)
L'inconnue du Panthéon, the story of Sophie Berthelot is somewhat different. She was technically first women to be buried in the Panthéon, although not on her merits, but alongside her husband, Marcellin Berthelot, world-renowned chemist, who wished to remain beside his wife even in death. She is hence not remembered as a heroine, but is till nowadays used as an example of still ongoing gender inequality, illustrating how historically it has been only possible for women to enter the Panthéon at their husband’s wish rather than on their own merits. 

-Dominika, thanks for your contribution!

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