Part 6: Allons Enfants de la Patrie: military women
Although the military is traditionally considered a men’s place, and fighting and warfare a male occupation, there have always been women in the military. Of course, there are myths of armed women, the Amazons. But the female participation in warfare goes beyond that. Women were involved in several ways, in wartime, many women accompanied soldiers as wifes, sisters and daughters, worked as sutlers, cooks, laundresses or prostitutes. In some cases, warfare was a real “family business”, and wifes would take over their husbands’ arms when they fell. It was only with the emergence of the modern nation state that women were excluded entirely from the military life (until, of course, they were again accepted as soldiers). During the French Revolution, things were complicated. On the one hand, the pre-modern female participation persisted, on the other hand, the government tried to exclude women from the military as much as possible. Additionally, there were women who demanded that the citizens’ right to bear arms and fight the enemies of the revolution should be applied to women, too. Thus, not many women took part in military struggles, but there were women throughout the Revolution and even Napoleonic times. Some were sisters, daughter or wifes of soldiers and accompanied their family in order to be provided for. Some took up arms for reasons of revolutionary conviction, and others participated occasionally in militias and the National Guard.
Marie-Thérèse Figueur, also “Madame Sans-Gêne” (1774 – 1861), soldier, fought in several battles during the Republic (Toulon) and Napoleonian times. Here is her Wikipedia entry, and here her portrait.
Marie Charpentier-Haucourt, laundress, one of the “Vainqueurs de la Bastille”.
Marie Chevalier, received a pension by the Constituante for being a “vainqueur de la Bastille”.
Marie-Françoise Willaume, active in the taking of the Bastille.
Marguerite Pinigre-Vener, helped to munition the canon of the National Guard during the taking of the Bastille.
Marie-Jeanne Schellinck (1757 – 1840), was a Belgian soldier who fought in the French Revolution, first disguised as man, but eventually as woman. She was a corporal, later a sergeant and a sub-lieutenant. Here is her Wikipedia entry and here her portrait.
Anne Quatresols, enlisted in the cavalry at the age of thirteen, distinguished herself by brilliance and obtained a collection in her honour by the Jacobins.
Madeleine Petitjean, mother of 17 children, she disguised as man and fought in the Vendéen army, was captured by royalists but released and obtained a gratification by the Convention.
Marie-Félicité-Louise Fernig (1770 - 1841), daughter, sister and later wife of a military, she joined the revolutionary army at a young age alongside her sister, disguised as man. They were noticed by Dumouriez and fought in the Battle of Valmy. Involved in Dumouriez’ treachery, the were forbidden to return to France until 1802, but lived in Bruxelles afterwards, were Félicité was married. Her and her sister’s Wikipedia entry is here.
Marie-Françoise-Théophile-Robertine Fernig (1775 - 1819), daughter and sister of a military, she joined the revolutionary army at a young age alongside her sister, disguised as man. They were noticed by Dumouriez and fought in the Battle of Valmy. Involved in Dumouriez’ treachery, the were forbidden to return to France until 1802, but lived in Bruxelles afterwards, were Théophile died unmarried. Her and her sister’s Wikipedia entry is here.
Angélique Drulon, fought as a soldier in the Revolutionary war, was member of the Légion d’honneur
Françoise Rouelle, qui fit partie des engagés volontaires d’août 1792, combattit à Spire, à Mayence, à Landau.
Marie Angélique Duchemin-Brûlon (1772-1859), was the daughter, sister and wife of soldiers in the revolutionary army. When her father and husband fell in 1792, she decided to take up arms. She was soon promoted corporal, later sergent and sous-lieutenant. Due to a severe wound, she had to stop fighting but was admitted to the hôtel des Invalides, where she remained until her death. She was the first woman to be admitted in the hôtel des Invalides and to receive the Croix d’Honneur, by Napoleon III. Here is her Wikipedia entry and here her portrait.
Manette Dupont, editor of a petition to the Convention that claimed the formation of a defense corps made up of 10000 women, named “Corps Fernig” in honour of the Fernig sisters, and described in detail how this corps would be organised. She was not heard, though.
Rose Bouillon, wife of a soldier, left her home and two children, dressed as man, to enroll as a volunteer soldier for the defense of the Republic alongside her husband. She remains at her post after his death in battle.
Mme Favre, wife of a soldier, joins the army as a food supplier when she learns that her husband’s division lacked nearly everything, but ultimately took up arms. She is nominated vice-captain by the gunners. She was captured by German troops, interrogated for military secrets but said nothing. When the Germans decidec she knew no German they released her. Back in France, she could repeat what she had heard in the ennemy camp.
Mme Communeau, fought the royalist army in the Vendée.
Marthès, conquered an Austrian standard.
Ursule Aby, Lieutenant.
Pélagie Dulière, Sous-lieutenant.
Catherine Pochetat, Sous-lieutenant, a Paris artist who joined the National Guard and took part in the taking of the Bastille and the Tuileries.
Degressain, was mutilated in battle.
Mme Fartier, gunner.
Ledague, young soldier of 20 years, she asked for permission to return to the army after the Convention prohibited military service for women. Her speech before the Convention was applauded and she enrolled as a volunteer in a Paris batallion.