The France women's national team initially struggled on the international stage failing to qualify for three of the first FIFA Women's World Cups and the six straight UEFA European Championships before reaching the quarter-finals in the 1997 edition of the competition. However, since the beginning of the new millennium, France have become a mid-tier national team and one of the most consistent in Europe having qualified for their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003 and reaching the quarter-finals in two of the three European Championships held since 2000. In 2011, France recorded a fourth-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup; its best finish overall at the competition. In the following year, the club captured the 2012 Cyprus Cup.
In 1919, a women's football championship was established in France by the Fédération des Sociétés Féminines Sportives de France (FSFSF). On 29 April 1920, a team led by French women's football pioneer Alice Milliat traveled to England and played its first international match against English team Dick, Kerr's Ladies. The match, held in Preston, attracted more than 25,000 spectators. France won the match 2–0 and ended its tour with two wins, one draw, and one defeat. The following year, a return match in France at the Stade Pershing in Vincennes, a suburb of Paris, took place in front of over 12,000 spectators. The match ended in a 1–1 draw. In May 1921, France returned to England for friendlies. The team won its first match 5–1, then suffered three consecutive defeats. In October 1921, the English team returned to France contesting matches in Paris and Le Havre with both matches ending in stalemates. Despite women's football in England being prohibited by The Football Association in December 1921, France continued to go there on tour for matches. A victory for the French in Plymouth was followed by 0–0 draws in Exeter and Falmouth. By 1932, the female game had been called to an end and the women's league formed in 1919 by the FSFSF was discontinued. The last match by the FSFSF international team was another scoreless draw against Belgium on 3 April 1932.
Throughout the late 1960s in France, particularly in Reims, local players worked hard to promote awareness and the acceptance of women's football. A year before getting officially sanctioned, France took part in a makeshift European Cup against England, Denmark, and Italy. The tournament was won by the Italians. The Federal Council of the French Football Federation officially reinstated women's football in 1970 and France played its first official international match on 17 April 1971 against the Netherlands in Hazebrouck. That same year, France took part in the unofficial 1971 Women's World Cup, held in Mexico. The ladies continued the pirate games, which just made it into the margins of FIFA's records, until FIFA began overseeing the competition in 1991. Since 1982, UEFA has governed the European games.
In 1975, the women's football league was officially reinstated, this time with backing from the French Football Federation, the governing body of football in France. Stade Reims was the best team in the country throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, thus constituted much of the French national squad. For the non-official World Cup in 1978 in Taiwan, the team included the entire Reims squad. The team shared the title with Finland, who never actually played the final. Due to receiving minimal support from the French Football Federation, who ultimately looked at women's football as not being highly regarded, France struggled in international competition failing to advance past the first round of qualification in both the 1984 and 1987 UEFA Women's Championship. Francis Coché, who managed the team during these failures, was later replaced by Aimé Mignot. Mignot helped the team finally get past the first round, however, in the quarterfinals, they lost to Italy, which meant they wouldn't appear at the 1989 UEFA Women's Championship. Despite the initial positives, Mignot failed to continue his success with France failing to qualify for both the 1991 and 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup and losing in the first round of qualification in three straight UEFA Women's Championships. After almost a decade in charge, Mignot was replaced by former women's international Élisabeth Loisel.
With Loisel in charge, the FFF, along with then France national football team manager Aimé Jacquet, moved the women's national team to Clairefontaine, which had quickly become a high-level training facility for male football players. As a result of the move, younger women were afforded the same benefits from the facilities offered by Clairefontaine as the men. The success of female training led to the formation of the Centre National de Formation et d'Entraînement de Clairefontaine, which is now referred to as the female section of the Clairefontaine academy. Under the tutelage of Loisel, the first results appeared encouraging. They reached their first-ever Women's World Cup qualifying for the 2003 edition after defeating England over two legs in a play-off game in London and again at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. The match in Saint-Étienne attracted more than 23,000 spectators and was broadcast by the popular French broadcasting company Canal Plus. Loisel's squad later qualified for the 2005 European Championship, where they were knocked out in the group stage. She was eventually sacked after failing to qualify for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Loisel was replaced by former football player and now coach Bruno Bini. Bini had been in charge of several France female international youth sides before accepting the role and was tasked with the job of qualifying for UEFA Women's Euro 2009. Due to the success of the Clairefontaine project and the surprising emergence of the French women's first division, Division 1 Féminine, Bini inherited a team full of emerging, young, and influential talent, which included the likes of Camille Abily, Sonia Bompastor, Louisa Necib, Élise Bussaglia, Laura Georges, and Corine Franco. Bini was also provided with leadership from captain Sandrine Soubeyrand. Early results under Bini were extremely positive with France finishing first in their Euro qualifying group only conceded two goals. France also performed well in friendly tournaments, such as the Nordic Cup and Cyprus Cup. At UEFA Women's Euro 2009, France were inserted into the group of death, which consisted of themselves, world powerhouse Germany, no. 7 ranked Norway, and an underrated Iceland. France finished the group with 4 points, alongside Norway, with Germany leading the group. As a result of the competition's rules, all three nations qualified for the quarterfinals. In the knockout rounds, France suffered defeat to the Netherlands losing 5–4 on penalties after no goals were scored in regular time and extra time.
Bini's next task was to qualify for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup after the disappointment of four years earlier. In the team's qualifying group, France finished the campaign scoring 50 goals and conceded none over the course of ten matches (all wins). On 16 September 2010, France qualified for the World Cup following the team's 3–2 aggregate victory over Italy.