29 May 1830|
|Died||9 January 1905
Louise Michel (1830–1905) was a French anarchist, school teacher and medical worker. She often used the pseudonym Clémence and was also known as the red virgin of Montmartre. Journalist Brian Doherty has called her the "French grande dame of anarchy."
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She was brought up by her father's parents and received a liberal education. After her grandfather's death in 1850 she was trained to teach, but her refusal to acknowledge Napoleon III prevented her from serving in a state school. She became violently anti-Bonapartist, and is even said to have contemplated the assassination of Napoleon III. In 1866 she found her way to a school in the Montmartre quarter of Paris, where she threw herself ardently into works of charity and revolutionary politics.
During the Paris Commune of 1871, she was active as an ambulance woman treating those injured on the barricades. During the Siege of Paris she untiringly preached resistance against the Prussians. On the establishment of the Commune, she joined the National Guard. She offered to shoot Thiers, and suggested the destruction of Paris by way of vengeance for its surrender.
She was with the Communards who made their last stand in the cemetery of Montmartre, and was closely allied with Théophile Ferré, who was executed in November 1871. Michel dedicated a moving farewell poem to Ferré, l’œillet rouge (The Red Carnation). Upon learning of this loss, Victor Hugo dedicated his poem Viro Major to Michel. This ardent attachment was perhaps one of the sources of the exaltation which marked her career, and gave many handles to her enemies.
In December 1871, she was brought before the 6th council of war, charged with offences including trying to overthrow the government, encouraging citizens to arm themselves, and herself using weapons and wearing a military uniform. Defiantly, she vowed never to renounce the Commune, and dared the judges to sentence her to death. Reportedly, Michel told the court, “Since it seems that every heart that beats for freedom has no right to anything but a little slug of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I shall never cease to cry for vengeance.” 
She spent twenty months in prison and was sentenced to deportation.
At this time the Versailles press gave her the name la Louve rouge, la Bonne Louise (the red Louvre, the good Louise).
- If were to go to the black cemetery
- Brothers, throw on your sister,
- As a final hope,
- Some red 'carnations' in bloom.
- In the final days of Empire,
- When the people were awakening,
- It was your smile red carnation
- which told us that all was being reborn.
- Today, go blossom in the shadow of the black and sad prisons.
- Go, bloom near the somber captive,
- And tell him/her truly that we love him/her.
- Tell that through fleeting time
- Everything belongs to the future
- That the livid-browed conqueror
- can die more surely than the conquered.
She was loaded on to the ship Virginie on the 8th of August, 1873, to be deported to New Caledonia where she arrived four months later. Whilst on board, she became acquainted with Henri Rochefort, a famous polemicist, who became her friend until her death. She also met Nathalie Lemel, another figure active in the commune. Most likely, it was this latter contact that led Louise to become an anarchist. She remained in New Caledonia for seven years, refusing special treatment reserved for women. Befriending the local kanaks, she attempted to educate them and, unlike others in the commune, took their side in the 1878 Kanak revolt. She is even said to have sent the ringleader of the rebellion Ataï a piece of her scarf.
The following year, she received authorisation to become a teacher in Nouméa for the children of the deported — among them many Kabyles (Kabyles du Pacifique) from Cheikh Mokrani's rebellion (1871) — and later in schools for girls.
Return to France
In 1880, amnesty was granted to the Communards and Michel returned to Paris, her revolutionary passion undiminished. She gave a public address on the 21st of November, 1880 and continued her revolutionary activity in Europe, attending the anarchist congress in London in 1881, where she led demonstrations, spoke to huge crowds, and headed a libertarian school.
She travelled throughout France, preaching revolution, and in 1883 she led a Paris mob which pillaged a baker's shop. For this she was condemned to six years imprisonment, but was released in 1886, at the same time as Kropotkin and other prominent anarchists. After a short period of freedom she was again arrested for making inflammatory speeches. She was soon liberated, but, hearing that her enemies hoped to intern her in a lunatic asylum, she fled to England in 1890. She returned to France in 1895, taking part in the agitation provoked by the Dreyfus affair in 1898, and from this time forward, she split up her time between conferences and stays with friends in London.
She was stopped many times during demonstrations, and was again incarcerated for six years, but eventually freed after three years thanks to the intervention of Georges Clemenceau, so that she could see her mother again at the brink of death. She was again incarcerated several times, although for shorter periods of time. One could say she was constantly followed by the police.
During a period of illness she visited Algeria.
She was touring France and lecturing on behalf of anarchist causes when she died in Room 11, Hotel Oasis, Marseille on January 10, 1905. Her funeral in Paris drew an immense crowd that did not fail to impress contemporaries. Numerous orators spoke, among them the Master Mason of the Lodge of Universal Fraternity, provoking interest in whether or not Michel was in fact a Freemason. She was invited to a Lodge one year before her death, but was never officially "initiated". The members of the Lodge felt honored by her joining, and believed that her previous actions exempted her from the rite of initiation. However, she never attended the Lodge, and when asked why, responded that she "thought they didn't accept women."
Michel's grave is in the cemetery of Levallois-Perret, in one of the suburbs of Paris. The grave is maintained by the community. This cemetery is also the last resting place of her friend and fellow communard Théophile Ferré.
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A legendary figure of the labour movement, she had the ability of inciting crowds to act. She is often described in language more commonly used to for saints and heretics: e.g. "Bonne Louise" (Good Louise) and "Vierge rouge" (Red Virgin).
This woman, educated and cultured, intelligent without being shy and retiring, and lacking the beauty of certain demimondaines and other women of loose morals who populated the period before the Belle Epoque, was surrounded by many male celebrities. They were often her steadfast friends, until the end of her life, or more frequently to the end of theirs. For a period when women still had essentially no rights, she was in many respects an exception.
Photos taken of her reveal a woman with a strong and serious face, and a slender figure (it has since been argued that she and Dolores Ibárruri, (La Pasionaria), another left-of-center social activist, shared a resemblance). She was, with George Sand, one of the rare women of the 19th century to have worn male clothing at one stage of her life, revealing a feminist indignation.
Generous, devoted to the cause of the most wretched, it is without the slightest doubt her courage which best characterises her personality. When she found herself before the court, she used it as a political soapbox and imposed herself on the judges, who on several occasions commuted her sentences.
Her literary legacy consists of a few theoretical essays and some poems, legends and tales, including some for children, who never failed to interest her. It is perhaps ironic that although primarily remembered for her militant activism — i.e., for her so-called "Social Revolution" — her name is frequently given to primary and secondary schools in French towns. She thus has an implicit image in French culture as France's school teacher, rather than the secular missionary that she in fact was.
In 2005, the hundredth anniversary of her death was celebrated. During the celebration, two seminars paid homage to the "bonne Louise," notably the important March seminar "Louise Michel, figure of transversality" (led by Valérie Morignat), organized by the mayor of Paris and the cultural association Actazé. This event brought together 22 Louise Michel specialists who underlined an unclassifiable, brilliant, and still contemporary personality. Louise Michel's extraordinary influence can still be seen today in academic departments of feminine studies in many countries; and in the form of her thousand-page novel "La misère" (Poverty), which denounced the social crisis of the suburbs long before it was recognized as a problem.
- À travers la vie, poetry, Paris, 1894.
- Le Bâtard impérial, by L. Michel and J. Winter, Paris, 1883.
- Le claque-dents, Paris.
- La Commune, Paris, 1898.
- Contes et légendes, Paris, 1884.
- Les Crimes de l'époque, nouvelles inédites, Paris, 1888.
- Défense de Louise Michel, Bordeaux, 1883.
- L'Ère nouvelle, pensée dernière, souvenirs de Calédonie (prisoners' songs), Paris, 1887
- La Fille du peuple par L. Michel et A. Grippa, Paris (1883) Fleurs et ronces, poetry, Paris,
- Le Gars Yvon, légende bretonne, Paris, 1882.
- Lectures encyclopédiques par cycles attractifs, Paris, 1888.
- Ligue internationale des femmes révolutionnaires, Appel à une réunion. Signed "Louise Michel", Paris, 1882.
- Le livre du jour de l'an : historiettes, contes et légendes pour les enfants, Paris, 1872.
- Lueurs dans l'ombre. Plus d'idiots, plus de fous. L'âme intelligente. L'idée libre. L'esprit lucide de la terre à Dieu... Paris, 1861.
- Manifeste et proclamation de Louise Michel aux citoyennes de Paris, Signed "Louise Maboul", Paris, 1883.
- Mémoires, Paris, 1886, t. 1.
- Les Méprises, grand roman de mœurs parisiennes, par Louise Michel et Jean Guêtré, Paris, 1882.
- Les Microbes humains, Paris, 1886. (translated by Brian Stableford as The Human Microbes, ISBN 978-1-61227-116-3)
- La Misère by Louise Michel, 2nd part, and Jean Guêtré 1st part, Paris, 1882.
- Le Monde nouveau, Paris, 1888 (translated by Brian Stableford as The New World, ISBN 978-1-61227-117-0)
- Vol. I. Avant la Commune. Preface by Laurent Tailhade, Alfortville, 1905.
- Les Paysans by Louise Michel et Émile Gautier, Paris, Incomplete.
- Prise de possession, Saint-Denis, 1890.
- Le Rêve (in a work by Constant Martin), Paris, 1898.
- Légendes et chants de gestes canaques. Présentation. Gérard Oberlé. Edition 1900. 1988.
- Je vous écris de ma nuit, correspondance générale, 1850-1904, edition established by Xavière Gauthier, Édition de Paris-Max Chaleil, 1999.
In the press
Michel was often discussed in the French press during her lifetime, as well as the English-language press in Britain and the United States. These are a sample of press caricatures of Michel:
- Mason, Paul (4 May 2007). Live working or die fighting: how the working class went global. Harvill Secker. ISBN 978-0-436-20615-3. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
- Maclellan, Nic (2004). Louise Michel. Ocean Press. ISBN 978-1-876175-76-4. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
- Michel, Louise (January 1981). The Red Virgin: memoirs of Louise Michel. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-0062-3. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
- Thomas, Edith (1980). Louise Michel. Black Rose Books. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
- Thomas, Edith; Atkinson, James; Atkinson, Starr (1 April 2007). The Women Incendiaries. Haymarket Books. ISBN 978-1-931859-46-2. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
- The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Police by Alex Butterworth (Pantheon Books, 2010)
- Doherty, Brian (2010-12-17) The First War on Terror, Reason
- Louise Michel, a French anarchist women who fought in the Paris commune
- Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries: The Inspiring Story of the Women of the Paris Commune "", Haymarket Books. Accessed June 23, 2009.
- The Red Eyelet, a common form of Dianthus, rather than the big modern carnation.
- From the JSTOR website
- I Stayed in the Room Louise Michel Died..., forum post at libcom.org, accessed 2006-06-19[dead link]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Louise Michel.|
- Louise Michel archive at the Anarchy Archives
- Les Louise Mitchels - French D.I.Y. jazz-punk band influenced by the life and work of Louise Michel
- Paul Foot on Louise Michel
- Louise Michel at Find a Grave