Many women writers, philosophers, scientists and artists have left their mark on history over the centuries and made Paris the city it is today. Enjoy this discovery of the portraits of some of the most distinguished women who have expressed their talents in many ways and continue to inspire people throughout the world today.
The Palais-Royal was the last place of residence of Colette, a French woman of letters, actress and journalist, who described it as a small province in Paris. She became known for her ‘Claudine’ novels and was the second woman to be elected to the Goncourt Academy in 1945. A committed feminist, she worked for the freedom of women and wrote many books on bisexuality
The daughter and granddaughter of chefs with 3 Michelin stars, Anne-Sophie Pic has been running her restaurant La Dame de Pic here since 2012. In 2007, she won a Michelin star and was elected ‘chef of the year’ by the Michelin guides. She is one of the few women chefs to have received 3 stars.
French-American painter, visual artist and sculptor Nikki de Saint Phalle was a member of the ‘New Realists’ group. She achieved world-wide fame for her paintings from the ‘Tir’ collection - a series of paintings in paint and plaster created in the 1960s. In 1971, she married Jean Tinguely and together they designed the Stravinsky Fountain, which was created alongside the building of the Centre Pompidou.
Regarded by some as a foreign traitor, a martyr of the French Revolution, a fashion icon and now a queen of pop, Queen Marie Antoinette continues to unleash passions more than 200 years after her death. Considered one of the most famous queens in the world, she, along with her husband King Louis XVI, is remembered for her extraordinary destiny and the tragic end to her life. It is in the Conciergerie, a revolutionary prison that Marie-Antoinette spent the last weeks of her life. The queen was judged a few metres from her cell in the Revolutionary Court and wrote her last will and testament there before being beheaded on Place de la Concorde.
French author and actress Simone Signoret performed alongside the greatest actors of her time. She was the second French actress to receive the Oscar for Best Actress in 1960, and the César for Best Actress in 1977. Popular with the French public, she played many roles throughout her career and was quick to affirm her political ideas, being for example one of 121 intellectuals to sign an open letter to the government to recognize the Algerian War as a legitimate struggle for independence. She married Yves Montand and the couple lived for a time in the former bookshop ‘La Roulotte’ at 15 Place Dauphine. They are both buried at the cemetery of Père-Lachaise.
Passionate about mathematics, Sophie Germain read Newton and Euler as a child and sought to become a mathematician. She then gave herself the pseudonym ‘Antoine-Auguste Le Blanc’ so that she could enter the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, then exclusively reserved for men. She worked largely on the theory of numbers (Fermat's theorem) and made many discoveries including the famous Sophie Germain theorem. She lived at this address for many years until her death in 1831.
Stop off at 5 Rue Ecole de Médecine, once the residence of Sarah Bernhardt. Described by Jean Cocteau as a ‘monstre sacré’, Sarah Bernhardt had an international stage career and influenced the world of fashion, literature and decorative arts of her time. She was director of the Théâtre à la Renaissance then the Théâtre des Nations which she named Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt. Her commitment to social justice led to her siding with Emile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair and she was against the death penalty. After the amputation of one of her legs in 1915, she subsequently only performed while sitting down. This immensely popular actress was given a state funeral when she died in 1923.
A physicist and chemist, Marie Curie carried out research into a new phenomenon that she was to call radioactivity. Her research also led to the discovery of two new elements ‘radium’ and ‘polonium’ with her husband Pierre Curie. After she received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, the Université de Paris and the Institut Pasteur built a new building named after her, the Laboratoire Curie, part of the Sorbonne University, and now the Institut Curie. She was a professor of physics there for almost 20 years and was the first woman to teach students. In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Today, she is buried with her husband in the Pantheon. It was at this Institute that her daughter Irène Curie and Frédéric Joliot discovered artificial radioactivity in 1934.
It was in this apartment, opposite the Luxembourg Gardens, that the generous-spirited Françoise Sagan, who hated solitude, organized receptions to which she invited her friends Orson Welles, Ava Gardner and Georges Pompidou. After achieving fame with her first novel, ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ in 1954 when she was only 18 years old, Françoise Sagan enjoyed a long career as a writer and playwright writing more than fifty novels, short stories, plays and songs.
Olympe de Gouges wrote the ‘Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne ('Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen’) in 1791, at No. 18 Rue Servandoni. A feminist and reformist, she campaigned for the abolition of slavery and demanded refuge for the most vulnerable. She was truly committed and spoke out for the right to unemployment for workers and the right for women to divorce. She was the second woman after Marie-Antoinette to be beheaded during the French Revolution.
The Café de Flore was considered as the ‘headquarters’ of several great spirits, including Simone de Beauvoir. She and her husband Jean-Paul Sartre made this place their ‘office’ and considered the café their home. Simone de Beauvoir spent her days here writing. She subsequently became one of the most widely read authors in the world, winning the Goncourt prize for her novel ‘Les Mandarins’ (‘The Mandarins’) in 1954. A theorist of the feminine movement with her book ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’ (‘The Second Sex’), Simone de Beauvoir took part in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s.
A painter of Ukrainian origin, Sonia Delaunay and her husband Robert lived and worked as artists at No. 16 Rue de St-Simon. Fauvism inspired her first creations, notably the famous painting ‘Philomène’, now in the Centre Pompidou. Sonia Delaunay was a renowned artist during her lifetime. In 1964, she was offered a retrospective of her work at the Louvre and in 1975 she was awarded the distinction of Officer of the Legion of Honour. After her death in 1979, she left a rich body of work including paintings, printed fabrics, books on artists, haute couture dresses and objets d'art. Sonia Delaunay said she was incapable of defining her art. Discriminated against by art critics of the modern era, the Delaunay style is now recognized worldwide.
From 1798, this address was the place of residence of Madame de Staël, a great novelist of the romantic movement. Germaine de Staël played a political role with her books ‘Delphine’ in 1802 and ‘Corinne ou l'Italie’ in 1807, which denounced the conditions of women in the 18th century. Most politicians and writers of the time considered her as encroaching on the domains reserved for men.
Known to the public for her role as Sissi – The Young Empress, Romy Schneider starred in films with the most notable directors of the time such as Visconti, Tavernier, Welles and Sautet. Committed to women's rights, Romy Schneider campaigned in the 1970s for the right to abort and signed the Manifesto of the 343 for abortion, stating that she herself had had an abortion. She lived in Paris, on Rue Barbet-de-Jouy until her untimely death at the age of 43 in 1982, after a great international career. In 2008, Romy Schneider received an honorary César for her entire career.
No. 11 Place Vauban was the address at which Simone Veil lived with her husband Antoine and their children. Her speech in favour of the right to abortion went down in history when on 17 January 1975, the ‘Veil Law’ was passed, making the voluntary interruption of pregnancy legal. Simone Veil was an emeritus politician and today rests at the Panthéon
A lawyer by profession, Germaine Poinso-Chapuis joined the resistance with the ‘Mouvement de libération nationale’. After the Liberation, she was in 1947 the first French woman minister, appointed to Public Health here at No. 14 Avenue Duquesne. She was the only one to hold this post from 1947 to 1948 until Simone Veil in 1974.
A psychoanalyst for suffering children and a paediatrician, Françoise Dolto focused her research on two major ideas: ‘the child is a person in their own right and a being of language’. In 1979, she created the Maison Verte at No.13 Rue Meilhac with five psychoanalysts and educators. The place is intended to be somewhere children under the age of 4 can go with their parents or guardians.
The birthplace of Suzanne Lenglen, a tennis player and accomplished sportswoman. She learned golf, archery, swimming and horse riding, but it was in tennis that she excelled, winning the title of world champion in 1919, at the age of only 15. She won a total of 241 tournaments and three Olympic medals (two of them gold) and was nicknamed ‘the divine’ for her sporting achievements. In 1997, the French Tennis Federation paid tribute to her by naming the second tennis court in the city Roland-Garros after her.
Léonie Bathiat known as ‘Arletty’ lived at No. 14 Rue de Rémusat; a plaque commemorating her can be seen on the front of the building. Firstly a stage actress, she played the roles of Sacha Guitry, Colette, Jean Cocteau …, she soon became an actress for the big screen, forming a real film couple with Marcel Carné who offered her the role of Madame Raymonde in ‘Hôtel du Nord’, a role that brought her the success and fame that endures today.
The singer Barbara also lived at this address and the name inspired her to write the song ‘Rémusat’.