France’s highest achieving individuals are reburied (sometimes symbolically) in the Panthéon in Paris.
A total of 81 individuals have been “Panthéonised” since the Revolution. I thought I’d make a selection of five of the many women who must be among this illustrious throng.
I assumed that in a country with “equality” in its national motto we’d be talking about at least 25% females if not 50%. It turns out that I can do all the female occupants of the Panthéon in one short list.
Dare I suggest that this hints at institutional sexism if not misogyny? Ironically some of the men interred in the crypt are described as “leading figures in the fight for equality”.
Here are a few details about the six exceptional women in the Panthéon, in reverse chronological order of their arrival.
1. Josephine Baker 2021
The black American-born dancer, actress and civil rights activist is symbolically buried in the Panthéon. Her actual grave is in Monaco.
For a number of years she lived in a chateau in the Dordogne where she brought up a “rainbow tribe” of adopted children.
Read more: US-born French icon Josephine Baker to enter France’s Pantheon
2. Simone Veil 2018
A Holocaust survivor, Veil went on to be a popular politician and champion of European integration.
As health minister she is remembered for her fearless promotion of women’s rights, including legalized abortion and access to contraception.
Read more: Simone Veil: a force for good, for women, for France, for all
3. Germaine Tillion and 4. Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz 2015
These two women are in the Panthéon because they were members of the French resistance in World War Two.
Both of them were betrayed, arrested and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
Read more: Resistance heroes enter the Pantheon
5. Marie Curie 1995
The Polish born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, known by her married name Curie, was a pioneer researching the benefits of radiation in health care.
She was the first female professor at the Sorbonne and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
She died in 1934.
Read more: Marie Curie, the life-saver driven by discovery
6. Sophie Berthelot 1907
Interments in the Panthéon began during the Revolution but 52 men were buried in the Panthéon before they got around to burying a woman, and then not because she was famous but because she was a famous man’s wife.
Sophie died a few hours before her chemist husband, Marcellin, on 18 March 1907 and it was decided that they could not be split up in death.
This decision has always been a little controversial.
She is described as not being in the Panthéon “out of merit” but by the generous sentimentality of her husband’s friends and admirers.
No one seriously asks the question: would the man have been so great a chemist and politician if he had not had a great wife?
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