France Seeks a Rarity: A Woman for Its Pantheon

Only 2 of 73 buried there are female
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 28, 2013 8:47 AM CST
France Seeks a Rarity: A Woman for Its Pantheon
Then-President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves the Pantheon in Paris in 2011.   (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer,Pool)

France's Pantheon, completed in 1790, seeks to honor the country's "great men"—but the powers that be agree that the next great man probably should be a woman. Since the Pantheon's creation, only 73 people have been interred there. Only two of those are women, and only one of them was buried there for her own achievements: the scientist Marie Curie. (The other is the wife of a famed chemist.) Now, the country is wrestling with who should be next in a decision with deep ties to national identity, writes Alexander Stille in the New Yorker.

Traditionally, the president chooses; François Hollande commissioned a report to help decide. That report included an online survey, and respondents "mostly seem less enthusiastic about military exploits, diplomatic or political successes, and more attached to civic, intellectual, and humanitarian engagement," says national monuments chief Philippe Belaval. As to women, "the Republic will no longer ignore half of its children," he wrote, "and the totality of our population will as a result feel better integrated." Among the candidates:

  • Olympe de Gouges, a playwright, feminist, and abolitionist who was ultimately guillotined (by this guy)
  • Louise Michel, a 19th-century feminist and anarchist who helped indigenous people in New Caledonia rebel against France
  • Anthropologist and German concentration camp survivor Germaine Tillion
Stille, for his part, offers the interesting choice of black American dancer Josephine Baker, who got her French citizenship in 1937, worked with the anti-Nazi resistance, and pushed racial equality long before the civil rights movement came along. Click for the full story. (More Pantheon stories.)

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