Louise Michel was a an anarchist, feminist badass who fought during the Paris Commune and raised hell wherever she went.
Paris is not only a fancy city. It’s not only the city of Love. It’s not only the City of Lights. It’s also the city of the wildest riots ever. If you think the Gilet Jaunes movement was huge, wait till you find out about the Paris Commune, the left’s most beloved historical episode.
La Commune, as it is known in Paris, started on March 18th 1871, almost one hundred years after the French Revolution (which happened in 1791). In many ways, the Paris Commune was the culmination of the Revolution. France experimented with Republics from 1792 to 1800 and 1848 to 1852, but the Paris Commune meant to go all in. When I say all in I mean equality for all with the most audacious public policies France had ever known until then.
In 1871, riots sprang from Paris to put an end to Napoleon III's Second Empire, so they barricaded the hell out of Paris and established their own society for four months. Militants even ruled Paris for two of those months.
The Paris Commune was mostly led by men, but women played their part, and one of them was particularly savage (her words, not mine).
Louise Michel was the illegitimate daughter of a serving girl and the son of the lord of the manor where she worked. She grew up in the beautiful castle of Château à Vroncourt la Cote, which meant Michel had access to the best education available at the time. She eventually completed teacher training, and opened a school in Paris known for its modern and progressive worldview. She published poetry and then became involved in the thriving revolutionary environment in Paris, including collaborations with feminist groups.
Then Napoleon III started a war against Prussia, a country that totally overpowered France, eventually sieged Paris and even captured Napoleon. Paris was left to defend itself, so the National Guard, a highly politicized force, came to its rescue. Michel enlisted at the National Guard and then the Paris Commune was declared, so she was elected at the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee, which was an important role in the whole Commune business.
As one of the leaders, she was a staunch feminist, even welcoming prostitutes into the corps of women nursing injured fighters:
“Who has more right than these women, the most pitiful of the old order’s victims, to give their lives for the new?”
Michel joined the armed forces of the Commune against the French government which meant a full-on fighting, firing her rifle, assassination plots against what she perceived where threats and corrupt leaders. Many years later she published memoirs where she claimed: "Oh, I'm a savage all right, I like the smell of gunpowder, grapeshot flying through the air, but above all, I'm devoted to the Revolution."
Unfortunately, the Paris Commune ended with a bloodshed in May 1871. Later that year, she was imprisoned and charged for attempting to overthrow the government, using weapons, and encouraging citizens to arm themselves. And I mean, uh duh, of course she did all those things, that’s what a revolution is all about. So she was sentenced to move to New Caledonia, an island prison right next to Australia, where she supported locals against white French colonists and incited revolts even there!
Louise Michel was eventually amnestied, and came home, to resume her career as an unapologetic provocateur. She would later declare:
"It is true, perhaps, that women like rebellions. We are no better than men in respect to power, but power has not yet corrupted us."
Cover picture by @pat_m_paris
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