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French Louise MICHEL

French anarchist, school teacher and medical worker

Source :  Gilles BLANZIN

Born: on May 29, 1830 in Vroncourt-la-Côte, Haute-Marne, France
Died: on January 09, 1905 in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France


Louise Michel was born at the Château of Vroncourt, the daughter of a serving-maid, Marianne Michel, and the son of the châtelain, Etienne Charles Demahis.

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 said to have contemplated the assassination of Napoleon III. She found her way in 1866 to a school in the Montmartre quarter of Paris, where she threw herself ardently into works of charity and revolutionary politics.

She was active during the Paris Commune as an ambulance woman, treating those injured on the barricades. During the Siege of Paris she untiringly preached resistance to 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). It is without a doubt that upon learning of this loss, Victor Hugo dedicated his poem to Michel, Viro Major. 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 to never 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. It was at this time that the Versailles press gave her the name la Louve rouge, la Bonne Louise (the red she-wolf, the good Louise).

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