Posted February 20, 2022

The Women Who Helped Shape Paris

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There’s a reason we call it history and not herstory. Women have helped shape cities, science, and art throughout the centuries, yet they only occupy 0.5% of the world’s narrative. Something doesn’t add up, right? We agree and so, with Women’s History Month here, we want to honor just a few of the women who have helped make Paris the magnifique city that it is today.

Photo by Unsplash

George Sand

If there was ever a trail-blazing woman in Paris, it was George Sand. Born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, she chose George Sand as her nom de plume; an unorthodox choice that would no doubt raise an eyebrow or two even today.

Often described as a writer who was way before her time, this famously known French novelist’s works were even more popular back in mid-19th century than some of the country’s most renowned literary masters, including Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac.

Sand was actively engaged in Paris politics and openly wrote about her political views, something which was heavily frowned upon for women during her time. She wrote from a young age in support of women’s rights and the challenges of the poor and working class.

George Sand, Photo by Nadar,,1864

It took a strong woman to fight for sexual equality back in the 1800’s, a time when women needed a special license to dress like a man. George Sand wore men’s clothing without ever seeking a permit, claiming it was a less expensive and more convenient way of dressing than typical women’s fashion. She was also known for smoking cigars and cigarettes in public, another act that was unacceptable for women to do at the time.

Obviously someone who did not let the times or the city she lived in limit her, she used her power as a writer to shed light on the social problems facing women at the time. We raise our glasses – and maybe our eyebrows a bit too – to your political and literary strength George Sand, along with your exceptional taste in fashion.

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges was a radical feminist who was far, far ahead of her time. Born Marie Gouze in 1748, from a young age this determined woman knew she wanted to be a playwright. After an unhappy marriage she turned against matrimony, calling it a tomb of trust and love, and left her hometown to move to Paris, where she renamed herself Olympe de Gouges.

There she began creating a life based on the new ideas of feminism, social injustice, and the rights of the economically disadvantaged.

De Gouges’ plays strongly reflected her ideas, many of which were considered taboo for playwrights at that time. Eventually, she moved to politics and, although not accepted into the political circles of the day, she used her writing skills to express the importance of equality for women and for putting an end to slavery, colonialism, and the death penalty.

Her commitment to overhaul what she saw as a flawed society eventually led to her being viewed as a dangerous agitator by the men in control and, in 1793, she was arrested, subjected to a mock trial, and eventually became the third woman taken to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Marie Curie

Perhaps one of the most notable female names in Paris is the scientist who met both her fame and her death by the same discovery.

Born in Poland, Marie Curie moved to France in1891. Renting a garret near the University of Paris, she studied physics, chemistry, and math. Her life was hard with barely enough money to survive on, until 1893 when she was awarded a degree in physics and took a job in an industrial laboratory.

Curie pioneered the research in radioactivity which would become an effective treatment for cancer, used today by doctors around the world. Along with her husband, Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel, she was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics.

In 1909, construction began on the Institut du Radium, a facility that was eventually renamed the Curie Foundation. More than a century later, the mission of the facility continues to provide research, teaching, and treatment for cancer. In 1911, Curie won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

On July 4, 1934, at the age of 66, Marie Curie died in France from what medical professionals suspect was exposure to radiation from her own research. To this day, she is the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields.

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel was a trailblazer for the movement that catapulted Paris into the fashion capital of the world.

Chanel’s liberating fashion line was unlike anything that had come before. Her styles were both casual and sporty, and luxurious and elegant. One of her most famous marks on the fashion industry is the “little black dress,” which is a closet staple still today.

Coco Chanel, Photo by Encyclopedia Britannica

Though not as famous as her invention of the LBD, she also changed the way that women wore pants. During World War I, women had taken over some of the jobs that men had traditionally held, requiring them to wear pants every day. But Chanel replaced the workhorse perception of trousers with a stylish “beach pajama” pant that drew its inspiration from wide cuts sailor’s pants, which she then matched with equally casual loose fitting or sleeveless tops.

The garment was considered risqué and even shocking at the time due to pajamas’ association with the bedroom but, by the mid-1920s, it had become a staple among wealthy women and a fixture of Chanel’s collections.

Coco Chanel’s designs gave women a freedom that was unimaginable back in the days of breath-restricting corsets. And her label still turns heads today, giving proof to her claim that “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.”

Rosa Bonheur

When it’s not the city of fashion, Paris is alternatively known as the city of art. While women were unlikely to be known for their accomplishments in art prior to the mid to late 1800s, Paris’ Rosa Bonheur was considered the most successful female artist of her time and paved the way for future generations.

Artistically trained by her father, Bonheur painted animals. Her early success began with Plowing in Nivernais, in 1848. The piece, showcasing oxen and farmers, was commissioned by the French government.

Bonheur was an open lesbian, living 50 years with her childhood sweetheart Nathalie Micas. While society was less accepting of such lifestyles at the time, she was respected by the public for her accomplishments in her craft as well as her strong character.

Back in a time when women’s art was considered to be just a lady’s pastime, Bonheur’s contributions, as well as her confidence in sharing her lifestyle, served as inspiration for others.

5 Women-Owned Businesses in Paris You Need to Check Out

When it comes to owning businesses, women have always been the minority. Bur more women than ever are triggering their entrepreneurial streak and opening businesses in Paris these days. Here are just a handful of female-owned businesses making their mark in the French capital.

Belotsi

From a young age, Congolese-born fashion designer Fabienne Kutu loved the art of creating clothes. She started her fashion design journey creating outfits for her dolls. Coming to France to study fashion design, Kutu fell in love with the city and was determined to one day open up her own clothing workshop in Paris.

A couple years later, after working with some reputable fashion brands in Paris, she finally opened Belotsi, a store where African prints and culture meet French fashion. Check out her shop if you’re looking for creative, custom-made pieces created for all women.

Photo by The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow

This is definitely a one-stop shop for every book lover who visits Paris. The Red Wheelbarrow sits outside the can’t-miss Luxembourg Gardens and offers a highly-curated collection of classic and contemporary literature, along with books on philosophy, poetry, history, politics, and stacks of stories for children in both English and French.

And even if you don’t end up buying a book, you’re going to love the conversation you’ll have with the store’s Canadian-born owner, Penelope Fletcher. Though not the sole owner of Red Wheelbarrow (she has ten other partners, all women), she definitely makes the bookstore a welcoming place to visit. Having been an avid reader since she was young, Fletcher takes a deep interest in the books she houses and is always ready to be a guide for anyone looking to get lost in a captivatingly good story. Which, of course, is all of us.

The Rose Kitchen

This is the most recently opened female-owned business on our list. The Rose Kitchen is an intimate private kitchen in Le Marais Paris, owned by Bangkok native Rose Chalalai Singh. The restaurant brings a taste of South Asia into the City of Lights with its fiery Thai-inspired dishes.

This isn’t Singh’s first go at managing restaurants, having opened the popular Ya Lamai, a Thai restaurant with high-key fashion clientele. The Rose Kitchen is also making its mark in the French capital as a place to have private, intimate dinners with loved ones. Because, as Singh herself says, “Cafés and restaurants are really the culture of the Parisienne. Paris without cafés is not Paris.” We couldn’t agree more.

Treize au Jardin Restaurant

The next time you’re looking for a home-away-from-home restaurant, you need to visit the Treize au Jardin. The tearoom, restaurant, and bakery (French pastries, anyone?) is located just opposite the Le Jardin du Luxembourg and is owned by American-born Laurel Sanderson and Swedish-born Kajsa von Sydow.

Initially, the restaurant was started by Laurel Sanderson and known as Treize Bakery. The cozy cafe eventually outgrew its venue and needed an expansion. Partnering up with Kajsa, the rustic chic Treize au Jardin was born.

Both women play a key role in helping make Treize au Jardin the success it is today. Kaja handles the ambiance of the space by creating its cozy and comfortable feel, while Lauren is the genius behind the great food. In fact, word has it that just her buttermilk biscuits alone are worth dying for. And words like that are something that can be understood in every language.

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