Posts tagged France
Simone de Beauvoir

A writer, philosopher, and political activist, Simone de Beauvoir inspired a revolution regarding the role of women in society, making her the grandmother of 20th-century -- or second-wave -- feminism. 

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France, in 1908, the daughter of a buttoned-up, bourgeois, middle-class family, which lost its wealth during World War I. She was raised a conservative Catholic but rebelled against her parents' values as a teenager, turning from religion to philosophy and literature. Her father regarded philosophy as gibberish; her mother worried -- correctly it would turn out -- that it would cause Simone to lose her faith. But with no money left for a marriage dowry, Simone knew she would not make a good catch. So off she went to the Sorbonne to read philosophy and pursue a career instead.

Simone was a famously successful student. Though one of very few women to win a place at the prestigious French University, she rose to the top of her class and was the youngest women ever to complete qualification exams to enter the teaching profession. And on a Monday morning in June, 1929, Simone crossed paths with another Sorbonne philosophy major: an intense young man by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre. She would spend the next 50 years by his side, although the two never lived together, often took other lovers, and had no children. 

Theirs would have been looked upon as an unconventional relationship, even today:

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Louis Braille

What do you do when you perceive a problem that needs solving? 

As a teenager in 19th Century France, this #HistoryHero invented a whole new language that helped to empower millions of people just like him.

His name was Louis Braille. He was born with sight in the humble French village of Coupvray in 1809. His father was a leatherer and as a toddler, Louis learned to help in his dad’s workshop. When he was just three, tragedy struck. Louis was hit in the eye with a sharp awl, and the injury became infected. By the age of five, Louis was completely blind.

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Olympe de Gouges

Would you stand up for your rights, even at the cost of your head?

It was 3 November 1793. The Reign of Terror was at its height, claiming 36 souls a day in Paris. The French Revolution, which had begun as a movement of liberty, fraternity, and equality for all, had descended into horror. Power-hungry extremists, known as the Jacobins, had seized authority and control. Those who stood with the monarchy were either dead or had fled. Those who dared to criticize the new regime were arrested and thrown in the Conciergerie prison – the antechamber to the guillotine. Even King Louis XVI, who'd agreed to trade his crown for a constitution in August 1789, would be guillotined on 21 January 1793.

Olympe de Gouges was about to follow him to the guillotine scaffold. Why? Because she believed women should have rights and a voice equal to men.

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Jeanne d'Arc

It was 1429. She was an illiterate French peasant, born in midst of the most notable conflict of the Middle Ages, the 100 Years War, in which five generations of kings from two rival kingdoms, England and France, fought over who should rule Western Europe.

Henry V of England at this point claimed the French crown and occupied northern France, including Paris, the most populous city, and Reims, a city of huge symbolic importance for the French: its kings had been crowned there since there were kings. In 1429 the rightful pretender to the throne, Charles VII, was holed up south of Loire River.

His military and political luck were about to change in the form of a teenage girl dressed as a man.

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"Brave Bessie" Coleman

Have you ever dreamed of flying -- floating invincibly above cities and clouds, far away from the injustices on the ground?

So did Bessie Coleman.

Coleman was born in 1892 in a dirt-floored, one-room house in Atlanta, Texas, of mixed-race African-American and Cherokee descent. In 1915, when she was old enough to escape the Jim Crow South, she moved to Chicago in pursuit of "even the slightest chance to amount to something."

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Cher Ami

Do you believe even the smallest person – or animal – can make a difference?

Cher Ami proved they can.

It was 1918. Northern France. Allied soldiers were struggling to fight off German forces in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. A group of American fighters led by Major Charles Whittlesey were trapped behind a hill as the Germans approached. After just one day, the number of men in the "Lost Battalion" had dropped from 500 to 200. Some of these deaths could be attributed to enemy forces, but many of them were due to a rain of bullets that the Americans could not place. They sent out many carrier pigeons to communicate the dire situation to their infantry, but the pigeons were shot down, one by one, victims of the fray.

They needed a miracle.

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