3. Research Essay

TRIBUNE FÉMININE: Jeanne Laurence, the French Resistance and Feminism (1944 – 1948)

For the final part of the project, I wrote a research essay to contextualize Tribune Féminine in the tumult of World War II and French feminism. Here are the first few paragraphs. Please contact me if you would like to read more.

TRIBUNES FÉMININES: Jeanne Laurence, the French Resistance and Feminism (1944 – 1948)

During World War II, in 1940, Germany invaded France. This was the beginning of what would become the four-year occupation and military administration of France. Between 1944 and 1948, Jeanne Laurence, a schoolteacher in Vernon, France, published a newspaper column called “Tribunes Féminines” (Women’s Chronicles). The column appeared in the local newspaper for the French Resistance, La Porte Normande, circulated in the heart of the Normandy region. She began writing the column just before the liberation of France on June 6, 1944, and continued to publish her column in another Vernon newspaper, Le Démocrate, until 1948.

Through “Tribunes Féminines,” Jeanne voiced concerns and viewpoints relevant to everyday women of the region, including women’s rights and feminism in France. Written in conversational first person, her column includes colorful colloquialisms and cultural references of the time, and details in her writing provide an elucidated glimpse into the concerns of French women during the Occupation.

+ + +

During World War II, French men were mobilized to fight. Some were prisoners, others were deportees. Around two million French men were deported to labor in Nazi war industries. As the war progressed, women were driven beyond food scarcity and finding shelters for refugees to riskier activities including carrying, coding and decoding encrypted underground messages, distributing newspapers and “tracts”; relaying intelligence; guiding escaped prisoners and Allied soldiers – under the watchful and punitive eye of the Gestapo and French Vichy[1] collaborationists. Many women were caught, tortured, imprisoned, or executed.

Women were left to fend for themselves and their children, to protect their community and culture, and provide for their family. They bravely faced all these trials. In Sisters in the Resistance, Margaret Collins Weitz, explores the role of gender in France during World War II. This scholarship helps position concerns and topics raised by Jeanne’s column, including the treatment of women in Nazi concentration camps. This might also explain why her column did not bear her name until after the war ended.

[December 6, 1946] “In Hamburg, this Thursday, December 5, begins the trial of the executioners of Ravensbrück[2] concentration camp, where thousands of women have suffered the sufferings of hunger, torture and slow death. The accused are men, twelve in number, and women, eight in number. A French judge at the Seine court will be part of the jury. Among other witnesses, will be heard a Frenchwoman, Mrs. Odette Sausom[3], recently decorated by the King of England for her activity in the resistance. How not to indulge in feelings of anger and revolt at the reading or the spectacle of the crimes committed on women, old, young, mothers, wives, girls, Polish, Russians, French ... or only Jews? No pity for this German elite, these officers, these doctors, these scientists who ordered the whip, the young, the sterilization, the murderous injection, the artificial fertilization or the vivisection! No pity for the formidable guards who took pleasure in the almost daily selection, signal of departure for the gas chamber and the crematorium! We do not doubt the ghosts, many of whom are dying of tuberculosis, await verdicts without indulgence, verdicts of outraged women who shout vengeance and justice. It is unfortunate that a woman magistrate has not been called to sit in the Hamburg court.”

Though Jeanne did not use her newspaper column to directly talk about her personal life, she was severely impacted by the Occupation.