publisher colophon

This article examines Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916)'s little-known campaign to recruit women into auxiliary positions in the French army, thereby freeing up more men to fight at the front. Drawing on the letters that Dieulafoy received in reaction to her campaign, found in the Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, this article sheds light on the positions held by "ordinary" women regarding men's and women's roles in France in war time service and combat, on the eve of the First World War. In addition, it provides an example of "Belle Époque media feminism" (Mesch), whereby a woman of some notoriety mobilizes her public image and her example to encourage women to engage in a new, non-traditional activity.

Many novels written during the Belle Époque envision new careers for women as journalists (Tinayre, La Rebelle), lawyers (Yver, Les Dames du palais) or scientists (Yver, Princesses de science). Women's periodicals from this time similarly display images of women engaged in such nontraditional activities as mountain climbing, bowling and cycling (Mesch, 2013). Jane Dieulafoy (1851–1916) pushes the limits further still in her work, suggesting that women might become archeologists and explorers as she was, or that they might even engage in active combat, as it appears that she did during the Franco-Prussian war.

Dieulafoy was fascinated in her fiction and historical essays with the figure of the woman warrior. Her interest took a practical turn when, in 1913, she wrote an open letter to the Minister of War requesting the "great honour" of being called upon first among women to defend her country. The letter was published on the front page of Le Figaro on March 11, 1913. The editors accompanied it with a mocking comment: the paragraph following Dieulafoy's sincere offer observes that her "virile courage" is well known but that the weak men of France will be capable of ridding the country of the impending danger themselves ("Mais, peut-être, il ne faut point s'exagérer le péril, et les faibles hommes suffiront à le conjurer.")

Not one to give up, Dieulafoy stepped back from asking that women be allowed to fight and followed up on her letter with a plan that she likely expected to be more socially acceptable. Citing a report published in Les Temps (on March 12, 1913) that the Austrians were considering hiring women as civilian employees to replace soldiers in the event a war broke out (Orr 9), Dieulafoy launched a campaign to recruit women to assume auxiliary administrative positions in the French army. Once again, various reasons were given by the authorities to oppose this plan. It challenged gender roles at a time when they were already in considerable flux. Educational and professional opportunities for women were changing since secondary school education was opened to them after the passing of the Camille Sée law in 1880, and in the wake of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, there was a perceived need to redefine masculinity in France.1 As Brian Martin notes, during the period known as "la revanche", between 1871–1914, the French military underwent a series of radical reforms, "including new programs of universal conscription, athletics, and hygiene, and innovations in mobilization, armament, [End Page 119] and defense, that collectively transformed Third Republic France into a modern military state" (Martin 263–64). This transformation of the military coincided with a new medical and criminological discourse of the male homosexual—a term coined in 1869—as a convenient scapegoat for national anxieties over France's decisive military defeat in 1870 (Martin 258). Vernon Rosario observes that sexual inversion "conveniently knotted together fin-de-siècle medical, social, and moral preoccupations that stemmed from declining French fertility, growing class tensions, and the demoralization of the nation after its humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war" (Rosario 89. Qtd in Martin 325). As Margaret Darrow has noted, including women in the coming war, considered to be "the supreme test of revived French masculinity, would obviously vitiate the whole point of the contest" (Darrow 1996, 81). Andrew Orr argues that "the 1914 army was the most masculine French army ever" (Orr 9) as women, who had traditionally assisted the soldiers as cantinières in earlier conflicts, supplying food and drink to the troops, were forbidden for the first time from accompanying the columns.

This remarkably polarized and exclusionary gender ideology was an important barrier faced by Dieulafoy and supporters of women's active service in the war effort. Despite this, she methodically went about putting her project into action. By examining Dieulafoy's little-known campaign and its reception, this article aims to shed light on conceptions of men's and women's roles in France in war time service and combat on the eve of the First World War.2 In addition, it provides an example of "Belle Époque media feminism" (Mesch), whereby a woman of some notoriety mobilizes her public image and her example to encourage women to engage in a new, non-traditional activity.

Jane Dieulafoy was born in Toulouse in 1851, the youngest of five children, all daughters. Her parents recognized her intellectual ability and sent her far from home to further her studies at the couvent de l'Assomption in Auteuil, a western suburb of Paris. There she received a solid education, though likely also quite a conventional one, as was fitting for a young woman from the grande bourgeoisie. She married Marcel Dieulafoy in 1870 and, shortly after their wedding, she participated alongside him as a franc-tireur in the army of the Loire during the Franco-Prussian war. Her archives, held at the Bibliothèque de l'Institut in Paris, contain the following letter, written in response to a question posed by a close female acquaintance or family member in 1924 about the nature of her activities in the 1870 conflict. A. Vergne explains that

Mme Dieulafoy n'a pas fait la guerre de 70 comme soldat. […] Mais cette femme, vraiment remarquable, a fait courageusement ce que peu de femmes ont fait alors.—À 18 ans, venant de se marier, elle a voulu suivre son mari, partager ses dangers et toutes ses fatigues—Quand il le fallait couchant dans la neige, ou restant à cheval nuit et jour.

(Letter from A. Vergne to Nicole [?], 30 August 1924, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2685 : 90)

The letter goes on to mention that Dieulafoy was the niece of the celebrated Admiral Coupevent des Bois and that this relationship commanded respect in [End Page 120] military circles.3 A letter from Dieulafoy's sister, Claire Magre, sending her support for the campaign, also recalls her younger sister's exploits during the Franco-Prussian war:

Je suis convaincue que tes intentions patriotiques auront un très grand succès, d'autant plus que tu as pu apprécier par toi-même au camp de Nevers, en l'année terrible, les services que les femmes peuvent rendre en temps de guerre. Je me souviendrai toujours de cette course au galop la nuit de Noël où tous deux avez sauvé des Prussiens un corps important de cavalerie.

(Letter from Claire Magre to Jane Dieulafoy, May 3, 1913, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2688 : 1)

After the Franco-Prussian war, the couple returned to Toulouse where Marcel worked as an engineer and pursued an interest in archeology. In 1881 and again from 1884–86, the Dieulafoys travelled to Persia and led an archeological dig at Susa (in present day Iran). Besides assisting her husband during these digs and documenting their experience by taking hundreds of photographs,4 Dieulafoy wrote about the expeditions. Accounts of both journeys appeared in the popular periodical Le Tour du monde and were later published in large, illustrated Folio editions by Hachette (in 1887 and 1888). Upon her return to France, in addition to her travel writing, Jane Dieulafoy published five novels and two plays. She became active in the women's literary community as one of the original members of the jury of the Prix Femina. She and Marcel oversaw the installation of the artifacts they brought back from Persia in the Louvre.

At this time, Jane Dieulafoy was frequently featured in the press. Her success as an author and archeologist were not the only reasons for this media attention: Dieulafoy had adopted the clothes of a western man in Persia, just as she had while accompanying the army of the Loire, and, once back in Paris, secured the legal right to continue to wear male clothing by obtaining a permission de travestissement from the prefect of police. She was thus a person of some notoriety in Belle Époque Paris and provides an example of a woman (like Rachilde, Gyp, Séverine and Marguerite Durand) engaged in what Marie Louise Roberts calls "disruptive acts" that challenged contemporary gender norms.

In Dieulafoy's case, though, this behavior was accompanied by a strong commitment to Catholicism (as seen in her conservative, anti-divorce novel Déchéance, published in 1897) and to patriotism. Her patriotism was clearly on view on June 24, 1913, in a climate of increased militarism and debates over the length of the period of obligatory military service for all men and of the most appropriate ways for women to serve their country.5 On that date Jane Dieulafoy addressed a large audience at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées on the rue Montaigne for a talk entitled: "La Femme dans l'administration auxiliaire de l'armée". Her archives contain a seating plan for the theatre, a list of all the major Parisian newspapers, and of the names of the dignitaries who received invitations to the lecture. Dieulafoy tried to keep the project that she described that day as simple as possible. She wanted to recruit women to perform the clerical and administrative duties normally done by men in the French army, [End Page 121] thus freeing up a considerable number of men for active service. She proposed to organize a course for women who were interested in participating in the project, presumably to explain the administrative and clerical duties they would assume. Prior to the talk, she had submitted a description of her plan to the Minister of War and had received an encouraging response.

Dieulafoy's colleague on the jury of the Prix Femina, Caroline de Broutelles, the General Editor of the women's magazines La Vie heureuse and La Mode pratique, offered to advertise the courses Dieulafoy would hold for the women likely to assume positions. She writes :

si je ne puis assister aux cours que vous allez organiser, je serai très heureuse de leur faire toute la propagande possible et de publier dans la Vie Heureuse et la Mode Pratique les notes que vous m'enverrez. Il serait bien, je pense, d'attendre l'ouverture du cours pour donner un grand article qui serait à la fois une annonce et un compte rendu des premières réunions.

(letter from Caroline de Broutelles to Jane Dieulafoy, 2 May 1913, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686 : 119)

Even more interesting is Caroline de Broutelles' expectation that Dieulafoy will inspire other women to join in her project because of her example. She writes her that "Votre bel exemple est fait pour entraîner les plus indolentes et la leçon par l'exemple que vous avez déjà donnée portera, j'en suis persuadée, des fruits abondants" (letter from Caroline de Broutelles to Jane Dieulafoy, 2 May 1913, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686 : 119). A second letter from the magazine director goes even further,

Je viens de lire votre admirable lettre au Figaro : voulez-vous accorder à la Vie Heureuse une grande faveur celle de publier en page entière le portrait de vous que j'ai vu dans votre cabinet de travail dans le costume de franc-tireur que vous portiez pendant la guerre, nous publierons à nouveau votre lettre en montrant à nos lectrices que vous aviez généreusement devancée l'appel que la France pense à faire aux Françaises [sic]. Ne me refusez pas, je vous en prie, c'est presque un devoir de servir d'exemple dans un cas où vous êtes probablement la seule femme qui puisse le faire.

(letter from Caroline de Broutelles to Jane Dieulafoy, undated [1913?], Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686 : 117)

Caroline de Broutelles' insistence in these letters on the importance of the example that Dieulafoy represents reveals quite concretely the message expressed in La Vie heureuse and illustrates the magazine editor's commitment to providing role models to her female readers. Rachel Mesch has called this "Belle Époque media feminism"; an ideology that advocated a model of female achievement that would enlarge the possibilities the magazine's female readers imagined for their futures. Broutelles' magazine repeatedly provided her readers with examples of new possible realms of activity for women, even if these were not yet roles women had assumed or could take for granted for themselves.

In this case, both Broutelles and Dieulafoy seem happy to suggest even greater activity for women than the actual project Dieulafoy presented [End Page 122] envisaged. Dieulafoy is not, after all, calling for women to engage in active combat, but the image of her dressed in the uniform of a franc-tireur would encourage women to imagine more for themselves than simple desk jobs. Dieulafoy imagines women cross-dressed as men and engaged in combat in many of her historical novels. Her fascination with the female warrior is clear in the novella L'Oracle (1893), for example, which recounts the decisive role of Artemise, a Persian Queen who fought against the Greeks as an ally of Xerxes. She is compared to a goddess when she appears wearing her armour: "Sa taille était peu haute, mais le port celui d'une déesse; elle semblait une glorieuse figure échappée d'une fresque d'Eumarès. Avec une grâce que son armure ne pouvait lui ôter, elle s'avançait à pas lents, très grave, comme soutenue par le rythme d'une sorte de chant rituel" (202–03). When Artemise asks Xerxes to fight because "L'honneur de combattre parmi [vos] soldats me payera de mes peines" (208) one cannot help but recall the tone of Dieulafoy's open letter published in Le Figaro in which she suggests that "si vous réserviez aux femmes le très grand honneur de participer à la Défense Nationale, je vous demanderais la faveur insigne d'être appelée la première" (Le Figaro, March 11 1913).

Another female soldier is the main character of Dieulafoy's novel Volontaire, 1792–1793 (1892). That novel describes the exploits of a regiment of volunteers to the French Revolutionary Army led by commander Marsig. The novel begins with Marsig's daughter, the androgynously named "Paule", dressed in one of her father's old military uniforms, leading the regiment by night to the Austrian camp. There, by diverting the trajectory of a shot aimed toward him, she saves the life of the brave Guillaume Briez, who led the charge. When her identity is revealed to the troups, the perceptive General Dumouriez reflects, "Combien plus grande serait son influence si elle appartenait à l'armée régulière!" (30) To thank her for her bravery, he promises to grant her a favor. Without hesitation, Paule asks to be allowed to be a regular soldier and to fight under his orders (31). Her new masculine role, which includes the right to wear a military uniform, is held up to be superior to her previous status and gives Paule great satisfaction. We are told that "Paule […] ressentit une immense reconnaissance envers cette patrie qui lui donnait une vie nouvelle, envers ce général qui l'avait admise, elle, une fillette inconnue, à l'honneur insigne de revêtir l'habit bleu des volontaires" (77).6

The female soldier, pure, brave, incorruptible, is idealized throughout this novel. In this Dieulafoy's strategy squarely corresponds to that identified by Rachel Mesch in Having it all in the Belle Époque: Mesch shows that Belle Époque women authors often used their fiction to explore possibilities and to work out imaginative solutions that depart from their new social realities and extend beyond them (see, in particular, 123–43). Dieulafoy's use of historical fiction adds even greater depth to the role models she proffers by showing that heroic women warriors (like Artemisia of Halicarnassus) did indeed exist in the past. In the political context of increased militarization in the spring of 1913, it is not surprising that Dieulafoy built on the models she imagined a decade earlier to ask that women be able to share in the honor of defending their country. The example of Joan of Arc, whom the Catholic Church was [End Page 123] campaigning to canonize and who was beatified by the Vatican in 1909 (and canonized in 1920), furnished Dieulafoy and her supporters with yet another example a woman might imagine for herself in war time (see Darrow 2000: 23–27).

Looking back to her fiction, and given her own military experience and cross-dressing, created some confusion as to the role that Dieulafoy was envisaging for her contemporaries. During her lecture at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées, small green cards were distributed through the theatre. These were to be filled out by the female audience members who were to indicate if they gave their "adhésion morale" (moral support) to the project or their "adhésion effective" (practical support). Giving one's moral support did not commit the sender to anything in particular but it is revealing that this was asked for, as it indicates how novel and shocking the proposal was in 1913 that women assume simple desk jobs in support of the army. Some cards were no doubt collected at the lecture and, in the days and months that followed, Dieulafoy received many more through the post. A close look at these responses reveals what French women thought their role might be during war time. Three main variables account for their different responses to the project: their age, their marital status and their social class.

All of Dieulafoy's fellow "femmes de lettres" who responded to her call sent their moral support. None promised that they would participate actively in the project. Letters from Juliette Adam, Mme Jean Bertheroy, Marie Bouglé, Caroline de Broutelles, Julia Daudet, Marie-Auguste Dorchain and Marguerite Poradowska, many of whom were Dieulafoy's colleagues on the jury of the prix Femina, express their patriotism and admiration for the idea. However, these contemporaries of Dieulafoy, who was herself 62 years old when she delivered her lecture, write, like the 77-year-old Juliette Adam, "Je suis avec vous de coeur, d'esprit et de passion patriotique mais, hélas! point d'activité physique" (letter from Juliette Adam to Jane Dieulafoy, 4 July, 1913, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686: 1).

Some of the women who responded favorably to Dieulafoy's campaign are clearly puzzled about what sort of support the writer had asked of them and expressed their desire to engage in active service. Gabrielle Milary of Aix-en-Provence wrote to her, for example,

j'ai exactement les mêmes idées que vous; je n'ai qu'un regret, celui de n'être pas homme car j'aurais aimé consacrer ma vie entière au service de la patrie. Comme vous, Madame, j'ai porté et porte encore quelquefois le costume masculin et serais très heureuse de l'arborer à nouveau avec des culottes rouges7 pour défendre notre chère France.

(Letter from Gabrielle Milary to Jane Dieulafoy, undated, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2688 : 49)

Is patriotism here being used as justification for tolerance of a wider range of acceptable gender roles? Another supporter named Henriette Lefebvre goes even further in the arguments she eloquently presents for women to enter active service: [End Page 124]


Je suis une Française dont le cœur bat à l'unisson du vôtre – je vous remercie de réclamer pour nous le droit de servir la patrie dans la partie d'administration; mais je réclame plus encore, pour une certaine catégorie d'entre nous, catégorie assez nombreuse pour être comptée. Je parle de celles à qui le bonheur et la gloire de la maternité ont été refusées—Alphonse Daudet a dit : "La maternité, c'est le patriotisme de la femme.8" C'est vrai—mais celle qui n'est pas mère n'en a pas moins un cœur de Française… Qu'elle se sent misérable et pauvre, devant le péril imminent, la femme sans famille, qui n'a pas de fils à donner à la Patrie! A celle-là, je voudrais qu'il fut permis de donner son sang même—la femme ne saurait-elle être, tout comme un homme, "une unité" française, devant les bouches de canon de l'ennemi? Sans doute on peut m'apporter beaucoup d'objections : je les prévois, je les sens—mais n'y a-t-il rien à tirer, pour le bien de la France, d'un tel élan, d'une ardeur qui émane de tant de cœurs?

(letter from Henriette Lefebvre to Jane Dieulafoy, undated, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2687 : 193)

The argument that young women who did not have family responsibilities should be able to enter active service comes up frequently in the correspondence that Dieulafoy received. Another woman writes, for example,

Je suis certaine que je ferais un bon soldat car je suis assez forte au tir à la carabine et je suis encore jeune. J'ai trente ans. Puisque Dieu ne m'a pas accordé le bonheur de pouvoir donner des enfants à ma patrie étant plus libre je veux les remplacer et faire mon devoir de bonne Française.

(letter to Jane Dieulafoy, unreadable signature [Anna Palard?], undated, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2688 : 87)

Many women thus believed they were being asked to enlist as soldiers, though this was far from the case.

Dieulafoy's detractors also argue for the importance of motherhood. Raising French children and having lots of them, especially at this time of dropping birth rates (see Darrow 2000, 33), was understood to be the main patriotic duty of French women. Margaret Darrow explains the parallel between the gendered activities of motherhood and war, noting that,

[l]ike maternity, war functions symbolically, not only as gender's unique marker, but also as its ultimate fulfillment. As femininity supposedly flowers in motherhood, so too masculinity fulfills itself in war. Both, it is claimed, produce an awakening and a transformation, an attainment of full, gendered, adulthood.

Jeanne Oddo-Deflou, a French suffragette associated with the "Groupe français d'études féministes et des droits civils des femmes", writes to Dieulafoy that

Comme vous je suis prête à donner à notre patrie ce qui me reste de forces. Mais, pour les jeunes femmes, ce qu'elles ont de plus utile à faire, à mon sens, c'est de faire des enfants. Votre projet ne doit mettre aucun obstacle à cette condition sine qua non de notre existence nationale. (Letter from Jeanne Oddo-Deflou [End Page 125] to Jane Dieulafoy, Fonds Dieulafoy, MS. 2686 : 301, Bibliothèque de l'Institut. Emphasis in the original)

This pro-natalist discourse would only intensify over the course of the conflict, as Susan Grayzel has shown. Dieulafoy's colleague on the jury of the prix Femina, Marcelle Tinayre, whose patriotic La Veillée des armes was written early in the conflict, in summer 1914, also holds that women's place during war time is at home: "Le devoir des femmes, en temps de guerre, consiste à gouverner la maison, à élever les enfants, à soigner les blessés" (Tinayre 185).

Generally, women's groups were supportive of Dieulafoy's project. She received letters backing her campaign and offering practical help from Mouvement féminin: Organe Officiel des Groupements féminins and from Jeanne Schmal, founder and first president of l'Union française pour le suffrage des femmes. Jane Misme, editor of La Française: Journal de Progrès féminin, writes to ask for more mail-in cards, explaining: "Vous ne nous adressez que quelques formules d'adhésion et c'est par quantité que l'on nous en demande" (letter from Jane Misme to Jane Dieulafoy, 30 May 1913, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686).9

In addition to proponents of women's suffrage, Dieulafoy also quite astutely approached various professional women's organizations to ask for their support. At one of their meetings, the Alliance provençale de jeunes filles sténographes voted to support the campaign. Letters of support also arrived from the École Pratique d'Enseignement Commercial Professionnel (ex-école pratique de sténographie, fondée en 1892) and from the Institut de coupe de Paris. This showed a great deal of foresight on Dieulafoy's part. Much later on in the conflict, in January 1918, the Ministry of War opened a school precisely to teach women to be military typists and stenographers, reflecting the acute shortage of skilled workers able to fill clerical positions (Orr 26).

Sister Milicent, fille de la Charité de St. Vincent de Paul, writes on the stationery of the Syndicats professionnels féminins to offer her support and that of her organization. She raises an important point, however, that Dieulafoy does not seem to have considered: will the women Dieulafoy successfully recruits get paid? Sr. Milicent writes Dieulafoy:

J'aimerais [vous…] presser d'agir auprès de vos relations, pour créer un fonds qui permette d'acheter des tissus de toile et de coton, et de payer les femmes qui confectionneraient chemises, draps, linge, pour nos soldats, non pas d'après le tarif ordinaire, mais au moins dans les conditions suffisantes pour nourrir la famille privée de son chef.

(letter from Sr. Milicent to Jane Dieulafoy, 8 August 1914, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2686: 54)

This letter identifies a problematic aspect of Dieulafoy's campaign that the upper-middle class author may not have considered. Most of the promises of active support that she received were from working class women, yet Dieulafoy never describes a budget for her project or gives any hint that the women would be paid. In fact, her archives contain a draft letter to the President of the Republic in which she explains that "Les femmes enrôlées ne seront pas payées [End Page 126] durant les stages, or, des femmes capables d'exécuter des travaux plus pénibles devraient l'être de manière à pourvoir à leur subsistance" (letter from Jane Dieualfoy to the President of the Republic, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2685: 108). There is thus a slight recognition that some of the women, at least, should receive compensation for their efforts as the men they were replacing surely had been, but the assumption that the other women would work as volunteers, purely for the love of their country, is revealing of Dieulafoy's class prejudice and devalues women's work. Andrew Orr shows that only a minority of nurses received pay during the war (12) and that the pay gap between civilian men and women employed by the army was considerable.10

Dieulafoy's blindness to the financial needs of the women she is recruiting is evident in another exchange of correspondence. Marcelle Lévy writes to express her interest in the project but when Dieulafoy writes her back to invite her to a course, the stenographer explains that she cannot meet with Dieulafoy during the week or attend any classes during the day because she is working. Surprisingly, she needs to repeat this in a few letters before Dieulafoy understands that although the women she is recruiting may not have family obligations, many of them are in the paid workforce and do not have control over their schedules.

A little over a year after her speech at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées, Dieulafoy sent a list to the office of the Minister of War containing the names of 370 women in Paris and 49 in the provinces who agreed to serve actively as auxiliaries to the French army. She proudly writes that "le jour où je serai autorisée à dire que le Ministère accepte les concours féminins, il pourra compter sur autant d'assistantes qu'il le souhaitera" (letter from Jane Dieulafoy to Médecin Inspecteur Troussaint, Directeur du Service de Santé au Ministère de la Guerre, 29 July 1914, Fonds Dieulafoy, Bibliothèque de l'Institut, MS 2688: 275).

Unfortunately for Dieulafoy, the authorization she hoped for never came. Jane and Marcel Dieulafoy left Paris for Morocco on September 10, 1914. Despite being 70 years old, Marcel wanted to serve in the war effort and took a position as a lieutenant colonel in the engineering corps in Rabat. Jane took ill in Morocco and passed away in 1916, before seeing the end of the war. Marcel died in 1920 and the childless couple bequeathed their hôtel particulier on rue Chardin in Paris' sixteenth arrondissement to the Red Cross, who still own and operate the building today.11

Dieulafoy's campaign has been overlooked by scholars working on French women's participation in the First World War and Margaret Darrow's article about the role of French nurses suggests an explanation for its failure. Darrow writes:

The initial French policy was to clear the war zone of women and to prohibit women, even nurses, from visiting it; the war was to occur in a zone of pure masculinity. The feminine should cease to exist. The shortage of titles placing women "during" the war and the even fewer that acknowledged women were also "in" or "of" the war reflects this concept: women did not exist "during" or "in" the war; their place was in a different spatial dimension, called in English [End Page 127] the "home front" but in French, the rear (arrière), where, removed from the masculine war, femininity hibernated in a state of suspended animation.

Dieulafoy's campaign may have been perceived as one that masculinized women and feminized men. It clearly threw the accepted complementary nature of the relationship between masculinity and femininity out of balance, just as Jane Dieulafoy's cross-dressing had. If Dieulafoy's own cross-dressing could be tolerated as the eccentric practice of a grande bourgeoise flouting convention, French masculinity needed to be restored and defended through a war that would only admit of women's participation in carefully delineated roles.

As the war went on and the army's needs became more acute, an employment plan for women much like the one Dieulafoy had envisaged in 1913 was, in fact, adopted. It departed from Dieulafoy's proposal in that, rather than employing women based on their skills and training, women were hired preferentially if they were "widows of servicemen killed by the enemy or who died of their wounds or from illnesses contracted in the army" (Orr 13).

Almost exactly a month after Dieulafoy's death, a Ministry of War circular of June 22, 1916 explicitly instructed commanders and administrators to replace soldiers with women whenever possible (Orr 15). In December 1916 General Roques established the "1916 Regime", "which laid out rules for hiring women as auxiliary employees, regulated their working conditions, and dealt with issues of pay and discipline" (Orr 16). The Ministry opposed placing women in combat zones and they continued to be employed as civilians throughout the war. This contrasts with the British armed services who made the decision to "militarize" women by enrolling them as auxiliary forces and putting them in uniform (Darrow 2000, 259–60). Nevertheless, after 1916 there was a push to expand women's roles and, ultimately, a recognition that winning the war would require the participation of all. Jane Dieulafoy's campaign and her own example no doubt contributed to the gradual change in mindset, though change was ultimately brought about by sheer necessity due to France's acute labor shortage.

Margot Irvine
University of Guelph
Margot Irvine

Margot Irvine is an Associate Professor of French and European Studies at the University of Guelph where she is the Director of the School of Languages and Literatures. She has published many articles and book chapters on Belle Époque Women Writers. Jane Dieulafoy is a central figure in her monograph Pour suivre un époux: les récits de voyage des couples au dix-neuvième siècle français (Nota bene, 2008). With Karin Schwerdtner and Geneviève De Viveiros, she edited Risques et regrets. Les dangers de l'écriture épistolaire (Nota bene, 2015) and, with Frédérique Arroyas, she is co-founder and coeditor-in-chief of the journal Nouvelle Revue Synergies Canada.


2. Despite much recent research on questions of women, gender and war, Dieulafoy's campaign has not yet been examined in this light. For an overview of research in the field, see Fell.

3. Vice-Admiral Aimé-Auguste-Elie Coupevent des Bois (1814–1892) participated in expeditions aboard the Urania and the Astrolabe with Jules Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842). He was a grand-officer of the Legion of Honor. The character Paule Marsig in Dieulafoy's novel Volontaire is also admired because of the exploits of the military men in her family.

4. For more on Dieulafoy's photographs see Perron 2016; Mesch 2017 and Ferraris-Besso 2018.

5. Universal (male) conscription was instituted in 1905 (see Darrow 2000, 31).

6. Rachel Mesch's 2017 article provides an excellent analysis of Dieulafoy's novels Volontaire and Frère Pélage, showing "the ways in which gender and sexual identity were intimately tied to national, religious, and familial identity for Dieulafoy" (322).

7. In Dictionnaire de la Grande Guerre, Jean-Jacques Becker explains that in the first years of the war, French soldiers wore red trousers, as they had in 1870. Gabrielle Milary's letter illustrates the pride in this traditional, French uniform. According to Becker, "Les soldats sont partis pour la guerre avec un uniforme à peu près identique à celui de 1870, c'est-à-dire une tunique bleue et un pantalon garance et coiffés d'un képi également bleu et rouge […]. Il avait été question, dans les années précédant la guerre, de remplacer le rouge par une autre couleur mieux adaptée à la guerre moderne; toutefois le projet avait été abandonné à la suite de l'intervention d'un parlementaire suivant lequel avec la disparition du pantalon rouge, c'était toute la tradition militaire française qui risquait de disparaître" (225).

8. In fact, this line comes from Alexandre Dumas fils' play Francillon, scene VI, rather than from Alphonse Daudet.

9. Dieulafoy does not raise the question of women's suffrage in the arguments she presents for her campaign but women's rights groups might have been enthusiastic in their support because of the many compelling arguments that associated women's participation in the war with giving them all of the rights of male citizens (Darrow 2000, 30–32). Darrow describes the ways in which Dieulafoy's ideas were received by women's groups like l'Action sociale de la femme and La Française (2000, 42–43).

10. Orr writes that "In June 1917, civilian men's starting pay exceeded that of women by 75 percent in the Thirty-Sixth Corps, and men's maximum pay outpaced women's by 66 percent. Although gender-based income inequality was expected in wartime France, and the Thirty-Sixth Corps' case was extreme, the size of the different in pay was usually significant" (28).

11. See Darrow on the pressure exerted by the Red Cross to include a role for women in the conflict, particularly as nurses (2000, 28–30).

Works Cited

Becker, Jean-Jacques. Dictionnaire de la Grande Guerre. André Versaille éditeur, 2008.
Darrow, Margaret H. "French Volunteer Nursing and the Myth of War Experience in World War I." The American Historical Review, vol. 101, no. 1. Feb., 1996, pp. 80–106.
---. French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front. Berg, 2000.
Dieulafoy, Jane. Rose d'Hatra et L'Oracle. Coll. Bib. de romans historiques. Armand Colin, 1893.
---. Volontaire, 1792–1793. Coll. Bib. de romans historiques. Armand Colin, 1892.
Fell, Alison. "Gendering the War Story." Journal of War and Culture Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2008, pp. 53–58.
Ferraris-Besso, Caroline. « La Subversion par l'image : La Perse, la Chaldée et la Susiane de Jane Dieulafoy ». Women in French Studies, Special Issue, volume 7, 2018, pp. 241–58.
Gran-Aymeric, Eve et Jean. Jane Dieulafoy : Une vie d'homme. Perrin, 1991.
Grayzel, Susan. "Mothers, Marraines, and Prostitutes: Morale and Morality in First World War France." The International History Review, vol. 19, no.1, Feb., 1997, pp. 66–82.
Martin, Brian. Napoleonic Friendship: Military Fraternity, Intimacy, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France. U of New Hampshire P, 2011.
Maugue, Anne-Lise. L'Identité masculine en crise au tournant du siècle, 1871–1914. Rivages, 1987
Mesch, Rachel. Having it All in the Belle Époque: How French Women's Magazines Invented the Modern Woman. Stanford UP, 2013.
---. "'O My Hero! O My Comrade in Arms! O My Fiancée!': Gender Crossing and Republican Values in Jane Dieulafoy's Fictions." PMLA, vol. 132, no. 2, 2017, pp. 314–30.
Orr, Andrew. Women and the French Army during the World Wars, 1914–1940. U of Indiana P, 2017.
Perron, Ambre. « Les Albums de Jane et Marcel Dieulafoy ». Blog de la Bibliothèque de l'Institut National de l'Histoire de l'Art,, [2016].
Roberts, Mary Louise. Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-siècle France. U of Chicago P, 2002.
Rosario, Vernon. The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity. Oxford UP, 1997.
Tinayre, Marcelle. La Veillée des armes – le départ : août 1914. 1915. Éditions des femmes – Antoinette Fouque, 2015.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.