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France: Women in the Revolution

The Paris Commune

Thure de Thulstrup, Artist. A Communist barricade. 1871. Cabinet of American illustration. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1871 France was at war with Prussia — and losing badly. Napoléon III had been captured and he agreed to a humiliating peace. Many Parisians did not want to surrender to Prussia, and there were many who also felt the gains of the 1789 Revolution had been lost. The Paris Commune was a seizure of power by a popularly-led government that ruled Paris for three months. Some call it a failed revolution, as it was certainly violent and had the hallmarks of a French revolution — including barricades in the streets. However, after three months, it was crushed by the conservative forces that were still essentially in control of the French nation. Despite its inauspicious start, the Third Republic would endure until 1940 when it was defeated by the German Nazis and replaced by the government of Vichy which collaborated with the Nazis. After the Liberation of France, the Fourth Republic was formed and lasted until 1958 when a new constitution was created by Charles de Gaulle establishing the current Fifth Republic.

During the Paris Commune some 4,000 French déportés were sent to New Caledonia as political exiles. New Caledonia (a group of islands off the coast of Australia) had been taken over by the French in 1853 with the intention of setting up a penal colony. Indeed by 1872 radical socialist activist Louise Michel was sent into exile in New Caledonia. Even in exile, where she lived for eight years, Michel found ways to advocate for marginalized groups. Befriending the indigenous Kanak people she met, she encouraged them to revolt against the French colonial power and contributed to the first French-Kanak dictionary. For more information about New Caledonia and their independence movements search the Library's catalog, New Caledonia--History--Autonomy and independence movements and this online article External. There are also books included below in the bibliography.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings: Paris (France)--History--Commune, 1871. For primary sources on the Paris Commune see the Marxist International Archives, Paris Commune External and the Gallica External, the digital Library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. For satirical illustrations and caricatures by artists such as Honoré Daumier and Cham (Amédée Charles Henri, Comte de Noé) search HathiTrust Digital Library External and Gallica External.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Digital Primary Resources on The Paris Commune