How Many Women are Honored in the Panthéon?

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How Many Women are Honored in the Panthéon?
Presumably no-one disputes that women can be national heroes. But when it comes to the supreme honor of burial in the Panthéon in Paris, the inscription spelt out in large letters on the building’s façade casts a doubt. It reads Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante, meaning “A grateful nation honors its great men.” This topic is newly relevant, given President Emmanuel Macron’s recent announcement that Josephine Baker is to be inducted into the Panthéon in November. Of the 80 people thus honored, she will be only the sixth woman and the first Black woman, making this a good moment to look back over the history of women in the Panthéon and trace their story. Joséphine Baker en 1940, photographie Studio Harcourt. (C) Studio Harcourt, Public Domain The very first ceremony, for the writer Voltaire, took place in 1791, but it was not until 1907 that a woman was buried there and the reason for her inclusion was certainly no victory for feminism. Sophie Berthelot was there simply because her husband, Marcellin Berthelot, a world-renowned chemist, had specifically requested that his wife should remain beside him even in death. It was decided to do as he wished “in homage,” as it was put at the time, “to her conjugal virtue.” Afterwards she was described as L’inconnue du Panthéon, the “stranger in the Panthéon,” a lone woman among all those eminent male politicians and scientists and one not there in her own right. Tomb of Marcellin and Sophie Berthelot in the Panthéon (C) Lucas Werkmeister, (CC BY 4.0) It was certainly progress when the remains of Marie Curie, the pioneering physicist, were moved to the Panthéon from her original burial place in a cemetery at Sceaux. In 1995, 60 years after her death, her remains and those of her husband Pierre were transferred to the Panthéon in honor of their ground-breaking work in the field of radiation. Marie Curie had been the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, in fact she was the first person to win two, and so her achievements were beyond question. However, it was another 20 years until another woman was recognized in the same way. Marie Curie (C) Henri Manuel, Public Domain
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Lead photo credit : The Panthéon in 1795. The facade windows were bricked up to make the interior darker and more solemn. (C) Jean-Baptiste Hilair, Public Domain

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