Not many would know today who Maria Desraismes (1828-94) was, although she has her own statue and a street and a school in Paris named after her. However, when she was buried in 1894, the procession from her home to the cemetery obviously counted some 15,000 participants!
Maria was a leading feminist, but she was also defending the Republic (democracy) and secularism – the separation of state and religion (“laïcité”) -, a representative of “free thought”, active during the latter part of the 19th century. She also managed to become a freemason in 1882, for a short while - she had to resign. She was able to create a mixed lodge only some ten years later. She was however aware that progress could be made only with reasonable actions, by changing laws and attitudes, without “revolution”, which would only create strong counter-reactions. She has obviously had a great influence on women’s rights – clearly (still) needed.
Maria came from a wealthy family, got a good education, was economically independent and could spend her life as journalist, writer and orator, defending her beliefs.
She grew up in the northwest outskirts of Paris, in Pontoise, but lived most of her active life in the 17th arrondissement in Paris and that’s where you can find the statue (Square des Epinettes), the street and the school. The statue was placed here in 1898, four years after her death. As many other statues, this one also disappeared during WWII, but was recast in a slightly different version in 1983 – the chair she was leaning on has disappeared. (The flowers indicate that she still has some “fans”.)
The original sculptor was Louis-Ernest Barras (1841-1905) with a number of statues to be found around France, the most famous one perhaps being “La Defense de Paris”, which gave the name to the business area La Défense (see previous post). Here you can also see one to be found on the tomb of the painter G.A. Guillaumet at the Montmartre Cemetery (see previous post) and one of Bernard Palissy in front of the Manufacture de Sèvres (see previous post).
Here is the school named after Maria.
… and here are some portraits of her, a painting of her mother made by Maria during her young years (!!) and a painting by Pissarro (a friend) of the family home in Pontoise, where Maria continued to spend her summers.
This is where she lived in the 17th arrondissement, first at Avenue de Clichy, later and until her death, at Rue Cardinet.
… and finally, this is her tomb at the Montmartre Cemetery.