Few probably remember Nicole Girard-Mangin. She was the first and only female doctor to work in the French army during the First World War. A public assistance doctor specializing in infectious diseases, she was mobilized on August 2, 1914 “following an administrative error”, recounts the booklet published this Friday by the Ministry of the Armed Forces to pay tribute to the “women fighters” who served France. Around a hundred of them were chosen to appear as inspiring examples.

The list is obviously not exhaustive. Nicole Girard-Mangin “answers the call and she is kept because of her specialty,” continues the short biography devoted to her. Until 1916, “she was paid as a nurse before being appointed assistant doctor”. She will then direct the training of military nurses at the Edith Cavell hospital school. “She will not receive any medal or decoration during her lifetime,” conclude the historians of the Defense Historical Service (SHD) who summarized her life.

The hundred journeys that the SHD retraces in the ministry’s collection, published on the occasion of Women’s Rights Day, this Friday, March 8, 2024, are not all so thankless. Most of them received the Croix de Guerre for their bravery, the Legion of Honor or other decorations. Some heroines received all the recognition they deserved. Marie Hackin, Berthy Albrecht, Laure Diebold, Marcelle Henry, Émilienne Moreau-Évrard and Simone Michel-Lévy are among the 1038 companions of the Liberation. Joséphine Baker, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillon were buried in the Panthéon to honor their commitment.

But many other “fighters” have sunk into or almost oblivion. “Whatever their number, whatever their exploits, their courage and their strength, women fighters have long been forgotten and hidden by male over-representation, in the armies as in history,” notes the Secretary of State for Veterans. fighters Patricia Mirallès, who supervised and supported the project. “The Ministry of the Armed Forces had to remind us what our country owes to those who, by taking up arms to defend it, did not hesitate to defy gender assignments,” she adds in the introduction that she signs. The journey of Jane Dieulafoy, who disguised herself as a man to follow her husband, captain of engineers in the francs-tireurs, close to the front in 1870, constitutes a perfect example.

at a time when the spirit of defense must be cultivated and military recruitment supported, the Ministry of the Armed Forces is tackling its duty of memory. The published collection on women fighters could inspire elected officials and teachers, it is said, and suggest ideas for naming a street or a school. In 2021, the State Secretariat had already published a similar collection on fighters born in the former French colonies in Africa. With little result for the moment.

To produce the booklet, the Defense Historical Service selected one hundred routes from “tens of thousands of others”. The choices were made based on available sources, with the aim of balancing weapons and territories, and with the ambition of sticking to a certain reality. Women are more represented in medical, support or intelligence missions, particularly in the resistance, than in combat missions. “Many volunteer nurses did not leave military records and many of their names have been forgotten,” says the SHD about the First World War.

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The collection allows us to outline the contours of women’s commitment from the war of 1870 to the present day. They were above all nurses or canteen workers at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, like Marie Vialar, the “first canteen worker in France”, engaged for 49 years in service, or even Jeanne Vandamme, nurse “died for France” in 1917. Others also signed up as spies to serve their country or in the army of Free France, like those who joined the female communications corps founded by General Merlin. During the Second World War, they were also resistance fighters: Lucie Aubrac, Olga Bancic, Cecile Rol-Tanguy, Laure Diebold… If they were decorated for their courage, others are still unknown, like Charlotte Trolley de Prevaux, who joined the resistance with her husband. Some streets or buildings in France bear his name, others those of the couple, none her name alone.

During the second half of the 20th century, the military engagement of women continued and became normalized. Valérie André becomes the first female general officer. The Air Force, in particular, is welcoming more and more “female personnel”, as they say within the army. Like men, these female soldiers sometimes die in the course of their missions.

The SHD collection ends with the portraits of Aurélie Salel, Paris firefighter who died in the service of the nation, Mélanie Lemée, gendarme who died in the service of the nation and Yvonne Huynh, first woman to die in an external operation.