CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

How many of these famous French women have you heard of?

PUBLISHED: 16:19 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:17 06 March 2017

Joan of Arc © Steven Wynn / Thinkstockphotos

Joan of Arc © Steven Wynn / Thinkstockphotos

Archant

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’ve chosen 10 famous French women who have left their mark on history. How many have you heard of and who else would you add to the list?

Joan of Arc

National heroine

Nicknamed ‘the Maid of Orléans’, Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in Domrémy, Vosges. The daughter of poor tenant farmers, at the age of 18 she led the French army to victory over the English during the Hundred Years’ War, before being captured a year later and burned at the stake. A national heroine, she was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 1920.

Edith Piaf © Eric Koch, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989Edith Piaf © Eric Koch, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989

Édith Piaf

Singer

Christened Édith Giovanna Gassion, Piaf was born on 19 December 1915 in Belleville, Paris. After a childhood marked by poverty and hardship, ‘the little sparrow’ went on to become one of France’s most famous chanteuses, recording hits such as Je Ne Regrette Rien and La Vie en Rose. Piaf died in Provence in October 1963, aged 47.

___________________________________________________________________________

Related articles

The life and death of Édith Piaf: a French icon

A history of French fashion

___________________________________________________________________________

Coco Chanel in 1928 via Wikimedia CommonsCoco Chanel in 1928 via Wikimedia Commons

Coco Chanel

Fashion designer and businesswoman

Founder and namesake of the Chanel brand, Gabrielle Bonheur ‘Coco’ Chanel was born on 19 August 1883 in Saumur, Maine-et-Loire. She was raised in an orphanage after the death of her mother, and after a brief stint as a singer, performing in clubs as ‘Coco’, she opened her first clothes shop in 1910. Chanel went on to become famous for her trademark suits and little black dresses, and launched the first perfume to feature a designer’s name – Chanel No.5. The revered style icon died on 10 January 1971, aged 87.

Emilie Chatelet portrait by Latour Maurice Quentin de La Tour via Wikimedia CommonsEmilie Chatelet portrait by Latour Maurice Quentin de La Tour via Wikimedia Commons

Émilie du Châtelet

Mathematician and physicist

A philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Émilie du Châtelet’s most lasting contribution to science and her most recognised achievement is her translation of Isaac Newton’s book Principia into French. Containing the basic laws of physics, it is still considered the standard French translation and remains in use to this day. She was born in Paris on 17 December 1706, and died in 1749 at the age of 43 following complications during childbirth.

Brigitte Bardot in 1962 By MGM, via Wikimedia CommonsBrigitte Bardot in 1962 By MGM, via Wikimedia Commons

Brigitte Bardot

Dancer, model and actress

Born on 28 September 1934 in Paris, Bardot studied ballet as a teenager and appeared on the cover of Elle magazine at the age of 15. She became an international star after appearing in the 1956 film And God Created Women, and was one of the best-known sex symbols of the 1950s and 60s. She retired from acting in 1973 and established herself as an animal rights’ activist.

___________________________________________________________________________

Related articles

France’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

10 things you need to know about French etiquette

___________________________________________________________________________

Tomb of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre © Tibauk commonswikiTomb of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre © Tibauk commonswiki

Simone de Beauvoir

Academic, philosopher, writer, women’s rights activist

Considered to have laid the foundations for the modern feminist movement, Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris on 9 January 1908. She has a long-term relationship with the pioneering existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who she met at the age of 21. Her best-known work The Second Sex was published in 1949 and established her as one of the most important feminist icons of her era. De Beauvoir died on 14 April 1986 in Paris and is buried with Sartre at the Montparnasse cemetery.

Sarah Bernhardt Nadar in 1864 via Wikimedia CommonsSarah Bernhardt Nadar in 1864 via Wikimedia Commons

Sarah Bernhardt

Actress

Born Henriette-Rosine Bernard on 22 October 1844 in Paris, Sarah Bernhard attended the Paris Conservatoire as a teenager and was later accepted by France’s national theatre company, going on to appear on stage and in some of the earliest films ever produced, including Hamlet and La Tosca. She continued to tour after her right leg was amputated following an accident, playing roles she could take on while seated or wearing a prosthetic limb. She died in Paris on 26 March 1923, aged 78.

___________________________________________________________________________

Related articles

The life and work of Gustave Eiffel

Visit France’s most unusual museums

___________________________________________________________________________

Charlotte Gainsbourg © Olivier PacteauCharlotte Gainsbourg © Olivier Pacteau

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Actress and singer

Anglo-French singer and actress Charlotte is the daughter of English actress Jane Birkin and French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. Born in London on 21 July 19721 at the height of her parents’ fame, she was raised in Paris and has received both a César Award and the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award for her film roles.

Marion Cotillard in 2009 © nicogeninMarion Cotillard in 2009 © nicogenin

Marion Cotillard

Actress, musician, environmentalist

With an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and two César Awards to her name for roles in films including A Very Long Engagement and La Vie en Rose, actress Marion Cotillard also holds France’s highest honour, the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. Born on 30 September 1975 in Paris, the actress is married to actor and director Guillaume Canet and has been a spokesperson for Greenpeace since 2001.

Isabelle Huppert at Festival de Venise (Mostra) © Nicolas GeninIsabelle Huppert at Festival de Venise (Mostra) © Nicolas Genin

Isabelle Huppert

Actress

Born in the 16th arrondissement of Paris on 16 March 1953, actress Isabelle Huppert made her television debut in 1971 with Le Prussien. Her international breakthrough came with the film La Dentelliere in 1977, for which she won a BAFTA, and most recently she won a Golden Globe for her performance in the 2016 film Elle. With 16 nominations, she is the most nominated actress for the César Award.

More from Language and Culture

Thursday, November 15, 2018

France has historically been on the leading edge of eco-friendly projects and regulations. While many argue that much more needs to be done to meet environmental goals in France and globally, here are 11 ways that French government, companies and people are striving to be green.

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out. Find out the fascinating stories behind the names of these places in France featuring dragons, gods and Sardinian kings.

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Michel and Alain Roux have unveiled the menu at their new French-inspired riverside brasserie, Roux at Skindles

Read more
Friday, September 21, 2018

As a floating restaurant opens in Paris, we take a look at some of the city’s alternative dining experiences, involving famous rail carriages, secret doorways and eating in total darkness.

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kate Mosse was a guest speaker at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 2018 and spoke about finding inspiration for her latest book – and beginning of a new series of novels set in France – The Burning Chambers.

Read more
Culture and attractions
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Agnès Poirier’s latest book explores the history of Paris 1940–1950 and the influential people that lived through the time. The French writer spoke about her book this year at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Read more
Thu, 12:24

What would the festive season be without a few games? Get in the competitive spirit with our Christmas language quiz

Read more
Friday, November 30, 2018

Gather the family and see how many of these animals you can name in French

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pigs, processions and high prices - why truffle season is a serious business in France

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

If you’re looking for a great wine to take home to impress your guests, you can now discover the best bottles in your neighbourhood at the touch of a button

Read more
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now