HomeThe Free French - extraordinary commitment in detail

HomeThe Free French - extraordinary commitment in detail

The Free French - extraordinary commitment in detail

Les Françaises libres

Spécificités d’un engagement hors norme(s)

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Published on Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Cet appel à contribution est destiné aux chercheurs travaillant sur la seconde guerre mondiale et l'histoire des femmes. Ils sont invités à participer à un colloque international sur le rôle et la place dans la France Libre qui se tiendra à Paris en novembre 2020 et donnera lieu à une publication en volume.


International symposium organised by the Fondation de la France Libre in Paris, in November 2020


Joséphine Baker, Jeanne Bohec, Florence Conrad, Ève Curie, Margot Duhalde, Eugénie and Ginette Éboué, Marie Hackin, Simonne Mathieu, Élisabeth de Miribel, Marthe Simard, Josiane Somers, Hélène Terré, Tereska Torrès, Susan Travers, Simone Weil… Many renowned French women who evoke female engagement during the Second World War. From a statistical standpoint, female volunteers represented a mere 2.2% of the Free French Forces. However, taking the Free French nebula in its entirety (military and civilian personnel, Free French committees across the world, press, propaganda, philanthropy, etc.), the mobilisation of Free French women was much more significant.

Yet, except for a few notable exceptions, the role and place of women in the Free French remains a relatively uncharted topic. During the war, their mobilisation was the subject of extensive media coverage, due to its outstanding character. Thanks to this heightened visibility, autobiographical accounts, in the form of memoirs and journals, were published fairly early on – with various levels of success. Among numerous titles, we can cite Florence Conrad’s Camarades de combat (1942), Hélène Terré’s Volontaires pour la France (1946), Tereska Torrès’ Women’s Barracks (1950) and Une Française Libre (2000), Éliane Brault’s L’Épopée des A.F.A.T. (1954), Suzanne Torrès-Massu’s Quand j’étais Rochambelle, de New York à Berchtesgaden (1969), Zizon Bervialle’s Au volant de Madeleine Bastille (1975), Élisabeth de Miribel’s La Liberté souffre violence (1981), Sonia Vagliano-Éloy’s Les Demoiselles de Gaulle (1982), Gilberte Parthenay-Charbonnel’s Où est Scarabée ? (1989) or Susan Travers’ Tomorrow to be Brave (2001).

Historical research, on the other hand, only began to examine the involvement of women in the Free French in the early 2000s.[1] There are several explanations for this: the success of Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac’s La France Libre (1996); the arrival of gender studies in France and, with it, of a new generation of historians; the advent of new research on the anthropology of resistant life, which further complexified this field of study; or the gradual disappearance of the last surviving witnesses, which created a distinct sense of urgency. New biographies thus brought to light the paths of exceptional individuals, such as Éliane Brault (2009), Susan Travers (2014), or Ève Curie (2016), etc. Despite growing interest for this topic, no general studies of Free Frenchwomen have yet been published – most of the work having been devoted to specific cases, such as that of Rochambelles, the volontaires françaises, or of female Compagnon de la Libération. Furthermore, a significant part of this recent research has been are the work of journalists, of non-academics, or of English-speaking historians – which further demonstrates the current marginality of Free France in French academic research. However, the upcoming publications by Sébastien Albertelli and Laure Humbert, respectively on the Corps des volontaires françaises (CVF) and the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit, bode well for a better consideration of this field by historians – as does this international symposium project.

The latter aims to take stock of the historiography, and to inspire new research. Throughout this symposium, we will ask a central question: how did women mobilise for the Free French?

We welcome submissions within the following lines:

 1) The paths of female mobilisation

 The goal of this symposium is to establish a typology of female mobilisation. Was mobilisation part of a continuing process within these women’s lives, or did it represent a digression, a side-note? Did mobilisation mark a rupture, or a reorientation? What impact – if any – did it have on personal relationships, on professional life, and on social norms? Was mobilisation an isolated act, or, rather, the result of group dynamics? What were the goals and motivations that drove it? How, and from which countries, did female volunteers come to mobilise in support of Free France? What constraints, what dangers did they face in doing so? How did these women experience this adventure? To what extent did gendered social norms and power relations shape the political, military or cultural engagement of women in the Free French? Did these women see mobilisation as a form of liberation? Or, on the contrary, what hesitations did they experience when confronted with their choices – and how did this interact with realities of exile? How are these paths of female mobilisation, in their diversity and complexity, reflected in the correspondence and writings of these Françaises Libres?

 2) The different forms of female mobilisation

 The mobilisation of women for the Free French took various forms. In order to ‘do something,’ did female volunteers seek military service? If so, did they serve on the front lines, or on the home front? Or, rather, did their gendered circumstances lead them towards a civil engagement – in Free French committees, in intellectual combat, in charitable organisations? Or, did they commit to the unique universe that was the army of shadows? To what extent did gender determine the form of female mobilisation and engagement within the Free French – and, as a result, the daily lives of these women, and their very place within the movement? What can be said of emotion among these female recruits: how did they face the test of challenged gender norms, and of combat? [2] How did choosing Free France, in its varied forms, distinguish these women from their sisters in the Internal Resistance, in Allied services, or in other occupied European countries, on which the historiography has focused a lot more? And what can this comparison teach us?

 3) The gendered character of female mobilisation

 For French women in the 1940s, engagement within the Free French was eminently extra-ordinary – that is, outside the norm. What stereotypes about these new volunteers did this extra-ordinary engagement arouse? What impact did propaganda give to their mobilisation, to their courage, to their journeys? Conversely, to what extent did the Françaises Libres perpetuate, if at all, the French woman’s reputation for charm and elegance within the armies and committees they joined? In turn, how did they face accusations of promiscuity that tended to follow women within the armed forces? How were these unique volunteers represented, publicised – according to which codes? To what extent did the entry of women into Free France denote the porosity of gender, and the fluidity of identities? How were their experiences of battle different from those of men? What weight did ethnic origin, social class, or family situation carry for these volunteers, already at the intersection of power relations within the Free French? What constraints, what ruptures did their insertion within an eminently masculine universe imply? How did volunteers adapt to the double break – both personal and institutional – that followed their commitment to Free France? As for gender norms, can we really speak of a rupture, or, rather, was engagement in fact a continuation of gendered pre-war practices? What strategies did volunteers develop to gain access to full commitment? How did they play with gender norms, and take ownership of them?

 4) Memories and legacies of female mobilisation

 Collective memory retains but a few traces of a small minority of these thousands of female volunteers, but a few illustrious figures – despite heavy media coverage both during the conflict and in the form of immediate post-war testimonies. How can we explain this disunited, increasingly fading memory of the Françaises Libres? What meaning, what significance did their testimonies truly hold, in the mass of memoirs published in the post-war years, among the general public, or even among the armed forces? What role did self-censorship play in shaping these testimonies – and the lack thereof, for many of the women involved? As such, can we speak of a ‘gendered’ memory? When did this memory begin to emerge in French collective consciousness and imagination – and can we establish a periodisation of the memory of female engagement? What roles did associations played in this phenomenon, in the context of a ‘moral economy of recognition’? What status, what commemorations – plaques, monuments, decorations, representation – and what historiography remain for these extra-ordinary ‘anciennes combattantes’?

We welcome contributions on:

  • female mobilisation in historical perspective
  • female mobilisation in the Free French and the Fighting French
  • female mobilisation in the French Army of the Liberation
  • female mobilisation in a comparative perspective:
  • in the French interior Resistance (both in networks and in movements)
  • in the extra-metropolitan Resistance of colonial territories
  • in foreign Resistance movements and networks
  • in Allied armies and services (SOE, SIS, OSS…)
  • under Vichy and in the Collaboration

Practical details

The symposium will be translated throughout in both French and English.

General queries and abstracts of no more than 300 words (along with a brief academic biography) should be sent to documentation[at]france-libre[dot]net

before 15 March 2020,

in French or English.

Authors of proposals will be informed of the scientific committee’s decision on their submission by 15 April 2020.

Transport, housing, and restauration fees will be covered by the Fondation de la France Libre for speakers not residing in Paris.

 Scientific committee

  • Sébastien Albertelli
  • Valerie Deacon
  • Charlotte Faucher
  • Fabrice Grenard
  • Laure Humbert
  • Christine Levisse-Touzé
  • Guillaume Piketty

Scientific coordination

  • Diane de Vignemont and Sylvain Cornil-Frerrot (FFL)

[1] See, for instance: Ellen Hampton, Women of Valor: The Rochambelles on the WWII Front, New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006 ; Christine Levisse-Touzé’s paper on the Corps des volontaires françaises in Mechtild Gilzmer, Christine Levisse-Touzé, and Stefan Martens (dir.), Les femmes dans la Résistance en France, Actes du colloque de Berlin, 8-10 octobre 2001, Paris: Tallandier, 2003 ; Vladimir Trouplin, Christine Levisse-Touzé, and Guy Krivopissko, Dans l’honneur et par la victoire : Les femmes Compagnon de la Libération, Paris: Tallandier, 2009.

[2] On emotion, see Guillaume Piketty’s recent works, in which he applies Barbara Rosenwein’s notion of ‘emotional community’ to the sociology of the Resistance; as well as: Damien Boquet et Didier Lett, « Les émotions à l’épreuve du genre », Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire, n° 47 (2018), p. 7-22, URL : https://www.cairn.info/revue-clio-femmes-genre-histoire-2018-1-page-7.htm.


  • Paris, France (75)


  • Sunday, March 15, 2020


  • femmes,france libre,seconde guerre mondiale,de gaulle,résistance


  • Sylvain Cornil-Frerrot
    courriel : contact [at] france-libre [dot] net

Information source

  • Sylvain Cornil-Frerrot
    courriel : contact [at] france-libre [dot] net


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The Free French - extraordinary commitment in detail », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, January 29, 2020, https://doi.org/10.58079/14b6

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