La Vraie Madame Sans-Gêne: Women in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Armies

Susan Conner, USA


In 1893, a four-act play called "La Vraie Madame Sans Gene" opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in Paris. Written by Sardou and Moreau, it described the life of the Marechale Lefebvre, duchesse de Danzig. Emiile Cere, an historian of the Napoleonic period, was chagrinned by the appearance of the play. The "true" Mme Sans Gene was, in fact, Therese Figueur, a twenty-three year veteran of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic years. In 1894, Cere published Figueur's memoirs and constituted her place in French history. In spite of Cere's work and the publications of Leon Hennet, archivist of the Service Historique de l'Armée, women in the French armies have remained little known. This paper provides a look at the women who served in the armies in their own right, who dealt with a government that became less and less accommodating to them, and who ultimately were removed from their employment, denied pensions, and consigned to a place almost outside of history. It further illuminates the life of Therese Figueur.

Susan Conner is professor of history and provost at Albion College in Albion, Michigan. She earned her Ph.D. in eighteenth century French history and the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and she currently specializes in topics on women and gender. She has published a book, The Age of Napoleon (Greenwood, 2004) and articles on women in the military, prostitutes, criminality, and poverty in such journals as the ‘Journal of Women's History,’ the ‘Journal of Social History,’ ‘18 th Century Life’ and ‘18th Century Studies.’ She is a member of the governing board of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, and is a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society. She is the recipient of the INS Legion of Merit.