by Radiyah Shakur
Louise Michel, French anarchist and school teacher, was born in 1830 in Vroncourt, France and raised by her mother and paternal grandparents. Afforded a progressive and liberal education, Louise developed social awareness at a young age, and vehemently opposed the monarch and the Catholic Church.
In 1853 she became a schoolmaster, and opened a private school in Audelancourt. However, her aspiration to fight the Empire impelled Louise to move to Paris in 1856. While living there, the poverty she witnessed inspired her revolutionary spirit even more. Nine years later, she bought a private day-school in Montmartre. In this period she attended political meetings, and met many highly-organised revolutionaries.
On 14 July 1870, war broke out between France and Germany. It was during this time that Louise Michel became politically engaged. She organized shelters and food and was president of Montmartre Women's Vigilance Committee. She became an ambulance nurse and soldier, belonging to the Montmartre sixty-first battalion. She was later arrested for insisting to receive arms; the first of many arrests, but this never deterred Louise Michel from sacrificing her life for the ‘’conquest of freedom’’.
When the Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871, the worker-residents of Paris refused entry to their Prussian conquerors. The Paris Commune was formed, with Louise Michel as one of its leaders. The Commune, which only lasted for 3 months, severed all state connection to the church, nationalized all church property, and secularized the schools. After the fall of the Commune, Michel was arrested for trying to overthrow the government. She eventually turned herself into the authorities, as they threatened to shoot her mother. Thousands of people, even women and children, were executed and imprisoned; however, Michel became one of the 30,000 that were exiled.
In 1873 she was deported to New Caledonia. After spending five years in exile, she grew to know and respect the Kanaks, which are the island’s indigenous people. In addition to teaching, she learned about anarchism, and even supported Kanack’s in their struggles against French colonialism and racism. In 1818 general amnesty was granted to prisoners, and Louise Michel returned to France and became even more involved in opposing the church and state.
In this period she attended many meetings in France and abroad, where she spoke about her struggle for Social Revolution and anarchism; eventually becoming known as the Red Virgin, for her radicalism. She often traveled to London; and opened a school there for children of political refugees, which closed around 1893.
Louise continued to fight for social justice, better wages and working conditions for labor, despite the risk of being arrested. She was pardoned during her last prison stay so she could be by the side of her dying mother. Louise Michel continued to lecture at home and abroad until her death in Marseilles on 9 January 1905. Her funeral drew two thousand mourners, with memorial services all over France and London.