Louise Michel was born on 29 May 1830 at the Château de Vroncourt (Haute-Marne). Raised in the family of those she called her grandparents, the young girl benefited from a liberal education. Endowed with an uncommonly altruistic spirit, Louise Michel became involved very early on in the struggle against the poverty that afflicted the people.
Louise Michel moved to Paris in 1856 and experienced the Parisian agitation: she wrote for opposition newspapers and developed her literary activity; in addition to a sustained correspondence with Victor Hugo, she tried her hand at the art of rhyme. This period also marked the beginning of a political militancy that would continue to animate her until her death.
In November 1870, on the eve of the Commune, Louise Michel ran a school in one of the working-class districts and organised a canteen for her pupils in a Paris ravaged by famine. She participated in all the demonstrations denouncing the imperial regime. Louise Michel belonged to the most radical revolutionary wing and even volunteered to go and assassinate the head of state and government, Adolphe Thiers. The young woman devoted herself to action: an anarchist and feminist activist, devoted to the cause of the most destitute, the "Red Virgin" fought without compromise for the "Social Revolution".
Too often overshadowed in favour of the militant, we must nevertheless not forget to give her her place in French literature. Her literary work includes few theoretical writings but many poems, legends and stories.
After riots in 1871, Louise Michel was sentenced to deportation. In 1873, she disembarked in New Caledonia with her few surviving comrades in struggle. In 1879, when her sentence was commuted to simple deportation, she settled in Nouméa and resumed teaching deported children and native girls' schools. It was during this period of deportation that her anarchist commitment began.
In 1880, following the amnesty for those condemned by the Commune, Louise Michel returned to Paris. From then on, her militancy took on a new dimension: she gave several hundred lectures in France and abroad, and fought for the most diverse causes (abolition of the death penalty, support for strikers, etc.). Her revolutionary preaching earned her several stays in prison. A voluntary exile, she lived and taught in London from 1890 to 1895, before returning to France for good.
It was in 1905, during a final propaganda trip to Marseille, that Louise Michel succumbed to pneumonia.
● Emmanuel Melmoux, David Mitzinmacker: Louise Michel 1830-1905, in: 100 personnages qui ont fait l'histoire de France, Fiche 73, published by Editions Bréal, 2004, pp. 176-177.