Carolyn J. Eichner is a feminist historian of modern France and empire. She is Chair of Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she also teaches history. Her publications include Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (2004), the forthcoming Feminism’s Empire, and recent articles on imperialism, the gendered prison colony, and feminist opposition to the patronym.
by Carolyn J. Eichner
In 1871, the French military slaughtered approximately 25,000 people in the streets of Paris. Ferociously repressing the 72-day long revolutionary civil war known as the Paris Commune, the French government intended to obliterate and make examples of the socialist, anarchist, and feminist movements that sparked and sustained the insurrection. Of those escaping the massacre, over 35,000 were arrested, approximately one-third of whom were condemned by court martial. To ensure the eradication of the revolutionary stain, France deported nearly 4,500 of the insurgents to New Caledonia, its South Pacific penal colony one thousand miles off the Australian coast, confining the convicts to cages during the four-month sea voyage. Once in the archipelago, the Communards experienced harsh living conditions, pitiless guards, physical deprivation, psychological and emotional isolation, and intense boredom. Most lived in a “prison without walls” on the arid Ducos Peninsula, exiled by their government to an unforgiving carceral world more than 10,000 miles from their homes.More