Listen here to For Béatrix improvisation on 19thc pedal-driven chapel harmonium and bowed psaltery
Béatrix Excoffon 1849-1916
(Julia) Béatrix Euvrie was born in Cherbourg in 1849, the daughter of a watch-maker who had been arrested for activities in opposition to the 2nd December coup d’état. Later, she lived in union libre with François Excoffon, a printing compositor.
On 2 April, Versailles launched an attack on a Parisian suburb. A crowd of women, including Béatrix, gathered at the Place de la Concorde in one of the largest demonstrations of the Commune. Later, she described the scene.
‘I told my mother I was leaving, I kissed my children and off I went. At the Place de la Concorde, at half past one, I joined the procession. There were between 700 and 800 women. Some talked about explaining to Versailles what Paris wanted; others talked about how things were a hundred years ago, when the women of Paris had already gone to Versailles to carry off the baker and the baker’s wife and the baker’s little boy.’
During the Commune, Béatrix took her place alongside Elisabeth Dimitrieff and Nathalie Lemel at the Place Blanche, constructing barricades from old furniture, horse-carts, books and anything else that came to hand. She actively participated in the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee and also served as vice-president of the Club de la Boule Noir, a political club in the 18th arrondissement that demanded the right for women to help and tend the wounded on the battlefield as well as in hospitals. Beatrix and eighteen other women formed an impromptu ambulance station at Issy, where she cared for the enfants perdus.
Nicknamed La Républicaine in her neighbourhood, on the defeat of the Commune, she was arrested and was called for execution three times. She escaped death though and was sentenced by the War Council to transportation, later reduced to ten years imprisonment. In the same prison as Louise Michel, desparate to return to her family Béatrix transformed herself into a virtuous and submissive prisoner, writing various letters of repentance. Subsequently, her sentence was remitted in 1878 and, having married François in 1874, she was released and returned to Paris.
A few sources
M. P. Johnson, ‘Memory and the Cult of Revolution in the 1871 Paris Commune’, Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 9, No.1, Spring 1997
J Cox, ‘Genderquake: socialist women and the commune’, International Socialist Quarterly Review of Socialist Theory, Issue 69, posted 5 January 2021
C. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades, Women in the Paris Commune, 2004
G. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris, 1996
E. Thomas, The Women Incendiaries, 1966
My letterpress prints are made on paper salvaged from a discarded series of 19thc technical manuals sourced in Tarnac, a small rural community in Corrèze, one of the ‘reddest cantons in France as a whole’ (Ad Knotter, ‘Little Moscows in Western Europe: the Ecology of Small-place Communism’, International Review of Social History, 2011)