Paule Mink

Week Nine of Resonating Women of the Paris Commune

Listen here to For Paule                                                                                       improvisation on Roland digital keyboard

Paule Mink  1839 – 1901

Adèle Paulina Mekarska was born in 1839 in Clermont-Ferrand into a libertarian aristocratic family of Polish and French descent. Her parents were supporters of the utopian socialist Henri de Saint-Simon. Paule married a Polish aristocrat, Prince Bohdanowicz whom she later divorced.

In the 1860s, she moved to Paris, associated with various revolutionary socialist circles and developed a reputation as a feminist anti-clerical socialist. She was a member of the Société pour la Revendication du Droit des Femmes, a feminist group established by André Léo that mainly focused on improving girls’ education. She was convinced that the only way to emancipate women was to end capitalism and, under the name of Paule Mink (sometimes Minck) she became a regular speaker at radical political meetings.

During the Commune, she was a prominent participant in at least four clubs, including ones at Nôtre Dame and St. Sulpice, the latter also frequented by Polish-born Lodoyska Kawecka. The clubs, generally made up of working-class Parisians, provided a platform for women to attack social class and gender inequalities and hierarchies. Women clubistes took part in street demonstrations but also acted as cooks, nurses as well as fighting on the barricades alongside men. Paule was also a member of the Committee of Vigilance of Montmartre; she organised a free girls school for the poor in the church at Saint Pierre de Montmartre as well as helping to organise an ambulance brigade. Paule’s contribution was of a particular political character. For Eichner she was,

‘…representative of, as well as leader within, a larger movement: the grass-roots, rhetorically violent, popular insurgency…she advocated a feminism intertwined with an anarchist, decentralized socialism’ (Eichner, 7).

After the Commune, Paule escaped to Switzerland, returning to Paris in the amnesty of 1880. However, Paule’s speech at a socialist conference in Paris in 1881 demonstrated a shift in her political perspective. Rejecting her earlier grass-roots anarchist approach, she expressed a conviction that revolution – for her, a centrally planned socialist uprising – was a necessity.

‘They believed that the Commune was finished. No! It is more alive than ever…After ten years, our slaughterers…did not believe…that we would return to defend ourselves; we have returned from deportation to fight these infamies and to say to you…[…]…We must have absolute liberty, if they won’t give it to us, we will take it. What we want is the democratic republic.’ (Mink in Eichner, 149)

In 1881 she was imprisoned for her role in a demonstration on behalf of the Russian refugee Jessy Helfman. Since Paule’s family had strong connections to Russia, the French government threatened to deport her. She manage to avoid this by marrying a fellow revolutionary, the mechanic Maxime Négro with whom she had two sons: Lucifer-Blanqui-Vercingetorix-Révolution (born in 1882 and died in infancy) and Spartacus-Blanqui-Révolution (born in 1884, renamed Maxime by a civil tribunal). She also helped found, and contributed to, the feminist journal La Fronde in 1897, with Marguerite Durand and others.

Paule died in 1901. At her funeral there was a large demonstration of socialists, anarchists and feminists. She is buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Image of three woman: Marie Ferré, Louise Michel and Paule Minck] near Mairie, Xth arrondissement

A few sources

Mink Paule. Ecrit parfois Minck, Le Maitron, dictionnaire biographique, mouvement ouvrier, mouvement social

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

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)