The Paris Years, Trial and Deportation
In addition to the Commune, Michel joined a feminist group, Société pour la Revendication du Droit des Femmes. Any hopes of meeting like-minded women through the group were quickly dashed. The women’s opinions were so widely varied; they restricted themselves to the topic of education for girls and nothing else. Fortunately for Michel, the group’s narrow scope did not distract her from pursuing other interests. She was more of a doer rather than a passively interested spectator. She began working as an ambulance driver.
Not surprisingly, this soon overlapped with her teaching interest and soon she began sharing her ideas about resistance in context to the Franco-Prussian war. She became a member of the National Guard, which was like going full circle. Her intense political opinions could only be matched by her actions. She proposed to the group that she assassinate the President of the French Republic. His murder would cause chaos and lead to the destruction of Paris. Other members of the group were up in arms, lamenting over the loss of Theophile Ferre who had been executed in November of 1871.
Ferre and Michel were both members of the Commune. Ferre was acting on behalf of a decree the Commune passed giving them the authority to arrest anyone they suspected of being loyal to the French government in Versailles. Several hundred were arrested and held captive, including an archbishop. The commune plotted to exchange some of those they had arrested for political allies they wanted to set free.
The French government would not agree to the exchange and soon had Paris surrounded. Fighting between the National Guard and French government went on for a week. It was during this time, Ferre was appointed to the position of prosecutor. Using his authority, he ordered six of the hostages the Commune was holding captive be executed. When Ferre was later captured by the French government, he was tried and sentenced to death.
To mark the occasion, Louise read a Victor Hugo poem, The Red Carnation. When Hugo heard about the event, he in turn wrote and dedicated a poem to Michel, Viro Major. Many speculate Michel and Ferre were deeply in love as a result of their shared radical views and dedication to the revolutionary fight. Following Ferre’s death, Michel was arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. To solidify the accusation, she was accused of wearing a military uniform, carry a weapon and encouraging ordinary citizens to arm themselves. She was found guilty and served 20 months in prison and was sentenced to deportation.
During her trial, she provoked the court by swearing her eternal allegiance to the Commune. She also swore vengeance. The press loved her colorful story and outspoken demeanor. They dubbed her, “la Louve rouge, la Bonne Louise” (the red she-wolf, the good Louise). While being deported to New Caledonia, she met Henri Rochefort and Nathalie Lemel, who may have influenced her into finally becoming an anarchist. After seven years, she organized a revolt and caused a stir everywhere she went. Still, Michel was authorized to teach in Noumea, which she did until 1880, when she was allowed to return to France. Upon arriving back, she traveled to Paris and began giving public speeches.
In 1881, she was back in full revolutionary mode. In London, she led demonstrations before traveling throughout France encouraging anarchism and revolution. She overstepped a line after she led a mass of protestors to pillage a bakery. The audacious behavior landed her back in prison for six years; she was released and picked up where she left off. However, by this time Michel had made a lot of enemies. Rumors that it was being considered to put her in an asylum worried Michel enough that she relocated to England. During the Dreyfus Affair, she began splitting her time between England and France, where she eventually died while on a lecture tour on January 10, 1905.