Girl Soldier: Women of the Future!

I’ve recently been reviewing a website which covers the collectable postcards of French printer/publisher Albert Bergeret. Bergeret was a former soldier serving between the years of 1879 and 1884. Developing his knowledge in modern printing techniques, he launched his own series of popular postcards and established a thriving company in a career that lasted until he died in 1932. Early on, he covered contemporary subjects such as the disastrous Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition and the controversial Dreyfus Affair.

‘Zoavettes’: “In the distance the enemy advances, but we know how to stop it!

One of the series in particular caught my eye however, as it seemed to chime with my previous Girl Soldier series of posts on the imaginary depiction of women soldiers. As a former soldier, I wonder how much Bergeret himself was directly involved in this series.

A French NCO holds a ticket for lodgings. She wears a kepi, full pack and a dark, braided sleeveless jacket.

The series in question imagined what “women of the future” would look like in a series titled Les Femmes de l’avenir.

#9. 2nd lieutenant

Presumably, this series was intended to be quaintly amusing, in the same manner that Ellam’s Girl Soldier series of postcards were. Today, some of these ‘future women’s roles’ now sound amusing only by dint of their being so commonplace to modern ears – females as a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a student, a mayor?! Oh là là!

A female doctor? Sacré bleu!

As predictors of future fashion they are amusingly inaccurate, and yet as prophets of social change are curiously prescient at the same time. The series of trade cards envisaged military roles for women to include:

  • A Zouave
  • An NCO
  • A general
  • A marine
  • A drummer
  • A ‘garde champêtre’ (a sort of French local police)
  • A master of arms

Unlike the original Girl Soldier series of illustrations which I posted on, the ladies’ dress owe little to real military uniforms and seem to borrow much from pantomime and fancy dress. The shapely costumes and bare arms may have been an early 20th Century appeal to the erotic (‘the right to bare arms’, perhaps?!). That said, if we are to accept literally that these are ‘women of the future’ then, I suppose a degree of fantasy and creative license can be granted on that basis. Bergeret clearly imagined that sleeves would become very unpopular and that swords and bicorne hats would be back in vogue…

A Marine

Bergeret also produced a separate two-card only series also on the topic of female soldiers, called “Zouavettes”:

Salut! These Zouvettes here make reference here to the visit of Edward 7th to France in 1903, a popular Francophile whose efforts led in part to the Entente Cordiale.

As with the Girl Soldier series of postcards, however patronising these images might have been intended to have been received by the public, there must have also been a degree of unintentional empowerment and liberation inherent in the sight of women fulfilling these roles. And after all, many roles such as these for women really were the future!

7 thoughts on “Girl Soldier: Women of the Future!

  1. Now I am motivated to look back on your other posts about women depicted in the military. This is a part of history I totally missed! Thank you for pointing out the unintentional empowerment and liberation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Judith! 🙂 Hope you’re well. Glad you enjoyed it, you may be interested in my other posts on a similar theme:

      The original post on women soldiers in artworks:
      https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/girl-soldier/

      Postcard artist Winifred Wimbush’s series on women in military-inspired dress.
      https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/winifred-on-womens-day/

      A post about a woman who enjoyed a long and dramatic career undetected in an 18th century cavalry regiment.
      https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2020/03/01/the-female-dragoon-a-farewell-to-fembruary-2020/

      Finally, the remarkable real-life stories of some women soldiers in the Serbian army in WWI.
      https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/heroic-female-soldiers-of-serbia/

      Like

  2. Interesting – somewhere between tilted heavily towards titillation and slightly towards empowerment. What would today’s servicewomen make of these (or the BMC 54mm Plastic Army Women Kickstarter embraced by so many service families in the USA?)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And female doctors, athletes … who could imagine? They reveal a lot about the time they were made (by men?), bought and collected for albums (by men?) That saying, you can still buy ‘retro’ (or ‘ironic’) comic seaside postcards at the British seaside that are decades behind modern attitudes.

        Liked by 1 person

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