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.
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.
The series in question imagined what “women of the future” would look like in a series titled Les Femmes de l’avenir.
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!
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…
Bergeret also produced a separate two-card only series also on the topic of female soldiers, called “Zouavettes”:
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!