How can we name women? Hélène Brion (1882-1962) and the prospect of a feminist Encyclopaedia

Schoolteacher, syndicalist and pacifist, Hélène Brion aimed to compile a Feminist Encyclopaedia, which she began in 1902 but left uncompleted.[1] The task she had taken on was admittedly immense: to inventory all the women whom she deemed remarkable for their actions as well as for the acknowledgement they had garnered in any field. She set out to gather numberless press clippings, which she pasted (in no particular order) in notebooks now preserved in the National Archives and the Marguerite Durand Library.
By seeking to map out any potentially illustrious woman, Hélène Brion came to face a considerable challenge: how can we name them? By their first or last name? In one notebook held in the Marguerite Durand Library she writes:
“Listing women under the name of their husband or father is a major blunder I have made in this book. I quickly realized that the only name that is proper to a woman is her first name; in fact too, many women sacrifice even their first name on the holy altar of marriage. Instead of Mrs. Lucie So-and-so, they become Mrs. Robert What’s-his-name: so great is the spirit of servility in women still.”
This was in July 1950, over forty years after she began the project. It remains a core question of the Eurykleia project: naming women is to do away with any bond of subordination and give them a reality, an existence: a true place in history.

[1] On Hélène Brion, see C. Avrane, “Hélène Brion, une institutrice féministe”, Bulletin Archives du féminisme, n°5, June 2003
(URL :; C. Avrane and Ch. Bard, “Brion Hélène”, Dictionnaire des féministes. France XVIIIe-XXIe siècles, ed. Ch. Bard et S. Chaperon, 2017

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