Women in our cities

Saint Nazaire

Where are the women in Saint Nazaire’s public space ? 

A brief introduction…
Saint Nazaire is a harbour town on the Atlantic coast, in the province of Loire-Atlantique, in France. 

There are two essential periods which had a deep impact on the history of Saint Nazaire : the Industrial Revolution and World War II. 

With the Industrial Revolution, Saint Nazaire experienced a considerable economical growth within a few decades, mostly through the creation of Les Chantiers de l’Atlantique, one of the largest shipyard in the world. An harbour on the Estuary of the Loire River, a prominent river routes of France, Saint Nazaire turned from a small village to a large town.

Throughout World War II, Saint Nazaire was occupied by the Nazi forces and endured several deadly and destructive air raids. At the end of the war, Saint Nazaire was one of the last towns liberated from the Nazi domination in France, and also one of the most damaged towns. 

Saint Nazaire was filled with crumbling ruins. The years following the war were dedicated to rebuilding the town, giving it new avenues and a complete new urban look. 

Studying the urban environment and public spaces of Saint Nazaire is noteworthy on many aspects. Indeed, the industrial past, as well as the foreign domination and the rebuilding period can be seen on every corner. 

This knowledge of the urban history of the town enables for a better analysis of street names, as well as names of public buildings, parks, places… Throughout this article, I will take a look at the current presence of women’s names in the public space. Not only I am interested by the proportion of women included in the public space, I also seek to analyse whether or not the history of Saint Nazaire is reflected in those names. 

Question : So, Saint Nazaire, how is it ? 

According to an article published in 2017 from Ouest France, a regional newspaper, the number of streets bearing the name of a woman amounts to 26 street names. On the contrary, 364 streets are named after a man. 

Besides, it is noteworthy to point out that roads named after a woman are mainly alleys or little streets, rather than avenues and major boulevards. The avenue Suzanne Lenglen, honouring the 1910s-1920s famous tennisplayer, is the only major road named after a woman. 

Similarly, other elements from the public space, such as public schools reflect the same pattern. Among 27 educational public establishments, only 5 are named after a woman. Among those 5 schools, 4 are kindergarten and primary schools. 

Furthermore, the majority of roads or public establishments bearing the name of a woman has been built in the past decade. This analysis testifies the willingness from the municipality council to celebrate more women from the past in the town’s public space. 

Who, then, are these women chosen by the municipality council ? Are they natives from Saint Nazaire ? Do they exemplify the history of Saint Nazaire ? Where are they celebrated ? 

Let’s have a tour around the harbour city of Saint Nazaire… 

First, I will introduce women born, or educated in Saint Nazaire. 

4 women linked to Saint Nazaire are being honoured with a street sign around the town. There is Marie Jospèhe Moelle, who invested in the neighbourhood of Saint Marc where the street bearing her name is located, but also Desirée Tartoue, whose street can be found in the neighbourhood of the Jardin des Plantes

Désirée Tartoue, born in 1806, came from a prominent family of sailors and captains. She was a teacher for the first municipal schools for girls but she is mostly known for her role as a caregiver during the cholera pandemic in 1832 and for her position as mother superior of the Carmelites in Nantes. 

The explorer, ethnologist and writer Odette de Puigadeau (1884-1991) grew up in the surrounding of Saint Nazaire. An ambitious woman for her time, she was one of the first woman allowed on fisher boats in Brittany. She intended to explore Groenland with the commanding officier Charcot, but the latter refused her application for the sole reason that she was a woman. As a result, Odette left Europe and went to explore Western Sahara, a region she dedicated the rest of her life to. An alley bears her name in the neighbourhood of Petit Gavy

Finally, Saint Nazaire born, Germaine Lardon was a figure of the resistance during the Second World War, taking part in the Resistance network Georges France. She was denounced and deported to mauthausen’s camp where she passed away. A square celebrates her memory, as well as her sacrifice. It is located next to the town hall. 

Besides public roads, Christiane Cabalé is also a leading figure of Saint Nazaire whose name appears in the public space. An administrative building, where social services are located, inaugurated in 2011, celebrates her name. Christiane Cabalé was part of the Resistance and was also deported. Back in Saint Nazaire, she has been, and continues to be, an importance voice who dedicated herself to keep the memory of the war alive, by speaking out in multiple occasions, and notably in schools. 

While it may be only streets, or buildings, the names of these 5 women have not been forgotten by their native town. 

But also…

As the last decade demonstrated, several initiatives were taken to increase the visibility of women in the public space. As a result, several well known French prominent women figures have been celebrated. 

New neighbourhoods were built, giving the opportunity to name several newly constructed streets after a woman from the past. For instance, there is an alley Margaret Sanger, named after the American activist whose work in the first half of the XXth century contributed to the legalisation of birth control.  

Schools Andrée Chedid and Madeline Reberious were opened, respectively in 2012 and in 2013. School Andrée Chedid had its first year a few months after the death of the syno-lebanese poet, honouring therefore her memory, whereas school Madeline Reberious was built, and merged two existing schools, bearing men’s names. The French historian is now celebrated in the neighbourhood of la Bouletterie. 

Secondary school Anita Conti is the only higher level public educational establishment (among 7) honouring a well known woman from the past. Opened in 2013, the first French woman oceanographer from the XXth century was chosen after a public consultation gathering teachers, parents and students. It is noteworthy to point out that this consultation had the objective to give the newly constructed secondary school the name of a French or European woman who had a considerable impact in a specific field. 

Recently, Saint Nazaire’s theatre was baptised and Simone Veil, a prominent political figure, was chosen by the municipality council. 

As a conclusion…

By analysing the toponymie of streets and public establishments in Saint Nazaire, it is noteworthy to point out the recent evolutions. In a decade, several new streets were named after women. Similarly, when new schools were opened, the selective process for their names gave a preference to women who have been prominent in different fields. 

Local historical figures are more rare and the streets bearing their names are older, conveying therefore a different decision making process than the one of today. Now, the place of women in public spaces is something questioned and work is done to increase their visibility. 

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