1902 French Trading Cards Imagine “Women of the Future”


The lag time between our imag­in­ing of social equal­i­ty and its arrival can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly long indeed, or it least it can seem so, giv­en the lim­i­ta­tions of human mor­tal­i­ty. 113 years may not be an espe­cial­ly long time for a tree, say, or even a very healthy Gala­pa­gos tor­toise, but if you or I had been alive in 1902, chances are we’d nev­er know that in 2015 the pres­i­dent of Europe’s most pow­er­ful nation is a woman, as are two major pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the Unit­ed States. Giv­en the amount of inequal­i­ty we still see world­wide, this may not always feel like a tri­umph. In 1902, it might have seemed like “noth­ing but fan­ta­sy.”


And yet even then, it was cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble to fore­see women occu­py­ing all the roles that men did, through the lens­es, writes Lau­ra Hud­son at Boing Boing, of “fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion,” which “can often help us open our minds behind the lim­i­ta­tions of the world we live in and imag­ine a bet­ter one instead.” In 1902, artist Albert Berg­eret was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate the trad­ing cards you see here—just a small selec­tion of twen­ty total pho­tographs called “Les Femmes de l’Avenir”—Women of the Future. Only one theme among many in a series of dif­fer­ent sets of cards, this “retro­fu­tur­is­tic attempt to expand the role of women in soci­ety” showed us a “small and fash­ion­able world” where “women were giv­en a more equal role in soci­ety, not to men­tion spec­tac­u­lar hats.”


That may be so, but just as we can nev­er accu­rate­ly see the future, we can also nev­er reach con­sen­sus on the mean­ing of the past. The Dai­ly Mail’s Maysa Rawi agrees with Hud­son about the “pin-up qual­i­ty to many of the images,” which show “an awful lot of arm.”  And yet Rawi dis­par­ages the entire set as “meant to cap­ture men’s fan­tasies rather than be part of any fem­i­nist move­ment.” I’ll admit, I don’t see the cards this way at all, nor do I think the cat­e­gories are mutu­al­ly exclu­sive. Pin-up girls have also rep­re­sent­ed social pow­er, albeit main­ly sex­u­al pow­er. Scant­i­ly-clad female super­heroes like Won­der Woman, though craft­ed to appeal to the fan­tasies of teenage boys, are also pow­er­ful because… well, they have super­pow­ers.


Per­haps that’s one way to look at Bergeret’s cards. He is not mock­ing his sub­jects, nor hyper-sex­u­al­iz­ing them, but pre­sent­ing, as each card indi­cates, advanced futur­is­tic beings who didn’t yet exist in his time. The Dai­ly Mail cap­tions sev­er­al of the pho­tos with fac­toids about women’s advances in French his­to­ry. In some cas­es, Berg­eret did not have to extrap­o­late far. Women could prac­tice law in 1900; women served in the army dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion, but did not fight. Col­leges had been open to women since 1879. A few women worked as doc­tors and jour­nal­ists in Bergeret’s time. Marie Curie, you’ll recall, had dis­cov­ered polo­ni­um, coined the term “radioac­tiv­i­ty,”  and would win the Nobel Prize in 1903. Queen Vic­to­ria had ruled over half the world.


But French women would have to wait sev­er­al more decades to enter most of the pro­fes­sions rep­re­sent­ed. No mat­ter how sexy—and in some cas­es ridiculous—some of the cos­tumes in these pho­tos, Berg­eret shot the mod­els with poise, style, and dig­ni­ty. Per­haps he and many in his audi­ence could eas­i­ly imag­ine female gen­er­als, may­ors, fire­women, sol­diers, etc. Yet one par­tic­u­lar card stands out. It por­trays a self-sat­is­fied, Bohemi­an mod­el labeled “rapin”—which a read­er below informs us is “an argot word for (bad) painter.”


via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1900, Ladies’ Home Jour­nal Pub­lish­es 28 Pre­dic­tions for the Year 2000

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned Life in the Year 2000: Draw­ing the Future

Mark Twain Pre­dicts the Inter­net in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Sto­ry, “From The ‘Lon­don Times’ in 1904”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • CapriCorNeilus says:

    I hold French memo­r­i­al do rare like this is just amaz­ing and makes me grow even fonder of the land many refer to as “the City of Love” {although not a city}. ?Moi???

  • Fei Deming says:

    The last image is a “rapin”, not “rupin”. “Rapin” is an argot word for “(bad) painter”.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thank you! Cor­rect­ed above…

  • Mathieu12 says:

    “The City of Love” is real­ly a city and this is Paris !!!
    My land is most­ly ref­ered to as “the land of smelling cheeses” ;)

  • Mike Gabrieli says:

    The word “rapin” can mean “bad painter” but it was also used (and is being used here) in a sense clos­er to what in Eng­lish a half a cen­tu­ry lat­er we would call a beat­nik or a boho. Because we had no equiv­a­lent for it at the time, “rapin” was some­times bor­rowed into Eng­lish: the OED gives his exam­ple from 1894: “From the kind of laugh­ter with which the points were received by the ‘rap­ins’ in Car­rel’s stu­dio he guessed these lit­tle songs were vile.” (George du Mau­ri­er, ‘Tril­by’) Con­sid­er that the pipe the woman in the pic­ture is car­ry­ing was some­times referred to at the time as a “pipe de rapin”, which makes more sense as a “Boho’s pipe” than a ‘bad painter’s pipe’, right? Hope that’s help­ful.

  • Charles Miltenberger says:

    Rapin was also used to describe a new­com­er to an ate­lier or a “begin­ner” as we would say.

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