Meeting Simone and Hélène de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir introduced Monteil to her sister, the painter Hélène de Beauvoir, who wanted to join the Women’s Liberation Movement. Dr Monteil and Hélène immediately became fast friends and their friendship lasted until Hélène’s death in 2001. Hélène de Beauvoir did over 3000 paintings and drawings among which moving paintings on women’s issues and struggles as well as on environmental matters. Years ahead of her time, she was deeply concerned by the future of our planet.

Her paintings are also testimonies of the twentieth century and of the countries where she lived with her husband, a diplomat, former student of Jean-Paul Sartre: Portugal, Austria, Yugoslavia, Marocco and Italy. All are focused on the unique landscapes of these places, on people’s lives and on women’s status in these cultures. During her lifetime she had exhibits around the world, including the U.S.A, Japan, Germany, Italy and France (see the Hélène de Beauvoir website presented by the Hammer gallery in Regensburg, Germany).

In 2003, Claudine Monteil wrote a tribute to the two sisters called Les Soeurs Beauvoir, Editions 1, The Beauvoir Sisters, Seal Press 2004 (translated by Marjolijn de Jagger). When Hélène de Beauvoir, who was living near Strasbourg, France, came to Paris, she stayed at Monteil’s apartment, on the left Bank, near Montparnasse. Simone de Beauvoir, a neighbour, came many times to the apartment to discuss women’s issues and see her sister. Hélène was at Monteil’s home when Sartre died in 1980. She also tried to support Hélène as much as she could when her sister Simone de Beauvoir passed away in 1986. For Simone de Beauvoir funerals, Monteil wrote two detailed articles published the same day in the French daily newspaper Le Monde, one on Simone de Beauvoir’s life and work (titled “A duty for women: live”, see more in CV) and the other an interview with Hélène de Beauvoir about her sister.

With the encouragement of the Beauvoir sisters, Claudine Monteil became interested in women’s health issues. For several summers she stayed at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Los Angeles providing health education and clinic services along with the regular staff. In 1979 she came to the United States with Hélène de Beauvoir to support American feminists, especially the Feminist Women’s Health Centers which provided birth control, abortions, gynecological health care, donor insemination, and sexual education on both the west and east coasts. Because these centers provided abortions, they were targets of anti-abortion attacks, including clinic invasions, chemical attacks, and fire-bombing, (for more information please follow links to books and articles written by Rebecca Chalker and Carol Downer on women’s body, health and sexuality).

"Les femmes souffrent, les femmes les jugent"

 CLAUDINE MONTEIL

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