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A traditional part of the French Army, cantinières were attached to battalions of the French army and wore a soldier's uniform, as represented in this "carte de visite". While they would be primarily in charge of carrying food and drink to soldiers, they would also participate in some assaults or battles such as those of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Despite the horrific defeat of the French by the Germans in this war, the city of Paris refused to surrender to German occupation of the capital. Although the newly elected French National Assembly, under the direction of Adolphe Thiers, accepted a peace agreement with Prussia and negotiated terms of surrender in March of 1871, the city of Paris refused submission to Thiers and the Germans, and opted instead to elect a municipal council known as the Commune of Paris. Officially established on March 18th and comprised mainly of members of the working class, the Commune was considered to be a socialist government formed by and for the people, and represented an attempt for Parisians to rewrite laws and reclaim power from the bottom. Shortly after establishing itself, the Commune passed laws that lowered rent, granted freedom of the press, separated church and state, and improved general working conditions for Parisian citizens. The Commune's socialist approach depended on representation of the city as a whole, including women. Women played an active role in participating in various committees and serving as soldiers in battles against the Versailles government. One club, known as the "Union des femmes pour la défense de Paris et les soins aux blessés," founded by Marx's friend Elizabeth Dmitrieff, was an especially active association of women who helped to aid wounded communards. The cantinières were affiliated with this group, and were responsible for providing food and drink to the National Guard of the Commune. They were known to carry coffee or brandy in their casks and were often observed marching and fighting with their battalion.

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"Cantinière" (1868). Paris: Capital of the 19th Century, Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.



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