Violette Gouraud-Morris was born in 1893, youngest of six sisters. In 1914, she married Cyprien Gouraud. Violette was an ambulance driver during the First World War, and was running messages on the front line at the Battle of Verdun. Violette was a major figure in French sport, excelling in horse-riding, swimming, discus and shot-putting. In 1923 she was national boxing champion. From 1917, she was a famous footballer, for Femina Sport de Paris, Olympique de Paris, Les Cadettes de Gascogne, and the French national team.
Sport, Controversy and Fascism
After her divorce in 1923, Violette Morris challenged social and cultural norms, among others by dressing “as a man” and being openly lesbian. France barred her from the 1928 Olympics due to her “low moral standards”. She was criticised for racing cars, and boxing against men. In 1937 she was charged with murder after killing a young man “in self-defence”, and was found not guilty. She became openly pro-Fascist. In 1936, she was reportedly approached by Nazi German officials to collaborate.
After the Fall of France in 1940, Violette Morris collaborated with the Germans and the Vichy regime. Her motor business provided cars, black-market petrol, and her own services as a driver. She also acted as an informer. In April 1944, Violette Morris was killed by the Resistance, who assassinated her on a country road in Normandy. In death, Violette became a hated figure, the “Hyena of the Gestapo”, accused of participating in torture and of betraying state secrets. These have turned out to be myths.
Violette Morris’s life, and death, caused scandal and controversy. She was a gifted athlete, winning medals for swimming at the first Women’s World Games, and excelled in football, boxing, weightlifting and motor racing. But her life became a story of norms and ideology, including her open lesbianism, the sensational trial when she was acquitted of murder, and her pro-Fascist sympathies and wartime collaboration. In 1944 she was killed by the French Resistance as a collaborator. After her death, her name was further blackened by claims about her deeds during the war, which were later found to be exaggerated. Historians are still researching the details of her life.
Educators could look at the life story of Violette Morris and work with young people to consider these questions:
- How can the life story of Violette Morris be narrated in a balanced way?
- How can a multi-facetted life like that of Violette Morris be studied and remembered today?
Find out more
French public radio France Inter provides a brief overview of her life. Another profile that summarises here life is available at Liberation. Although it’s in French, the 3-minute YouTube item, La Diablesse du Stade is informative and insightful. You can also read Cars, Cross-Dressing, And Espionage and Violette Morris: Pioneering Female Athlete Turned Nazi Spy, two articles that investigate Violette’s life in-depth into her life. Belgium Graphic Novel creator Javi Rey recently brought Violette’s story to life in several published works. See his website.
Violette Morris in 1913 (Photo: National Library of France / Public Domain).
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