An archaeologist, explorer, and writer in fin de siècle France, Jane Dieulafoy was awarded two remarkable distinctions by the French government in her lifetime: the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian award, and special legal permission to wear men’s clothing in public.
Born Jane Magre in 1851 in the southern French city of Toulouse, Dieulafoy grew up in a traditional family and inherited their social and religious values. She was a devout Catholic who opposed divorce, and a patriot who broke rules to fight for her country. Her conservative stances partly explain why she was “never denigrated as a hysteric or a pervert, more likely labels for 19th-century women in pants,” said Rachel Mesch, author of a biographical study of Dieulafoy, Before Trans: Three Gender Stories From 19th-Century France.
The other reason her preferences were accepted was her very close, 46-year marriage with the distinguished civil engineer Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy, and the stunning archaeological discoveries both made at the ancient capital of Susa in western Iran. Their work provided the Louvre Museum with unique artifacts for a new wing devoted to Iran that opened in 1888. From then on, the press referred to Dieulafoy as simply “the intrepid explorer who wears men’s suits.”