Émilie Busquant, born on this day in 1901, was a French feminist, anarcho-syndicalist, and anti-colonial activist who helped design the Algerian flag. Busquant fought for Algerian independence alongside her husband, Messali Hadj.
Émilie Busquant was born to a working class, anarchist family in Neuves-Maisons, France. While working in Paris, Busquant met and began dating Messali Hadj, then a young Algerian migrant. Their partnership was marked by a shared commitment to progressive and anti-colonial causes.
During Messali’s long spells in prison, Émilie often spoke on his behalf and used her position as a French woman to criticize France’s commitment to “civilising” Algeria. She is sometimes credited with creating the first Algerian flag, however this story is considered apocryphal or exaggerated by some historians.
Busquant died in Algiers in 1953 while her husband was in exile in France. Hadj was refused permission to visit her on her death bed. A cortege of 10,000 followed her coffin, draped in the Algerian flag, through the streets of the Algerian capital on its way to the port.
Émilie’s funeral in Neuves-Maisons was attended by delegations from many socialist parties. Under police surveillance, Hadj gave a eulogy recalling her activism, declaring her “the symbol of the union of the Algerian and French peoples in their shared struggle”.
In 1962, nine years after Émilie’s death, Algeria achieved independence from France. In 2015, journalist Rabah Zanoun produced a film about Busquant’s life.