Ricard, Marthe (1889–1982)

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Ricard, Marthe (1889–1982)

French spy, reformer, and feminist. Born Marthe Betenfeld in German-occupied eastern France in 1889; died in 1982; married Henri Richer (a grocer, died in World War I); married Thomas Crompton (died); married a man named Ricard.

Served as a spy in World War I; awarded the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur (c. 1918); served in the French resistance in World War II; elected to Paris city government (c. 1945).

Marthe Ricard was born Marthe Betenfeld in eastern France in 1889, while Germany still occupied that region following the Franco-Prussian War. In 1911, at age 22, Ricard qualified to fly as a pilot. After her first husband Henri Richer was killed in the Battle of Verdun during World War I, Ricard served her country as a spy for the French secret service. She has been credited with gaining information about German submarine movements from Baron von Krohn, a German military aide with whom she had formed an intimate relationship. After the war's end she was decorated with the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur in recognition of her services.

Ricard then married Thomas Crompton and moved to his homeland of England. After he died, she returned to France and worked for the resistance during World War II. She was married a third time, to a French man whose last name was Ricard. Soon after the war, she was elected a city councilor in Paris, in which position she fought legalized prostitution, a system she believed exploited women. As a result of her campaign, Parisian brothels were closed in 1945, and similar legislation affecting all of France was enacted a year later. In the early 1970s, however, aware of the continuing exploitation of women working as street prostitutes, Ricard suggested that legalizing some prostitution could offer more protection to those women. She died at the age of 93 in 1982.


Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. and comp. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1982.

Maria Sheler Edwards , freelance writer, Ypsilanti, Michigan