top of page
  • Sam Darling

Great aunt Marthe

Great aunt Marthe and the thoroughly modern controversy

As part of the research for my memoir I’ve been in contact with family members who are helping me piece together the family tree.

At one point in 2001, my sisters and I spoke with our paternal uncle and he explained the details on his side of the family. He told us about various family members including our grandfather’s three siblings.

More recently, I received the photos and it was nice to put a face to the names.

CHARDIN Paulin, Valentine, Rene

[My grandfather, Rene, on the right, with his older brother, Paulin, and his younger sister, Valentine. Pantin, Paris 1914]

What I found a little bit surprising, however, was that so many of the family photos featured an older sister and yet many of her grand-nieces and nephews had forgotten of her existence. When I asked for more details on Marthe I realized that they had no idea who she was.

I was familiar with Marthe Chardin and her tragic tale, so it was with curiosity that I first looked at her image.

Marthe Chardin

[Marthe Chardin. Pantin, Paris c. 1917]

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 10.47.44 AM

I also couldn’t help but see a family resemblance that I have with her in some of these photos, which is a little creepy, though not surprising since she is my great aunt.

There is a reason Marthe was nearly wiped out from the family memory. Starting back in the 1920s, all of the Chardin children worked for their father’s glue factory as salespeople and traveled the world selling the products. The kids were educated at a Swiss boarding school and knew many languages. During World Way I Marthe had worked as an interpreter. After the war she lived in Germany. She fell in love with a German, but her father was against the union.

Before the controversy, Marthe was in all of the family photos, clearly one of the four Chardin children.


Often photographed working around the family homestead, presumably during their holidays from boarding school.

Mending a shoe for Rene.

Marthe & Rene Chardin with rabbits

Playing with rabbits.

The video clip below was the moment in 2001 when I learned a new French vocabulary word. My sisters explain a French word my uncle had just said over the phone that I had not understood, having never had reason to use it before.

Yes, great-aunt Marthe died due to an abortion.

Her brother, Paulin, had a daughter whom he named Marthe and she died young due to cancer.

It was hereby decreed that my sisters and I should never name our children Marthe.

This is long ago history and perhaps the modern politics no longer apply but I’ll tell you what I think anyway. Since I want abortion to occur as rarely as possible I support total legality and free and open systems for women to get access to any healthcare they need. Every neutral measure has shown that legal and safe is the only way to keep the numbers of abortion low–it’s counter intuitive like that. Abortion was legal in Germany during the time that Marthe had to make this very difficult decision. This is not really a modern problem. This decision is one women have been making since before recorded history.

I would never presume to tell another woman what to do in this situation. It is fascinating to witness the political machinations in the USA of individual states trying to limit access so that they can make abortion all but illegal again. The sheer arrogance required for someone to insist they know what is best for someone else and push laws to limit choice is staggering to me.

Marthe was twenty-three years old when she died.

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page