By Johnny Cotton
PARIS (Reuters) - Feminists angry that only two women count among the 74 French figures considered distinguished enough to be buried in the Paris Pantheon hope an online poll will lead to an illustrious female's remains being moved there.
The historic mausoleum, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, is home to the bones of the great and glorious of French history, with philosopher Voltaire's skeleton rubbing shoulders with those of novelist Victor Hugo and Socialist leader Jean Jaures.
Perched on a hill in the capital's Latin Quarter, the monument bears the inscription "To its great men, a grateful fatherland," but activist group "Osez le féminisme" (Dare to be feminist) believes more should be done to pack it with great women.
It has produced a list of five candidates including philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and writer and politician Olympe de Gouges. Activist Claire Serre-Combe said the group is encouraging its members to throw their weight behind these women, who have been "left out of the history books".
Only two women lie buried beneath the monument's giant dome, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie and Sophie Berthelot, who is only there because she refused to be buried separately from her celebrated chemist husband Marcellin Berthelot.
After President Francois Hollande suggested earlier this year that the imbalance needed fixing, the man in charge of France's monuments, Philippe Bélaval, decided that an online poll would be the fairest way to modernize the line-up.
"It's a way of involving a large part of the population - using the Internet - in a choice that concerns everyone," Bélaval told Reuters.
He says the gender disparity is essentially down to history, with most of the Pantheon's plaques and tombs installed when women were largely absent from public life in a country where suffrage was not granted until 1944.
"It's not at all surprising that in this system which was run by men, women were underestimated in society," Bélaval said.
The online poll opens on Monday and a shortlist will be given to the president in late September.
(Reporting By Johnny Cotton; Editing by Catherine Bremer and David Evans)