It is probably a face that we have all touched with our lips at sometime in our lives. Probably within the first year of our first job or at sometime in our career! You would have touched her lips without a thought of who she was or what her history entailed. Albert Camus and others compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, inviting numerous speculations as to what clues the eerily happy expression in her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.
But behind her peaceful expression lies a story shrouded in rumours of heartbreak and tragedy.
Annie – the unknown woman from the Seine
For the beautiful face used as the model for medical workers learning how to give the ‘kiss of life’ is also known as ‘L’Inconnue de la Seine’ – or ‘the unknown woman from the Seine’. This is the face behind first-aid mannequin Rescue Annie. According to popular myth, at the end of the 19th century, a young girl’s lifeless body was pulled from Paris’s Quai François Mitterrand, which was then called Quai du Louvre. As no signs of violence could be found on her, it was decided she had committed suicide, with some stories suggesting it was a case of rejected love that prompted her death. Her delicate beauty became popular with artists and writers, who fabricated stories about the cause of her suicide.
Generations later she was still inspiring those fascinated by her mysterious story, and a practical – and life-saving use was found for her fair visage.
According to his company website Asmund Laerdal, the founder of Laerdal Medical, became a pioneer for making resuscitation aids out of soft plastic. A user of CPR, in the 1950s he developed Resusci Annie, otherwise known as Rescue Annie, a life-like mannequin used to train people in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. His website says he was so moved by the unknown woman’s tragic background, he adopted her mask for his first-aid doll.
He was convinced that if a mannequin was life-like, students would be determined to learn the lifesaving procedure.
Millions have been taught how to breathe life into the face of the girl who is believed to have taken her own, making her the most kissed girl in the world. In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable morbid fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Resusci Anne, also known as Rescue Anne, Resusci Annie or CPR Annie, is a model of training manikin used for teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to both emergency workers and members of the general public.
So maybe the next time you attend a First Aid Training Course you may find yourself telling the consultant the history of the face behind first-aid mannequin Rescue Annie!