Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges

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Title: Olympe de Gouges.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 28 - Width 21.3

Technique and other indications: Watercolor and graphite.Inscription: she offered to defend Louis XVIRothscild Collection

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 06-519732 / 3807DR

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

Publication date: December 2008

Historical context

Women and the Revolution

The political participation of women in events was asserted during the French Revolution. Often nicknamed pejoratively the “knitters”, in reference to the manual occupation to which they continue to engage in public forums, while actively participating in political deliberations, these activists are involved on all fronts: fight against poverty and hunger, against the Gironde at the Convention, etc. At the same time as these fights, a movement to defend women's rights is emerging, supported by a few personalities who, like Olympe de Gouges, Etta Palm d'Aelders or Théroigne de Méricourt, claim the freedom of women and the improvement of his condition in civil, social or economic terms.

Image Analysis

Olympe de Gouges, a feminist activist

Born in 1748 in Montauban from a father butcher or, according to her words, from the noble Le Franc de Pompignan, Marie Gouze moved to Paris in 1766, after her widowhood, and, under the name of Olympe de Gouges, started in a literary career while sharing the life of Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, a senior naval official. Author of numerous novels and plays, she engages in political struggles for black people and gender equality.

His most famous political writing is the Declaration of the rights of women and citizens (September 1791), a true manifesto of feminism addressed to Marie-Antoinette. Taking as a model Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, she affirms that "women are born and remain equal to men in rights" (art. 1er).

Following Condorcet, who had drafted the treaty the year before On the admission of women to the right of citizenship, she considers that women have natural rights on the same basis as men and must be able to participate as citizens in political life and in universal suffrage. Olympe de Gouges also demands freedom of opinion and sexual freedom for women: as such, she calls for the abolition of marriage and the establishment of divorce.

On the political level, first attached to a moderate monarchy, then republican, she joined the Girondins and, convinced that women should play a role in political debates, proposed to the Convention to assist Malesherbes in his defense of King Louis XVI in December 1792, which she considers to be at fault as a king but not as a man. However, her request will be rejected on the grounds that a woman cannot take on such a task. It is this unfortunate episode that is recalled by the handwritten legend of the anonymous watercolor depicting Olympe de Gouges sitting on a Louis XV-style armchair, a book in her hand. Very fluid and transparent, this watercolor enhanced with graphite and the simply sketched landscape background announce the romanticism to come.

In 1793, during the Terror, Olympe de Gouges attacked Robespierre and the Montagnards, whom she accused of wanting to establish a dictatorship and whom she accused of indiscriminate violence. After the Parisian uprising of May 31, 1er and June 2 and the fall of the Gironde, it openly takes sides in favor of it at the Convention. Arrested on July 20, 1793 for having drawn up a federalist placard of Gironde character, The Three Urns or the Salvation of the Fatherland, she will be tried on November 2 and executed on the scaffold the next day.


The Revolution: a step forward for women's rights?

On the political level, revolutionaries refuse to recognize the right of women to participate in political life. After leaving them for a time to form clubs and mingle with popular movements, in the fall of 1793, all political activity for women was officially put to an end, with the prohibition of women's clubs and the denial of citizenship for women. This change in opinion hardened in 1795, during the prairial insurrection (May 20-24): the Convention first prohibited them access to its stands, then to attend political assemblies and to attend political meetings. crowd in the street, while many of them were hunted down on the night of 1er at 2 Prairial and judged by a military commission. If women were thus excluded from the affairs of the city, the revolutionaries nevertheless took some measures to improve their civil and social status, and to remove them from male oppression: equality of inheritance rights between men and women was admitted on April 8, 1791, divorce, claimed by Olympe de Gouges, established on August 30, 1792, and civil recognition granted to women on September 20, 1792, during the laws on civil status. But such advances were short-lived, because the Napoleonic Civil Code, promulgated on March 21, 1804, soon re-established the full powers of the head of the family. Only divorce momentarily escapes this backtracking: it will not be abolished until 1816.

  • feminism
  • women
  • revolutionary figures
  • portrait
  • Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen
  • womens rights
  • Gouges (Olympe de)
  • Théroigne de Méricourt (Anne-Josèphe)
  • French Revolution


Olivier BLANC, Marie-Olympe de Gouges. A humanist at the end of the 18th century, Paris, René Viénet, 2003. Marie-Paule DUHET, Women and the Revolution, 1789-1794, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Archives", 1979.Dominique GODINEAU, Citizen knitters. Women of the people in Paris during the French Revolution, Aix-en-Provence, Alinéa, 1988, 2nd ed., Paris, Perrin, 2003.Sophie MOUSSET, Olympe de Gouges and women's rights, Paris, Pocket, 2006. Jean-René SURATTEAU and François GENDRON, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, P.U.F., 1989. Jean TULARD, Jean-François FAYARD and Alfred FIERRO, History and dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Laffont, 1987.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Olympe de Gouges"

Video: Secrets dHistoire - Les femmes de la Révolution sommaire