OLYMPE DE GOUGES Biography - Activists, Revolutionaries and other freedom fighters


Biography » activists revolutionaries and other freedom fighters » olympe de gouges


Name: Olympe de Gouges                                                                           
Born: 7 May 1748                                                                                 
Died: 3 November 1793                                                                             
Olympe de Gouges (born Marie Gouze; May 7, 1748 - November 3, 1793) was a                         
playwright and journalist whose feminist writings reached a large audience. A                     
proponent of democracy, she demanded the same rights for French women that                       
French men were demanding for themselves. In her Declaration of the Rights of                     
Woman and the Female Citizen (1791), she challenged the practice of male                         
authority and the notion of male-female inequality. She was executed by                           
guillotine during the Reign of Terror for her revolutionary ideas.                               
Marie Gouze was born into a petit bourgeois family in 1748 in Montauban, and she                 
was a jewTarn-et-Garonne, in the South-West of France. Her father was a butcher,                 
her mother, a washerwoman. However, she believed that she was the illegitimate                   
daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc, marquis de Pompignan; his rejection of her                     
claims upon him may have influenced her passionate defense of the rights of                       
illegitimate children. She married quite young in 1765 one Louis Aubry,                           
coming from Paris with the new Intendant of the town, Mr. de Gourgues. This was                   
not a marriage of love. As de Gouges said in a semi-autobiographical novel (Mémoire             
de Madame de Valmont contre la famille de Flaucourt), "I was married to a man I                   
did not love and who was neither rich nor well-born. I was sacrificed for no                     
reason that could make up for the repugnance I felt for this man." When her                       
husband died a year later, she moved in 1770 to Paris with her son, Pierre, and                   
took the name of Olympe de Gouges. She had a perfect education for a woman                       
at that time and she was able to read, but wrote quite bad as the majority of                     
the European people at that time. In 1773, according to her biographer Olivier                   
Blanc, she met a rich man, Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, with who she had a long                 
story which finished under the revolution. She was received in the artistic and                   
philosophical "salons" where she met many writers, like La Harpe, Mercier or                     
Chamfort, and future politicians like Brissot or Condorcet. She was usually                       
invited in the salons of marquise de Montesson and countess de Beauharnais who                   
were playwritters like her. She was also in connection with masonry lodges among                 
them the "Loge des Neuf soeurs" created by her friend Michel de Cubières.                       
Surviving paintings of her show a woman of remarkable beauty; not surprisingly,                   
she chose to live with several men who supported her financially. However, by                     
1784 (the year that her putative biological father died), she began to write                     
essays, manifestoes, and socially conscious plays. A social climber, she strove                   
to move among the elite and to lose her provincial accent.                                       
In 1784, she wrote the anti-slavery play Zamore and Mirza which was received by                   
the french comedy, performed in 1789 and published in 1792 under the title L'Esclavage           
des Nègres (Negro Slavery). Because she was a woman and because of her                           
controversial subject, the play went unpublished until 1789 at the start of the                   
French Revolution. Even then, Olympe showed her combativeness when she                           
fought unsuccessfully to get her play staged. She also wrote on such gender-related               
topics as the right of divorce and the right to sexual relations outside of                       
A passionate advocate of human rights, Olympe de Gouges greeted the outbreak of                   
the Revolution with hope and joy, but soon became disenchanted, in that the                       
fraternité of the Revolution was not extended to women (that is, that equal                     
rights were not extended to women).                                                               
In 1791, she became part of the Cercle Social—an association with the goal of                   
equal political and legal rights for women. The Cercle Social met at the home of                 
well-known women's rights advocate Sophie de Condorcet. Here, she expressed, for                 
the first time, her famous statement "a woman has the right to mount the                         
scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform."                   
That same year, in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the                   
Citizen, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne ("Declaration       
of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen"), the first declaration of truly                         
universal human rights. This was followed by her Contrat Social ("Social                         
Contract", named after a famous work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau), proposing                         
marriage based on gender equality.                                                               
She attempted to become involved in any matter she believed to involve injustice.                 
She opposed the execution of Louis XVI of France, partly out of opposition to                     
capital punishment and partly because she preferred a relatively tame and living                 
king to the possibility of a rebel regency in exile. The late 19th century                       
French historian Jules Michelet commented "She allowed herself to act and write                   
about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand."                               
As her hopes were disappointed, she became more and more vehement in her                         
writings. On 2 June 1793, the Jacobins arrested the Girondins (her allies) and                   
sent them to the guillotine. Finally, her last piece Les trois urnes, ou le                       
salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien (The Three Urns, or the Health of the                 
Country, By An Aerial Voyager) (1793) led to her arrest. That piece demanded a                   
plebiscite on a choice of three potential forms of government: the first,                         
indivisible Republic, the second, a federalist government or the third, a                         
constitutional monarchy. She spent three months in jail and not having a lawyer,                 
she tried to defend herself. She managed to publish (owing to her friends) two                   
texts: olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire , where she relates her                     
interrogations, and the last ""Une patriote persécutée where she condemned the                 
Terror. The Jacobins, who had already executed a queen, were in no mood to                       
tolerate an advocate of women's rights. Olympe was sentenced to death on                         
November the 2nd and executed on the guillotine on 3 November 1793, a month                       
after Condorcet had been proscribed and several months after the Girondin                         
leaders had been guillotined.                                                                     
After her death, says Olivier Blanc, her son General Pierre Aubry de Gouges went                 
to Guyana with his wife and five children. He died in 1802, after which his                       
widow attempted to return to France but died on the boat. In Guadeloupe the two                   
young daughters were married, Geneviève de Gouges to an English officer, and                     
Charlotte de Gouges to an American politician, member of congrès, who had                       
plantations in Virginia. Now, many English and American families have Olympe de                   
Gouges as their ancestor (Olivier Blanc).                                                         
On 6 March, 2006, the junction of the Rues Béranger, Charlot, Turenne and                       
Franche-Comté in Paris was proclaimed the Place Olympe de Gouges. The square was                 
inaugurated by the mayor of the Third Arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum, along                     
with the first deputy mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. The actress Véronique Genest                 
read an extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Woman.                                     
2007 French presidential contender Ségolène Royal has expressed the wish of her                 
remains being moved to the Panthéon. However, her remains like those of the                     
other victims of the Reign of Terror have been lost through burial in communal                   
graves, so any reburial would be ceremonial (as was done for Condorcet himself.)