Olympe de Gouges
"The First Modern Feminist"
by: Sheridyn Redding

Olympe De Gouges (Pic 1)
Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least.”- Olympe de Gouges, Opening Sentence of Declaration on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen
Olympe de Gouges was perhaps one of the most influential women of the French Revolution. She was dedicated to make an influence in the political and philosophical spheres surrounding her, and forever altered the world's view of gender limitations. On this page you will find information on de Gouges' life, her career, the Declaration on the Rights of the Women and Citizen (the document she is known for), and hopefully learn information that you did not know prior to visiting.

(Vid 1)
1. Upbringing
2. Career
3. The Declaration on the Rights of the Women and Citizen
4. Other Works
5. Trial and Execution

All of these events happened during, or in response to, the French Revolution (1789-1799). If you are not informed on the French Revolution and the events happening during it, please visit one of these links:French Revolution 1, French Revolution 2

Upbringing- Where was she born? What was her childhood like? Who WERE REALLY her parents?
olympe.gifBorn in Montauban, France, in 1745, with the biological name "Marie de Gouze", Olympe de Gouges was brought up in a petit-bourgeoisie, or middle class, family (Info 1). Her father, Pierre Gouze, was a butcher, and her mother, Anne Olympe Moisset, a maid. She was convinced, however, that she was the daughter of Jean-Jaques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan, a French writer, after she heard rumors that her mother had an affair. Other people believed that she was the illegitamite daughter of King Louis XV (Info 6). Much to de Gouges' dissapointment, both men rejected these allegations. (This may have been the event that led to her strong protection over illegitamite children later in her lifetime). In 1765, de Gouges married Louiabs Aubry, who died a year after their marriage. At age eighteen, Olympe de Gouges was a widow and a mother of one son, Pierre (Info 2). She and her son then relocated to France, where she began claiming herself "Olympe de Gouges", some say to make her feel beautiful or sophisticated (Info 3). "Olympe de Gouges" was also a mixture of her parents names (Info 6). Soon after, she met Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, a rich man who provided for her access to philosophical salons and other cultural outlets. She gained wealth and recognition through several other men as well, (often called a whore for it), and worked hard to climb her way higher into the aristocratic class (Info 3).

Marie de Gouze (Olympe de Gouges) (Pic 8)

Pierre Gouze (Pic 7
Career- From playwright to political activist
Olympe de Gouges' dream was to become a writer. Her goal was to have her plays preformed in the Comédie-Française, a famous theatre in France established by Louis XIV (Info 5). de Gouges gained much recognition from her appearences in profound popular salons, such as those of La Harpe, Chamfort, and Mercier. Perhaps her interaction in the salons of Madame de Montesson and Fanny de Beauharnais, (two famous playwrights during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), insprired her to become a playwright herself (Info 2). She began trying to make a living writing dramas, many of which contained an underlying theme of her political views on specific social issues of the time. One of her very first plays,"L´Esclavage at the Nègres" (The Slavery of Negros) touched on the topic of slavery in the colonies, and debuted at the Comédie-Française. The Mayor of Paris had the drama banned from the theatre's show list after only three showings, giving her a bad rep in the newspapers (Info 3).She harshly responded: "Why this unswerving prejudice against my sex? And why is it said, as I have quite clearly heard, that the Comédie Francaise should not put on any plays by women. I am a woman, but not rich ... Will it ever be allowed for women to escape from the terror of poverty other than by base means?" (Info 3).Woman of Courage (Pic 3)
Click here for a detailed synopsis on L'ESCLAVAGE DES NOIRS

Comédie-Française(Pic 9)

In 1788, de Gouolympe-de-gouges.jpgges wrote "Réflexions sur les hommes nègres" (Reflections on Negro Men), a follow-up to "L'Esclavage des nègres". Two years later, she published "Le Marché des Noirs" (The Black Market). Each of these scripts were burned after her death, but earned her a spot on Henri Grégoire's "List of Courageous Men". de Gouges wrote of other social issues such as the right of divorce, childrens rights, and other gender related topics. Many critics agree that de Gouges' plays were awkward and not well enough written to make history. de Gouges also had little education, preventing her from expressing herself to her full potential (Info 2). Benoite Groult, a prominate French feminist and journalist, explains that her style was much more reciprocated in her later politcial works, as seen in her famous "Declaration on the Rights of Woman and Citizen" (Info 4).

220px-Sophie_Grouchy.jpgde Gouges Behind The Scenes (Pic 4)
Olympe de Gouges' struggle with sexism during her play-writing career only added to her disapproval of discrimation towards women during her time. She joined the Society of the Friends of Truth in 1791, contributing her ideas and conversing with other women's rights supporters, including the famous Sophie de Condorcet. It was during one of these meetings when she produced her famous comment:"A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform." (Info 2).From then on, de Gouges made a huge impact on society. She became a regular at national assembly affiars, and even made her own propoganda that she posted throughout France. de Gouges became the talk of the town (Info 3). This same year (1791), she published "Declaration on the Rights of the Women and Citizen", a play off of "Declaration on the Rights of the Man and Citizen", and "Patriotic Remarks" (Info 6).Sophie de Condorcet (Pic 10)

Declaration on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen- What did it contain? How large of an impact did it have?
aaa.jpgOlympe de Gouges' most famous work, Declaration on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen, focused on the female's civil rights, which she considered to be inignorable and natural (Info 6). de Gouges' main priority in writing this was to challenge the fact that the new French constitution was supposed to be pro-equality, yet mentioned nothing of womens suffrage, right to divorce, right to own land, right to legal custody of her children, or legal equality in marriage (Info 2). Encouraged by the Society of Republican and Revolutionary Women, de Gouges sought to create an inspirational work which would encourage all women to speak out and seek equality. (Info 6). de Gouges felt as though the French Revolution had somewhat failed, since the goal of gender equality had not been achieved whatsoever (Info 8). Only two years prior to making this document, de Gouges had appeared before the French National Assembly, pleading for equal rights for both genders, more education and employment opportunities for females, and the organization of a theatre which only featured dramas written by women. Using the same diction used in the Declaration on the Rights of the Man and Citizen, De Gouges demanded women's suffrage, right to public office, and freedom of speech in her new constitution (Info 6). The declaration is clearly influenced by Enlightened thought, and has a preamble, 17 articles, and an epilogue (Info 2). She dedicated the document to Marie Antoinette, hoping for support from a royal (Info 6). The National Assembly ignored her requests (Info 8). In France, women were not granted suffrage until 1944 (Info 9).
"Woman, wake up; the tocsin of reason is being heard throughout the whole universe; discover your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The flame of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs recourse to yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust to his companion. Oh, women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What advantage have you received from the Revolution?"- Epilogue of the Declaration on the Rights of the Women and Citizen (Info 6).

First Page of Declaration on the Rights of Women(Pic 11)


In article ten of her document, she placed the comment she made in front of her colleagues:
"No one is to be disquieted for his very basic opinions; woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum, provided that her demonstrations do not disturb the legally established public order." -Article X, Declarations on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen (Info 7).

Women March on Versailles, 1789 (Pic 13)

Click here to view the entire Declaration on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen

Other Works-

De Gouges' was not finished voicing her opinion after Declaration on the Rights of the Woman and Citizen, but rather just getting started. Another political work of hers was called "Patriotic Remarks". In this pamphlet, she suggested removal of the monarch and several social reforms. In this she also called out the aristocratic class for abusing their power. Following Louis XIV's escape from France, she wrote two satires, "Cry of Wise by a rep132.jpgWoman" and "To Save the Fatherland" (Info 6). Also in 1791, she addressed gender equality in marriages in her "Contrat Social" ("Social Contract", in response to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Social Contract") (Info 2). Then she published a pamphlet called "Toxicodendronn, Combat a mort des trois gouvernements", or "Three Governments Battle to the Death", which was published advocating for a final decision among three types of government; monarchy, republicanism, or federalism (Info 10). It was her pamphlet titled "Les trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien" ("The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Country, By An Aerial Traveler") which led to her arrest in 1793 (Info 2).

Revolutionary Women (Pic 5)


De Gouges' Famous Signature (Pic 2)

Trial and Execution- What got her in trouble? How was she killed?
As soon as Olympe de Gouges was takin in for the spreading of "Les trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien", her house was searched, but the officials found nothing. de Gouges then led them to her office, where she wrote and kept all of her works. "La France Sauvée ou le Tyran Détroné", or "France Preserved, The Tyrant Dethroned", an unfinished play, was found there. Although only an act and a half were written, the plot of the play was identifyable. The drama featured Marie Antoinette planning ways to prevent the monarchy from collapsing. Revolutionaries (de Gouges among them) approach Marie Antoinette and encourage her to be rebellious in leading her people. While on trail, de Gouges' persecuter used this scene to prove her support for the Royalists (advocates of the monarch). In defense, de Gouges pleaded that the scene represented her support of the Revolution. She was denied a lawyer, the judge declared her more than able to represent herself, and spent three months in jail. There she was able to write "Olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire" ("Olympe de Gouges on Revolutionary Trial") and "Une patriote persécutée", ("A Patriot Persecuted"). She was sentenced to death and killed by the guillotine for "attempt at reviving the monarchy" on November 2, 1793. Her body is buried in the Madeline Cemetary.

Olympe de Gouges Mounting the Guillotine (Pic 12)

madelinecemetary.jpg"Yesterday, at seven o'clock in the evening, a most extraordinary person called Olympe de Gouges who held the imposing title of woman of letters, was taken to the scaffold, while all of Paris, while admiring her beauty, knew that she didn't even know her alphabet.... She approached the scaffold with a calm and serene expression on her face, and forced the guillotine's furies, which had driven her to this place of torture, to admit that such courage and beauty had never been seen before.... That woman... had thrown herself in the Revolution, body and soul. But having quickly perceived how atrocious the system adopted by the Jacobins was, she chose to retrace her steps. She attempted to unmask the villains through the literary productions which she had printed and put up. They never forgave her, and she paid for her carelessness with her head."- Account of a Parisian woman on Olympe de Gouges' execution

Madeleine Cemetary (Pic 14)

In conclusion, Olympe de Gouges was a woman of many words. She sought to express herself using multiple outlets, and never was content with keeping her mouth shut. She eventually was killed for just that. However, she left behind inspiration for women all over the world to seek justice and equality. If de Gouges would not have been the radical activist she was, woman's rights many have not been extended until years after they finally were. de Gouges is the perfect example of a strong, independent woman who realized the corruption around her, and sought to save society from it.
Political Cartoon published by Henry Maigrot in L'Illustration in 1914 (Pic 6)

Thanks so much for visiting!
-Sheridyn Redding
May 21, 2012

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Works Cited MLA Format

[5] “Comedie-Francaise.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 May 2012.


[8] Humber, Christopher. “The French Revolution and Napoleon.” SlideShare. SlideShare Inc., 5 May 2011. Web. 20 May 2012.

[7] Lavender, Catherine. “Declaration of the Rights of Woman, 1791.” Liberty Rhetoric. The College of Staten Island of CUNY, 1998. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/decwom2.html>.

[6] “Marie-Olympe de Gouges Biography.” Your Dictionary. LoveToKnow, Corp., 2012. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://biography.yourdictionary.com/marie-olympe-de-gouges>.

[2] “Olympe de Gouges.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., , 18 May 2012. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympe_de_Gouges#Biography>.

[1] “Petit Bourgeoisie.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petit_bourgeoisie>.

[10] Vampee, Janie. Theatre Journal. N.p.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Journal Storage. Web. 20 May 2012.

[3] Wesemann, Dorette. “Olympe De Gouges (1748-1793).” D@dalos. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://www.dadalos.org/int/menschenrechte/Grundkurs_MR3/frauenrechte/woher/portraets/olympe_de_gouges.htm>.

[9] “Women’s Suffrage.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., , 19 May 2012. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women's_suffrage#France>.