Hubertine Auclert (1848-1914) is often credited as the “first French feminist” or the “founder of the French women’s suffrage movement.” Though this research guide encourages the historical situation of French feminist thought within the longer context of the nineteenth century, Auclert certainly deserves recognition as an important early militant feminist of the late nineteenth century. Founder of the feminist newspaper La citoyenne in 1881, Auclert was an advocate of French women’s civil rights and suffrage.
Originally an actively contributing member of Léon Richer’s Women’s Future (L’Avenir des femmes) group in the early 1870s, Auclert quickly surpassed Richer’s comparatively moderate goals of equal citizenship and marital equality. In response to Richer’s first International Congress for the Rights of Women (Congrès international du droit des femmes) in 1878, Auclert wrote an essay in which she complained that the right to vote wasn’t central enough in contemporary debates around the rights of women. By 1876 she had founded the Society for the Rights of Women (Société le droit des femmes), which later became the Women’s Suffrage Society (Société le suffrage des femmes), under which La citoyenne was published. Though the publication of La citoyenne was legal under the censorship laws of the Third Republic, Auclert’s outspoken views resulted in a conservative readership. Nevertheless, her Société le suffrage des femmes drew national attention in the media, most notably in the 17th May 1908 edition of Le Petit Journal, which showed Auclert’s circle knocking down ballot boxes at the May 1908 Paris municipal elections. Auclert had announced her candidacy for the Municipal Council earlier in the year, but protesting women’s inability to cast votes on the day of the election she led a march of female suffragists to the voting station and destroyed the ballots. This earned Auclert the comparison to British suffragettes and solidified her position as a militant radical feminist firmly grounded in contemporary feminist politics.
An active observer of French society, Auclert also wrote about the French colonies and other African and Arab nations in an effort to reveal the ways in which societal inequalities affected women in different countries and cultures. In particular, Auclert was interested in women’s experiences in these countries, considered by French society and law as “uncivilized,” which compared positively to those of women in France. Auclert’s radical global outlook pre-dated trends in academic feminism by almost a century.
For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources: Women in the Long 19th Century.
You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following heading: