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French Women & Feminists in History: A Resource Guide

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges. By José-Louis Bocquet, author, Catel, illustrator. (Paris: ‪Casterman, 2013‬‬). Library of Congress General Collections.

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793), originally Marie Gouze was born in Montauban (Occitanie region of southwestern France) and died in Paris. She was a social reformer and playwright who advocated for all those she saw as under represented including orphaned children, and women (especially unwed women). When the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” became the preamble of the French Constitution in 1789, Gouges wrote her own version that same year. It was virtually identical other than its inclusion of women as citoyennes (citizens). To highlight the confusing politics of the French Revolution, Gouges was hated on all sides. She was perceived as too radical by the moderates, and as a Royalist by the extreme left, probably because she dedicated the Declaration of the Rights of Woman to Queen Marie Antoinette. Although her loyalty and sympathies clearly lay with the more moderate Girondists, simply put, she was an idealist who fought fiercely not only for women’s rights but against the institution of slavery in the French colonies. In 1788 she wrote a forceful abolitionist essay entitled, “Réflexions sur les hommes négres” (Reflections on Black Men). In this piece she joined many other revolutionary thinkers in condemning slavery in French territories. In the Caribbean territory of Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) the rumors of emancipation of slaves, and the abolition of slavery was one (but not the only) factor in galvanizing the slave population to fight for their independence. Translations of many of these works can be found in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief History with Documents. As the Revolution became more radical and the views more extreme, the influence of the salonnières and the upper classes waned and the early enthusiasts of the Revolution became fearful that they themselves would come under the guillotine. Many of them did. Olympe de Gouges was sent to the guillotine by Robespierre.

For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources: Women in the French Revolution.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

Gouges, Olympe de, 1748-1793. (Name Heading; returns works by Olympe de Gouges)

Gouges, Olympe de, 1748-1793. (Subject Heading; returns works about Olympe de Gouges)

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