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France: Women in the Revolution

Claire Lacombe

Place de la Bastille, Paris, France. 1901. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Claire Lacombe was born on August 4, 1765. The date of her death is unknown, however it is believed to be sometime after 1795. Lacombe came from the provinces to be an actress in Paris but was drawn to the revolutionary cause. Originally from the southwest of France, she had dreamed of being in the spotlight in Paris and did manage to land roles in several plays. However the politics of the day became too big of a lure and she was naturally sympathetic to the most radical factions. Along with Pauline Léon, Lacombe was a founding member of the the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women in 1793 (Société des Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires, also known as Société des républicaines révolutionnaires). In many ways serves to illustrate the hostilities and complications that arose between working women and more politically minded activists. Lacombe was instantly attracted to the Enragés and their leader, the young Théophile Leclerc (a journalist who served as deputy to Lyons in the Legislative Assembly). Their love affair only lasted until he left her for her friend and fellow activist Pauline Léon. Beyond her personal life being somewhat tumultuous, her strong desires to bring women into the political realm caused her to provoke the less engaged, and the fights that ensued were ultimately used to justify the common opinion among most male revolutionaries that women were not suited for politics. In this sense, her fierce efforts were in vain. Still, however short-lived her contributions to the Revolution were, she managed to lead an all female société that was forcibly shut down due to its power to wreak havoc. In this way, Lacombe played a significant role in pushing revolutionary ideas and insisting that they include feminist rhetoric. After her fall from power, she attempted to return to acting but was imprisoned for several months. The details of her life after that are undocumented and therefore remain a mystery.

For an overview of French women in history and the evolution of the French feminist movement, please see the research guide Feminism & French Women in History.

To find more works about: Lacombe, Rose, 1765-

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