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France: Women in the Revolution

Manon Roland

Puritan Girl. 1903. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Manon Roland was born in Paris on March 17, 1754 as Jeanne-Marie Phlipon. She died on November 8, 1793 on the guillotine after five months of imprisonment. She was precocious and clever, and like Madame de Staël, she was an avid enthusiast of enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau. She exerted a subtle but irrefutable influence over her politician husband, and came to be one of the most brilliant salonnères of her day. She was a woman of moderate political views but she was surprisingly effective with her steady and subtle provocations of the conventional men around her. She was admittedly alarmed by the radical sans-culottes of the revolution and having spent a portion of her life in Lyon she felt out of step with the increasingly radical nature of Parisian politics. However, she was an astute woman who truly believed that the revolutionaries were correct in many of their views, if not always in their conduct. Roland helped write parliamentary bills and speeches for her husband but did not feel comfortable in public debate. She was a habitual writer, and volumes of her letters are preserved as well as her memoirs which she wrote while in prison. As a salonnière, she hosted the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre many times, but her measured ways eventually led to her arrest and execution as an enemy of the Revolution. While in prison she wrote her voluminous memoirs, which were inadvertently burned by the foolish person in care of transporting them from prison. Devastated, she dutifully re-wrote all that had been lost to the best of her ability. One can certainly imagine both her despair and motivation as she awaited her execution. Her now famous last words at the time of her death were "Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name." [Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom]

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.

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

Roland, Madam, 1754-1793. (Name Heading; returns works by Madame Roland)

Roland, Madam, 1754-1793. (Subject Heading; returns works about Madame Roland)

Selected Resources

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