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France: Women in the Revolution

Théroigne de Méricourt

Auguste Raffet, artist. Théroigne de Méricourt. 1817. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.External Original steel engraving drawn by Raffet, engraved by Bosselman, 1847.

Anne-Josèphe Théroigne de Méricourt was born on August 13, 1762 and died on June 9th, 1817 in Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. Her name may look aristocratic, but de Méricourt simply refers to the small town of Marcourt where she was born. A prosperous peasant who was inspired by the ideals of the Revolution, she found herself in Paris right before the fall of the Bastille. Having had numerous lovers and suffered the death of a child, she felt compelled to fight for the downtrodden. Often wearing a blood-red or white riding outfit and carrying a sabre, she deliberately dressed in a masculine manner. Nevertheless she was remembered by journalist Camille Desmoulins as having a “pretty, thought-filled head.” She was a skilled orator and singer, as comfortable at the tribune (speakers’ podium) in the National Assembly as she was bantering with the poissardes (market women, also slang for a vulgar woman) of Les Halles food market. In 1790 she founded the Société des amis de la loi (Society of Friends of the Law) which was an effort at outreach into the provinces of France (though she had little success). She drew applause from her speech at the famous Cordeliers’ Club and charmed many of the liberal deputies she rubbed shoulders with, but her unorthodox approach to life did not fit comfortably in the context of Parisian politics. She was ruthlessly disparaged as a “patriot’s whore” by the Royalist press. Théroigne, like de Gouges, was slandered, abused and misrepresented, most likely because she had no family to defend her reputation. She suffered severely while imprisoned in Austria under false charges, and ultimately survived the Revolution only to live the rest of her life institutionalized and misunderstood. There are not a great many scholarly works on Théroigne but she has inspired many plays and at least one opera composed by August de Boeck. She has recently received some degree of notoriety in the younger generations not only in France, but internationally. Her persona clearly lives on in the popular imagination to this day. Just as several female figures in the French Resistance are depicted in the popular Call of Duty video games, Thérogine is featured in the well-known game Assassin's Creed Unity.

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:

Théroigne de Méricourt, 1762-1817. (Name Heading; returns works by Théroigne de Méricourt)

Théroigne de Méricourt, 1762-1817. (Subject Heading; returns works about Théroigne de Méricourt)

Selected Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

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