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France: Women in the Revolution

Women in the Revolutions of the Atlantic World

Philip Dawe, artist. A society of patriotic ladies, at Edenton in North Carolina. 1775. British Cartoon Prints Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The role of women in the revolutions of the Atlantic World is too broad a topic to cover in a guide about the French Revolution. However, it is instructive to examine related historical events, and to exclude them entirely creates a myopic view of 1789. For this reason, limited bibliographies are included in this guide for both Women in the American Revolution (1776) and Women in the Haitian Revolution (starting with the 1791 slave revolt in Saint-Domingue) of 1804. These select bibliographies are intended to encourage further research and offer a point of entry toward that endeavor. The last quarter of the 18th century witnessed a series of revolutions that changed the course of history, including the Spanish American Revolutions. Terminology for describing the events and implications of these revolutions has changed over time. Students in the past have been taught about "European Overseas Expansion", or the "Making of the Atlantic World". This unmistakably European perspective must be expanded and reconsidered. For one, it implies a misleading symmetry that connects one revolution to another in problematic ways. A concise overview of the changing field of history and a summary on the major paradigms of historical research is provided in Writing History in the Global Era. While it had generally been accepted that the Europeans gained control over the "New World", recent scholarship suggests that Africans, Native Americans and African-Americans (the exploited peoples of these events) exercised more influence over their destinies than was previously believed. Similarly, the linear relationship between the revolutions of the Atlantic world is now viewed as more interconnected and sometimes not connected at all. The origins of the Haitian Revolution must be studied outside the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, for example. There are many documents that attest to revolutionary movements before the rumblings of 1789 in Continental France. As early as 1719 the fugitive slave Makandal had been sowing the seeds of rebellion against colonial French powers in Saint-Domingue. Although the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution all occurred in roughly the same time period, and while the notions of republicanism and liberty were present in all of these uprisings, each one had its own unique path toward their version of independence. For example, it has been found that rebels who initiated the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue were less influenced by the Enlightenment ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and more inspired by Muslims or African slaves who were brought over from Northern Africa and taught these rebels their traditional techniques for battle. When relying on historical sources, one must look critically at the author, and look harder to find perspectives from other vantage points. So too, when searching for sources on women's roles and experiences during these revolutions. New documents are continually coming to light, but currently many of the sources only mention women peripherally in relation to men, and mention upper class white women more frequently. That said, there is valuable information that is contained in many general works (some of which are listed below) that touch on the roles of not only white women, but of African, African-American and Native American women as well.

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 on the comparative history of Revolutions: Revolutions--Case studies.

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

Primary Sources & Online Resources