The French Revolution and the execution of Olympe de Gouges

The year before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, another writer, Olympe de Gouges, published a comparable call for equality during the turmoil of revolutionary France.

De Gouges’ Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne, published in September 1791, was a direct response to the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, promulgated by France’s National Assembly in 1789, which it extends and comments on – sometimes caustically – point by point.

Born in 1748, De Gouges was a prolific playwright by the time of the revolution with some experience of controversy: an early version of her play L’Esclavage des Noirs, which attacked the institution of slavery in the French colonies, had been withdrawn after only three performances at the Comédie Française.

She had at first welcomed the revolution, hoping it would lead to equality for women, but the new order had no place for such ideas: the place for a Jacobin woman was in the Jacobin home, performing domestic duties for the Jacobin man. Her declaration was just one of numerous radical pamphlets she published.

De Gouges was executed for sedition on the order of the Revolutionary Tribunal on 3 November 1793.

This piece first appeared in the November 2020 issue of History Today.

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