Olympe de Gouges

From New World Encyclopedia

Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges.png
BornMarie Gouze
May 07 1748(1748-05-07)
Montauban, Quercy
Kingdom of France
DiedNovember 3 1793 (aged 45)
Place de la Révolution, Paris
French First Republic
Cause of deathExecution by guillotine
OccupationActivist, abolitionist
women's rights advocate, playwright
Spouse(s)Louis Aubry
(m. 1765; died 1766)

Olympe de Gouges (French: [ɔlɛ̃p də ɡuʒ]; born Marie Gouze; May 7, 1748 – November 3, 1793) was a French playwright and political activist. She is best known for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen and other writings on women's rights and abolitionism.

Born in southwestern France, de Gouges began her prolific career as a playwright in Paris in the 1780s. A passionate advocate of human rights, she was one of France's earliest public opponents of slavery. Her plays and pamphlets spanned a wide variety of issues including divorce and marriage, children's rights, unemployment and social security. In addition to playwright and political activist, she was also a small time actress prior to the Revolution. De Gouges welcomed the outbreak of the French Revolution but soon became disenchanted when equal rights were not extended to women. In 1791, in response to the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, de Gouges published her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, in which she challenged the practice of male authority and advocated for equal rights for women.

De Gouges was associated with the Girondins who favored a constitutional monarchy. Along with the Girondins, she opposed the execution of Louis XVI. After the execution, the Girondins fell out of favor. Her vehement writings, which attacked Maximilien Robespierre's radical Montagnards and the Revolutionary government during the Reign of Terror, led to her eventual arrest and execution by guillotine in 1793.


Birth and parentage

Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan, widely rumored to be Olympe de Gouges' father

Marie Gouze was born on May 7, 1748 in Montauban, Quercy (in the present-day department of Tarn-et-Garonne) in southwestern France.[1] Her mother, Anne Olympe Mouisset Gouze, was the daughter of a bourgeois family.[2] The Pompignan family had long-standing close ties to the Mouisset family of Marie Gouze's mother, Anne. When Anne was born in 1727, the eldest Pompignan son, Jean-Jacques Lefranc de Pompignan (age five), was her godfather. Anne's father tutored him as he grew. During their childhoods, Pompignan became close to Anne, but was separated from her in 1734 when he was sent to Paris. Anne married Pierre Gouze, a butcher, in 1737 and had three children before Marie, a son and two girls. Pompignan returned to Montauban in 1747, the year before Marie's birth.

The identity of her father is ambiguous. Her father may have been her mother's husband, Pierre Gouze. Pierre was legally recognized as Marie's father.[1] Pierre did not attend Marie's baptism on May 8. Her godfather was a workman named Jean Portié, and her godmother a woman named Marie Grimal. Pierre died in 1750.[2] Marie may have been the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan. She encouraged rumors that Pompignan was her father, and their relationship is considered plausible but "historically unverifiable."[3]

The primary support for the identification of Pompignan as Marie Gouze's father is found in her semi-autobiographical novel, Mémoires de Madame de Valmont, published after Pompignan's death.[1] According to the contemporary politician Jean-Babtiste Poncet-Delpech and others, "all of Montauban" knew that Pompignan was Gouze's father.[4] Some historians consider it likely that Gouze fabricated the story for her memoirs in order to raise her prestige and social standing when she moved to Paris.[3] Other rumors in the eighteenth century also suggested that her father might be Louis XV, but this identification is not considered credible.[1]

Early life

Olympe de Gouges' son, Pierre Aubry

Marie-Olympe de Gouges (formally Marie Gouze) was born into a wealthy family, and although her mother was privately tutored, she had no actual formal education herself.[5] Reportedly illiterate, she was said to dictate to a secretary.[6]

Gouze was married on October 24, 1765 to Louis Yves Aubry, a caterer, against her will. She reflected on this later, in a semi-autobiographical novel, Mémoires. Her heroine was a mere fourteen at her wedding; the new Marie Aubry herself was only seventeen.[2] Her novel strongly decried the marriage: "I was married to a man I did not love and who was neither rich nor well-born. I was sacrificed for no reason that could make up for the repugnance I felt for this man."[7] Marie's substantially larger fortune allowed her new husband Louis to leave his employer and start his own business. On August 29, 1766, she gave birth to their son, Pierre Aubry. That November, a destructive flood of the river Tarn caused Louis' death.[2] She never married again, calling the institution of marriage "the tomb of trust and love."[8]

Known under the name Marie Aubry, after her husband's death she changed her name to Olympe de Gouges, from her surname (Gouze) and adding her mother's middle name, Olympe.[9] Soon after, she began a relationship with the wealthy Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, a businessman from Lyon.[10]

Move to Paris

In 1768, Biétrix funded de Gouges's move to Paris, where he provided her with an income.[10] She lived with her son and her sister.[8] She socialized in fashionable society, at one point was considered "one of Paris' prettiest women," and formed friendships with Madame de Montesson and Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans.[2] De Gouges attended the artistic and philosophical salons of Paris, where she met many writers, including Jean-François de La Harpe, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, and Nicolas Chamfort, as well as future politicians such as Brissot and Condorcet. She usually was invited to the salons of Madame de Montesson and the Comtesse de Beauharnais, who also were playwrights.

De Gouges began her career as a writer in Paris, publishing a novel in 1784 and then beginning a prolific career as a playwright. As a woman from the province and of lowly birth she fashioned herself to fit in with the Paris establishment.[11] De Gouges signed her public letters with citoyenne, the feminine form of citizen. In pre-revolutionary France there were no citizens, and authors were the subjects of the king, but in revolutionary France there were only citoyens. In October 1792 the National Convention decreed the use of citoyenne to replace Madame and Mademoiselle.[11]

The Code Noir, a decree passed by King Louis XIV in 1685. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire and restricted the activities of free Negroes

In 1788 she published Réflexions sur les hommes nègres, which demanded compassion for the struggles of slaves in the French colonies.[12] For de Gouges there was a direct link between the autocratic monarchy in France and the institution of slavery. She argued that "Men everywhere are equal... Kings who are just do not want slaves; they know that they have submissive subjects."[12] She came to the public's attention with the play L'Esclavage des Noirs, which was staged at the famous Comédie-Française in 1785. Her stance against slavery in the French colonies made her the target of threats.[8] De Gouges was also attacked by those who thought that a woman's proper place was not in the theater. The influential Abraham-Joseph Bénard remarked "Mme de Gouges is one of those women to whom one feels like giving razor blades as a present, who through their pretensions lose the charming qualities of their sex... Every woman author is in a false position, regardless of her talent." De Gouges was defiant: she wrote "I'm determined to be a success, and I'll do it in spite of my enemies." The slave trade lobby mounted a press campaign against her play and she eventually took legal action, forcing Comédie-Française to stage L'Esclavage des Noirs. But the play closed after three performances; the lobby had paid hecklers to sabotage the performances.[13]

Revolutionary politics

A passionate advocate of human rights, de Gouges greeted the outbreak of the Revolution with hope and joy, but soon became disenchanted when égalité (equal rights), part of the revolutinary motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité, was not extended to women. In 1791, influenced and inspired by John Locke's treatises on natural rights, de Gouges became part of the Society of the Friends of Truth, also known as the "Social Club," which was an association with the goal of establishing equal political and legal rights for women. Members sometimes gathered at the home of the well-known women's rights advocate, Sophie de Condorcet. In 1791, in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne ("Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen"). In that pamphlet she expressed, for the first time, her famous statement:

A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform.[14]

This was followed by her Contrat Social ("Social Contract," named after a famous work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau), proposing marriage based upon gender equality.[14]

In 1790 and 1791, in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), free people of color and African slaves revolted in response to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.[8] De Gouges did not approve of violent revolution, and published L'Esclavage des Noirs with a preface in 1792, arguing that the slaves and the free people who responded to the horrors of slavery with "barbaric and atrocious torture" in turn justified the behavior of the tyrants. In Paris, de Gouges was accused by the mayor of Paris of having incited the insurrection in Saint-Domingue with the play.[15] When it was staged again in December 1792 a riot erupted in Paris.[16]

De Gouges opposed the execution of Louis XVI (January 21, 1793), partly from her opposition to capital punishment and partly because she favored constitutional monarchy. This earned her the ire of many of the radical republicans, even into the next generation—such as the ninteenth-century historian Jules Michelet, a fierce apologist for the Revolution. He wrote, "She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand."[17] Michelet opposed any political participation by women and disliked de Gouges.[18] In December 1792, when Louis XVI was about to be put on trial, she wrote to the National Assembly offering to defend him, causing outrage among many deputies. In her letter she argued that he had been duped–that he was guilty as a king, but innocent as a man, and that he should be exiled rather than executed.[14]

Olympe de Gouges was associated with the Gironde faction, which ultimately led to her execution. She did not go to the guillotine for her feminism. Her crime was spreading Federalism as a replacement for Montagnard revolutionary central rule. Revolutionary rule during the Reign of Terror was accompanied by emphasis on masculine public political authority that resulted, for example, in the expulsion of women from Jacobin clubs.[9]

She supported the Gironde faction, which lost favor after the execution of the king. They were targeted by the more radical Montagnard faction. She became wary of Robespierre and the Montagnard faction, criticizing them in open letters for their violence and summary killings.

Criticism of the Terror

Olympe de Gouges, 1793
Les trois urnes, the 1793 poster by Olympe de Gouges that led to her arrest and execution

As the Revolution progressed, she became more and more vehement in her writings. On June 2, 1793, the Jacobins of the Montagnard faction imprisoned prominent Girondins; they were sent to the guillotine in October. Finally, her poster Les Trois urnes, ou le Salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien ("The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Fatherland, by an Aerial Traveller") of 1793, led to her arrest. Olympe decreed in this publication that

"Now is the time to establish a decent government whose energy comes from the strength of its laws; now is the time to put a stop to assassinations and the suffering they cause, for merely holding opposing views. Let everyone examine their consciences; let them see the incalculable harm caused by such a long-lasting division...and then everyone can pronounce freely on the government of their choice. The majority must carry the day. It is time for death to rest and for anarchy to return to the underworld."[19]

She also called for an end to the bloodshed of the Revolution saying "It is time to put a stop to this cruel war that has only swallowed up your treasure and harvested the most brilliant of your young. Blood, alas, has flowed far too freely!" She warned that "The divided French... are fighting for three opposing governments; like warring brothers they rush to their downfall and, if I do not halt them, they will soon imitate the Thebans, ending up by slitting each others throats to the last man standing."[19] That piece demanded a plebiscite for a choice among three potential forms of government: the first, a unitary republic, the second, a federalist government, or the third, a constitutional monarchy. The problem was that the law of the revolution made it a capital offense for anyone to publish a book or pamphlet that encouraged reestablishing the monarchy.[20]


Marie-Olympe de Gouges was arrested on July 20, 1793. Although she was arrested in July she would not meet the end of her life until November of that year.[21]

After her arrest, the commissioners searched her house for evidence. When they could not find any in her home, she voluntarily led them to the storehouse where she kept her papers. It was there that the commissioners found an unfinished play titled La France Sauvée ou le Tyran Détroné ("France Preserved, or The Tyrant Dethroned"). In the first act (only the first act and a half remain), Marie-Antoinette is planning defense strategies to retain the crumbling monarchy and is confronted by revolutionary forces, including de Gouges herself. The first act ends with de Gouges reproving the queen for having seditious intentions and lecturing her about how she should lead her people. Both de Gouges and her prosecutor used this play as evidence in her trial. The prosecutor claimed that de Gouges's depictions of the queen threatened to stir up sympathy and support for the Royalists, whereas de Gouges stated that the play showed that she had always been a supporter of the Revolution.[21]

She spent three months in jail without an attorney as the presiding judge had denied de Gouges her legal right to a lawyer on the grounds that she was more than capable of representing herself. It is likely that the judge based this argument on de Gouges's tendency to represent herself in her writings. Through her friends, she managed to publish two texts: Olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire ("Olympe de Gouges at the Revolutionary tribunal"), in which she related her interrogations; and her last work, Une patriote persécutée ("A [female] patriot persecuted"), in which she condemned the Terror.[21]

De Gouges had acquired for her son, Pierre Aubry, a position as a vice-general and head of battalion in exchange for a payment of 1,500 livres. He was suspended from this office after her arrest.[22] On November 2, 1793 she wrote to him: "I die, my dear son, a victim of my idolatry for the fatherland and for the people. Under the specious mask of republicanism, her enemies have brought me remorselessly to the scaffold."[23]

The execution of Olympe de Gouges


On November 3, 1793 the Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced her to death. She was executed for seditious behavior and attempting to reinstate the monarchy.[24] Olympe was executed only a month after Condorcet had been proscribed, and just three days after the Girondin leaders were guillotined. Her body was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery.[25] Olympe's last moments were depicted by an anonymous Parisian who kept a chronicle of events:

Yesterday, at seven o'clock in the evening, a most extraordinary person called Olympe de Gouges who held the imposing title of woman of letters, was taken to the scaffold, while all of Paris, while admiring her beauty, knew that she didn't even know her alphabet... She approached the scaffold with a calm and serene expression on her face, and forced the guillotine's furies, which had driven her to this place of torture, to admit that such courage and beauty had never been seen before... That woman... had thrown herself in the Revolution, body and soul. But having quickly perceived how atrocious the system adopted by the Jacobins was, she chose to retrace her steps. She attempted to unmask the villains through the literary productions which she had printed and put up. They never forgave her, and she paid for her carelessness with her head.[2]

Posthumous political impact

The execution of the Girondins
Cartoon showing Robespierre guillotining the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France.

Her execution was used as a warning to other politically active women. At the November 15, 1793 meeting of the Commune, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette cautioned a group of women wearing Phrygian bonnets, reminding them of "the impudent Olympe de Gouges, who was the first woman to start up women's political clubs, who abandoned the cares of her home, to meddle in the affairs of the Republic, and whose head fell under avenging blade of the law." This posthumous characterization of de Gouges by the political establishment was misleading, as de Gouges had no role in founding the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. In her political writings de Gouges had not called for women to abandon their homes, but she was cast by the politicians as an enemy of the natural order, and thus enemy of the ruling Jacobin party. Paradoxically, the two women who had started the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, Claire Lacombe and Pauline Léon, were not executed.[11] Lacombe, Léon and Theroigne de Mericourt had spoken at women's and mixed clubs, and the Assemblée, while de Gouges had shown a reluctance to engage in public speaking, but prolifically published pamphlets. However, Chaumette, who was a staunch opponent of the Girondins, had characterized de Gouges as unnatural and unrepublican prior to her execution.[11]

The year 1793 has been described as a watershed for the construction of women's place in revolutionary France, and the deconstruction of the Girondins' Marianne, the symbol of Republican womanhood. That year a number of women with a public role in politics were executed, including Madame Roland and Marie-Antoinette. The new Républicaine was the republican mother that nurtured the new citizen. During this time the Convention banned all women's political associations and executed many politically active women.[11] 1793 marked the start of the Reign of Terror in late revolutionary France, where many thousands of people were executed. Across the Atlantic world observers of the French Revolution were shocked, as the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité resulted in mass executions.[8]


All of Olympe de Gouges' plays and novels convey the overarching theme of her life's work: indignation at social injustices. In addition to women's rights, de Gouges engaged contested topics including the slave trade, divorce, marriage, debtors' prisons, children's rights, and government work schemes for the unemployed. Much of her work foregrounded the troubling intersections of two or more issues. While many plays by women playwrights staged at the Comédie Française were published anonymously or under male pseudonyms, de Gouges broke with tradition. Not only did she publish using her own name, but she also pushed the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate subject matter for women playwrights—and withstood the consequences.[26] A record of her papers which were seized at the time of execution in 1793 lists about 40 plays.[27]

In 1784 she published an epistolary novel inspired by Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Her novel claimed to consist of authentic letters exchanged with her father the Marquis de Pompignan, with the names changed. "Madame Valmont" thus represented de Gouges herself, and "Monsieur de Flaucourt" was Pompignan.[2] The full title of the novel, published shortly after Pompignan's death, indicated its claim: Mémoires de Madame de Valmont sur l'ingratitude et la cruauté de la famille des Flaucourt avec la sienne dont les sieurs de Flaucourt on reçu tant de services (Madame de Valmont's Memoirs on the Ingratitude and Cruelty of the Flaucourt Family Towards her Own, which Rendered such Services to the Sirs Flaucourt).[2]

As a playwright, she charged into the contemporary political controversies and was often in the vanguard.[28] Alongside Marquis de Condorcet, de Gouges is considered one of France's earliest public opponents of slavery.

De Gouges' first staged production was originally titled Zamore et Mirza; ou L'Heureux Naufrage [Zamore and Mirza; or The Happy Shipwreck] (1788). Drawing both praise from abolitionists and attacks from pro-slavery traders, it is the first French play to focus not only on the inhumanity of slavery but also the first to feature the first-person perspective of an enslaved person.[26]

In her 1788 "Réflexions sur les Hommes Nègres" she brought to attention the horrible situation of slaves in the French colonies and condemned the injustice of the institution declaring “I clearly realized that it was force and prejudice that had condemned them to that horrible slavery, in which Nature plays no role, and for which the unjust and powerful interests of Whites are alone responsible” and also that "Men everywhere are equal... Kings who are just do not want slaves; they know that they have submissive subjects."[29]

In the final act of L'Esclavage des Noirs de Gouges lets the French colonial master, not the slave, utter a prayer for freedom: "Let our common rejoicings be a happy portent of liberty." She drew a parallel between colonial slavery and political oppression in France. One of the slave protagonists explains that the French must gain their own freedom, before they can deal with slavery. De Gouges also openly attacked the notion that human rights were a reality in revolutionary France. The slave protagonist comments on the situation in France: "The power of one Master alone is in the hands of a thousand Tyrants who trample the People under foot. The People will one day burst their chains and will claim all its rights under Natural law. It will teach the Tyrants just what a people united by long oppression and enlightened by sound philosophy can do." While it was common in France to equate political oppression to slavery, this was an analogy and not an abolitionist sentiment.[12]

Political pamphlets and letters

First page of Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen

Over the course of her career, de Gouges published 68 pamphlets.[30] Her first political brochure was published in November 1788, a manifesto entitled Letter to the people, or project for a patriotic fund. In early 1789 she published Remarques Patriotiques setting out her proposals for social security, care for the elderly, institutions for homeless children, hostels for the unemployed, and the introduction of a jury system. In this work, she highlighted and promulgated the issues facing France on the brink of revolution, writing

“France is sunk in grief, the people are suffering and the Monarch cries out. Parliament is demanding the Estates-General and the Nation cannot come to an agreement. There is no consensus on electing these assemblies...The Third Estate, with reason, claims a voice equal to that of the Clergy and Nobility...for the problems that get worse every day,” and declared to the king that “Your People are unhappy. Unhappy!”[31]

She also called upon women to "shake off the yoke of shameful slavery." The same year she wrote a series of pamphlets on a range of social concerns, such as illegitimate children. In these pamphlets she advanced the public debate on issues that would later be picked up by feminists, such as Flora Tristan. She continued to publish political essays between 1788 and 1791 including Cry of the wise man, by a woman in response to Louis XVI calling together the Estates-General.[28]

De Gouges wrote her famous Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen shortly after the French Constitution of 1791 was ratified by King Louis XVI, and dedicated it to his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette. The French Constitution marked the birth of the short-lived constitutional monarchy and implemented a status based citizenship. Citizens were defined as men over 25 who were "independent" and who had paid the poll tax. These citizens had the right to vote. Furthermore, active citizenship was two-tiered, with those who could vote and those who were fit for public office. Women were by definition not afforded any rights of active citizenship. Like men who could not pay the poll tax, children, domestic servants, rural day-laborers and slaves, Jews, actors and hangmen, women had no political rights. In transferring sovereignty to the nation the constitution dismantled the old regime, but de Gouges argued that it did not go far enough.[11]

Feminist work

De Gouges was not the only feminist who attempted to influence the political structures of late Enlightenment France, but like the writings of Etta Palm d'Aelders, Theroigne de Mericourt, Claire Lacombe and Marquis de Condorcet, her arguments fell on deaf ears. At the end of the eighteenth century influential political actors such as Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès were not convinced of the case for equality.[28]

In her early political letters de Gouges made a point of speaking "as a woman." She addressed her public letters, published often as pamphlets, to statesmen such as Jacques Necker, the Duke of Orléans, or the queen Marie-Antoinette. Like other pamphlet writers in revolutionary France, she spoke from the margins and spoke of her experience as a citizen with a desire to influence the ongoing public debate. In her letters she articulated the values of the Enlightenment, and commented on how they may be put into practice, such as civic virtue, universal rights, natural rights and political rights. In language and practice this was a debate among men and about their role. Republicans discussed civic virtue as patriotic manliness (la vertu mâle et répub-licaine). Women were not granted political rights in revolutionary France. De Gouges used her pamphlets to enter the public debate arguing that the debate needed to include the female civic voice.[11]

De Gouges signed her pamphlets with citoyenne. It has been suggested that she adopted this notion from Rousseau's letter To the Republic of Geneva, where he speaks directly to two types of Genevans: the "dear fellow citizens" or his "brothers," and the aimables et virtueses Citoyenne, that is the women citizens. In the public letter Remarques Patriotique from December 1788 de Gouges justified publishing her political thoughts, claiming that "This dream, strange though it may seem, will show the nation a truly civic heart, a spirit that is always concerned with the public good."[11]

Political stance

As the politics of revolutionary France changed and progressed de Gouges failed to become an actor on the political stage, but in her letters offered advice to the political establishment. Her proposition for a political order remained largely unchanged. She expresses faith in the Estates General of 1789 and in reference to the estates of the realm, that the people of France (Third Estate) would be able to ensure harmony between the three estates - the clergy, nobility and the people. Despite this she expresses loyalty for the ministers Jacques Necker and Charles Alexandre de Calonne. De Gouges opposes absolutism, but believed France should retain a constitutional monarchy.[11]

In her open letter to Marie-Antoinette, de Gouges declared:

I could never convince myself that a princess, raised in the midst of grandeur, had all the vices of baseness... Madame, may a nobler function characterize you, excite your ambition, and fix your attention. Only one whom chance had elevated to an eminent position can assume the task of lending weight to the progress of the Rights of Woman and of hastening its success. If you were less well informed, Madame, I might fear that your individual interests would outweigh those of your sex. You love glory; think, Madame, the greatest crimes immortalize one as much as the greatest virtues, but what a different fame in the annals of history! The one is ceaselessly taken as an example, and the other is eternally the execration of the human race.[8]

Public letters, or pamphlets, were the primary means for the working class and women writers to engage in the public debate of revolutionary France. The intention was not to court the favor of the addressee, often a public figure. Frequently these pamphlets were intended to stir up public anger. They were widely circulated within and outside France. De Gouges's contemporary Madame Roland of the Gironde party became notorious for her Letter to Louis XVI in 1792. In the same year de Gouges penned Letter to Citizen Robespierre, which Robespierre refused to answer. De Gouges took to the street, and on behalf of the French people proclaimed "Let us plunge into the Seine! Thou hast need of a bath... thy death will claim things, and as for myself, the sacrifice of a pure life will disarm the heavens."[32]


After her execution her son Pierre Aubry signed a letter in which he denied his endorsement for her political legacy.[22] He tried to change her name in the records, to Marie Aubry, but the name she had given herself has endured.

Impact on the women's movement

De Gouges's Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen was widely reproduced and influenced the writings of women's advocates in the Atlantic world. One year after its publication, in 1792, the keen observer of the French Revolution Mary Wollstonecraft published Vindication of the Rights of Woman[33]. Writings on women and their lack of rights became widely available. The experience of French women during the revolution entered the collective consciousness.

Impact in America

American women began to refer to themselves as citess or citizeness and took to the streets to achieve equality and freedom. The same year de Gouges was executed the pamphlet On the Marriage of Two Celebrated Widows was published anonymously, proclaiming that "two celebrated widows, ladies of America and France, after having repudiated their husbands on account of their ill treatment, conceived of the design of living together in the strictest union and friendship."[8] Revolutionary novels were published that put women at the center of violent struggle, such as the narratives written by Helen Maria Williams and Leonora Sansay.[8] At the 1848 Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, the rhetorical style of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen was employed to paraphrase the United States Declaration of Independence into the Declaration of Sentiments, which demanded women's right to vote.[33]

Anonymity and rediscovery

Although she was a celebrity in her lifetime and a prolific author, de Gouges became largely forgotten, but later rediscovered through a political biography by Olivier Blanc in the mid-1980s.[13]

On March 6, 2004, the junction of the Rues Béranger, Charlot, de Turenne, and de Franche-Comté in Paris was proclaimed the Place Olympe de Gouges. The square was inaugurated by the mayor of the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, Pierre Aidenbaum, along with then first deputy mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. The actress Véronique Genest read an excerpt from the Declaration of the Rights of Woman. 2007 French presidential contender Ségolène Royal expressed the wish that de Gouges's remains be moved to the Panthéon. However, her remains—like those of the other victims of the Reign of Terror—have been lost through burial in communal graves, so any reburial (like that of Marquis de Condorcet) would be only ceremonial.

She is honored in many street names across France, in the Salle Olympe de Gouges exhibition hall in rue Merlin, Paris, and the Parc Olympe de Gouges in Annemasse.

The 2018 play The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson centers on de Gouges and a dramatized version of her life as a playwright and activist during the Reign of Terror.[34]

Selected works

  • Zamore et Mirza, ou l’heureux naufrage (Zamore and Mirza, or the Happy Shipwreck) 1784[2]
  • Le Mariage inattendu de Chérubin (The Unexpected Marriage of Cherubin) 1786[35]
  • L’Homme généreux (The Generous Man) 1786[36]
  • Molière chez Ninon, ou le siècle des grands hommes (Molière at Ninon, or the Century of Great Men) 1788[37]
  • Les Démocrates et les aristocrates (The Democrats and the Aristocrats) 1790[38]
  • La Nécessité du divorce (The Necessity of Divorce) 1790[39]
  • Le Couvent (The Convent) 1790[40]
  • Mirabeau aux Champs Élysées (Mirabeau at the Champs Élysées) 1791[41]
  • La France sauvée, ou le tyran détrôné (France saved, or the Dethroned Tyrant) 1792[42]
  • L'Entrée de Dumouriez à Bruxelles (The Entrance of Dumouriez in Brussels) 1793[43]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Kathleen Kuiper, "Researcher's Note: Who was Olympe de Gouges's father?" Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 8, 2024.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Sophie Mousset, Women's Rights and the French Revolution: A Biography of Olympe de Gouges (New Brunswick, RI: Transaction Publishers, 2007, ISBN 978-0765803450), 9-16, 26-29, 99.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John R. Cole, Between the Queen and the Cabby: Olympe de Gouge's Rights of Woman (Montreal, CA: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011, 978-0773538863), 8–9.
  4. Pauline Paul, "I Foresaw it All: The Amazing Life and Oeuvre of Olympe de Gouges," trans. Kai Artur Diers. Die Zeit, June 2, 1989.
  5. Marie Josephine Diamond, "Olympe de Gouges and the French Revolution: the Construction of Gender as Critique," Dialectical Anthropology 15(2/3) (1990): 95-105.
  6. Halina Sokolnikova, Nine Women: Drawn from the Epoch of the French Revolution, trans. H.C. Stevens (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-1428652453), 88.
  7. Paul Noack, Olympe de Gouges, 1748–1793: Kurtisane und Kampferin für die Rechte der Frau (Olympe de Gouges, 1748–1793: Courtesan and Activist for Women's Rights) (Munich, DE: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992, ISBN 978-3423303194), 31.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Lisa L. Moore, Joanna Brooks and Caroline Wigginton, Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0199743483), 14-16, 245-247, 297.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Joan Wallach Scott, "A woman who has only paradoxes to offer: Olympe de Gouges claims rights for women," in Rebel daughters: Women and the French Revolution, eds. Sara E. Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0195068866). 222, 232.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Carla Hesse, "Marie-Olympe De Gouges," Europe 1789–1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire: Volume 5: Talleyrand to Zollverein eds. John Merriman and Jay Winter. (Chicago, IL: Thomson Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-0684313641).
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 Annie Smart, Citoyennes: Women and the Ideal of Citizenship in Eighteenth-Century France (Newark, DE: University of Delaware, 2011, ISBN 978-1611493559), 121-123, 134, 144-154.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Erica Harth, Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old Regime (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0801499982), 227-229. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Mary Seidman Trouille, Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Writers Read Rousseau (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0791434895), 237, 272.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Colin Jones, The Longman Companion of the French Revolution (London: Addison-Wesley Longman, 1988, ISBN 978-0582494183), 235, 311.
  15. Lisa Gålmark, Rosewater of the Revolution: Olympe de Gouges Feminist Humanism (Stockholm, SE: Dela förlag, 2020, ISBN 978-9163919695), 41.
  16. Marlene L. Daut, Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789–1865 (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1781381847), 248.
  17. Jules Michelet, Histoire de La Re Volution Franc Aise (London, U.K.: British Library, 2012, ISBN 978-1249014836).
  18. See Charles de Monselet, Les Oubliés et les Dédaignés (The Forgotten and the Scorned). See also Joan Scott, "A Woman Who Has Only Paradoxes to Offer": Olympe de Gouges Claims Rights for Women," in Rebel Daughters, eds. Sara E. Melzer Leslie W. Rabine. (New York, NY and Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0195068866).
  19. 19.0 19.1 Olympe De Gouges, "Les Trois Urnes, Ou Le Salut De La Patrie, Par Un Voyageur Aérien," "Les Trois Urnes, Ou Le Salut De La Patrie, Par Un Voyageur Aérien. 1793. Retrieved June 8, 2023. ("Urnes" is the French equivalent of ballot boxes.)
  20. William Shepard Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information: Comprising Strange Happenings in the Life of Men and Animals, Odd Statistics, Extraordinary Phenomena, and Out of the Way Facts Concerning the Wonderlands of the Earth (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1913), 834.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Janie Vanpée, "Performing Justice: The Trials of Olympe de Gouges," Theatre Journal 51(1) (March 1999): 47–65.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Jessica Goodman, Commemorating Mirabeau: 'Mirabeau aux Champs-Elysées' and other texts (Cambridge, U.K.: MHRA, 2017, ISBN 978-1781882184), 35, 59.
  23. Ian Donnachie and Carmen Lavin (eds.), From Enlightenment to Romanticism: Anthology (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0719066719), 94.
  24. Marie Beauchamps, "Olympe de Gouges's trial and the affective politics of denaturalization in France," Citizenship Studies 20(8) (2016): 943–56. Retrieved June 9, 2024.
  25. B. Beyern, Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres (Paris, FR: Le Cherche Midi, 2008, ISBN 978-2749113500), 377.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Joan Woolfrey, "Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 9, 2024.
  27. C. Sherman, Reading Olympe de Gouges (London, U.K.: Palgrave Pivot, 2013, ISBN 978-1137346452), 51.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 David Williams, The Enlightenment (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0521564908), 38, 317.
  29. Olympe de Gouges, "Réflexions Sur Les Hommes Nègres," 1788.
  30. Olivier Blanc, Marie-Olympe de Gouges : une humaniste à la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Paris, FR: R. Viénet, 2003, ISBN 2849830003), 244–247.
  31. Olympe de Gouges, "Remarques Patriotiques," 1789.
  32. Mary A. Favret, Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics and the Fiction of Letters (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0521604284), 114, 119.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Ana M. Martínez Alemán and Kristen A. Renn, Women in Higher Education: An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002, ISBN 978-1576076149), 34-38.
  34. "Dramatists Play Service, Inc.," www.dramatists.com. Retrieved June 9, 2024.
  35. Olympe de Gouges, LE MARIAGE INATTENDU DE CHÉRUBIN Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  36. Olympe de Gouges, L'Homme généreux Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  37. Olympe de Gouges, Molière chez Ninon Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  38. Olympe de Gouges, Les Démocrates et les aristocrates Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  39. Olympe de Gouges, La Nécessité du divorce Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  40. Olympe de Gouges, Le Couvent Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  41. Olympe de Gouges, Mirabeau aux Champs Élysées Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  42. Olympe de Gouges, La France Sauvée ou le Tyran Détrôné: A Dramaturgical Casebook.
  43. Olympe de Gouges, Entrée de Dumouriez à Bruxelles Retrieved June 18, 2024.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Further reading

  • Bergès, Sandrine. Olympe de Gouges. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1009023702

External links

All links retrieved June 14, 2024.


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