Olympe de Gouges' Declaration of the Rights of Woman

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

Olympe de Gouges was a French political and social activist who is most well-known for writing the ''Declaration of the Rights of Woman'' following the French Revolution.

Declaring Citizenship

In the late 18th century, the French people began a revolution to assert their rights. Previously, French society classified the nobles and the clergy as superior and forced everyone else to fend for themselves. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been spending too much money on wars and their lavish lifestyles while many people starved. Finally, the people had enough and stormed the Bastille (a prison) and the palace. Once the king was removed and a representative government established, it was men alone who were declared equal to each other.

Can you imagine being a woman, fighting in a war for equality in your society and then being told you were still unequal? Would you speak up and fight for fair representation? In 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published. It outlined fundamental human rights, much like the American Declaration of Independence, but never included French women. Two years later, Olympe de Gouges set out to change this.

Asserting the Female Perspective

Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges moved to Paris when she was widowed and got involved in various causes that pertained to women and children. Her writings about divorce, maternity hospitals, orphaned children, and single mothers were published as pamphlets and staged as plays. In 1791, de Gouges wrote her most famous pamphlet, The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Her document asserted that women have the same, inalienable rights as men.

Over the course of 17 articles, de Gouges' Declaration detailed what these rights should be - liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression, etc. Just as men declared themselves equal to participate in government, her document stated that women should have the right to participate in government and lawmaking, as well as openly voice their opinions. She additionally claimed rights to publicly name the father of a child born outside of marriage and to confer with public officials on the financial status of the household.

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