Modern History Sourcebook:
Olympe de Gouge:
Declaration of the Rights of Women, 1791
Olympe de Gouges, a butcher's daughter, proved to be one of
the most outspoken and articulate women revolutionaries. In 1791
she wrote the following declaration, directly challenging the
inferiority presumed of women by the Declaration of the Rights
of Man. Her attempts to push this idea lead to her being charged
with treason during the rule of the National Convention. She was
quickly arrested, tried, and on November 3, 1793, executed by
Woman, wake up; the tocsin of reason is being heard throughout
the whole universe; discover your rights. The powerful empire
of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition,
and lies. The flame of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly
and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs
recourse to yours to break his chains. Having become free, he
has become unjust to his companion. Oh, women, women! When will
you cease to be blind? What advantage have you received from the
Revolution? A more pronounced scorn, a more marked disdain. In
the centuries of corruption you ruled only over the weakness of
men. The reclamation of your patrimony, based on the wise decrees
of nature-what have you to dread from such a fine undertaking?
The bon mot of the legislator of the marriage of Cana?
Do you fear that our French legislators, correctors of that morality,
long ensnared by political practices now out of date, will only
say again to you: women, what is there in common between you and
us? Everything, you will have to answer. If they persist in their
weakness in putting this non sequitur in contradiction to their
principles, courageously oppose the force of reason to the empty
pretentions of superiority; unite yourselves beneath the standards
of philosophy; deploy all the energy of your character, and you
will soon see these haughty men, not groveling at your feet as
servile adorers, but proud to share with you the treasures of
the Supreme Being. Regardless of what barriers confront you, it
is in your power to free yourselves; you have only to want to....
Marriage is the tomb of trust and love. The married woman can
with impunity give bastards to her husband, and also give them
the wealth which does not belong to them. The woman who is unmarried
has only one feeble right; ancient and inhuman laws refuse to
her for her children the right to the name and the wealth of their
father; no new laws have been made in this matter. If it is considered
a paradox and an impossibility on my part to try to give my sex
an honorable and just consistency, I leave it to men to attain
glory for dealing with this matter; but while we wait, the way
can be prepared through national education, the restoration of
morals, and conjugal conventions.
Form for a Social Contract Between Man and Woman
We, _____ and ______, moved by our own will, unite ourselves for
the duration of our lives, and for the duration of our mutual
inclinations, under the following conditions: We intend and wish
to make our wealth communal, meanwhile reserving to ourselves
the right to divide it in favor of our children and of those toward
whom we might have a particular inclination, mutually recognizing
that our property belongs directly to our children, from whatever
bed they come, and that all of them without distinction have the
right to bear the name of the fathers and mothers who have acknowledged
them, and we are charged to subscribe to the law which punishes
the renunciation of one's own blood. We likewise obligate ourselves,
in case of separation, to divide our wealth and to set aside in
advance the portion the law indicates for our children, and in
the event of a perfect union, the one who dies will divest himself
of half his property in his children's favor, and if one dies
childless, the survivor will inherit by right, unless the dying
person has disposed of half the common property in favor of one
whom he judged deserving.
That is approximately the formula for the marriage act I propose
for execution. Upon reading this strange document, I see rising
up against me the hypocrites, the prudes, the clergy, and the
whole infernal sequence. But how it [my proposal] offers to the
wise the moral means of achieving the perfection of a happy government!
. . .
Moreover, I would like a law which would assist widows and young
girls deceived by the false promises of a man to whom they were
attached; I would like, I say, this law to force an inconstant
man to hold to his obligations or at least [to pay] an indemnity
equal to his wealth. Again, I would like this law to be rigorous
against women, at least those who have the effrontery to have
reCourse to a law which they themselves had violated by their
misconduct, if proof of that were given. At the same time, as
I showed in Le Bonheur primitit de l'homme, in 1788, that
prostitutes should be placed in designated quarters. It is not
prostitutes who contribute the most to the depravity of morals,
it is the women of' society. In regenerating the latter, the former
are changed. This link of fraternal union will first bring disorder,
but in consequence it will produce at the end a perfect harmony.
I offer a foolproof way to elevate the soul of women; it is to
join them to all the activities of man; if man persists in finding
this way impractical, let him share his fortune with woman, not
at his caprice, but by the wisdom of laws. Prejudice falls, morals
are purified, and nature regains all her rights. Add to this the
marriage of priests and the strengthening of the king on his throne,
and the French government cannot fail.
From "Olympe de Gouges, 'Declaration of the Rights of Woman
and Female Citizen,"' in Darline Gav Levy, H. Applewhite,
and M. Johnson, eds., Women in Revolutionary Paris, 17851795 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1979), pp. 9296.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997