Olympe de Gouges
Women were not included among the new officeholders of Revolutionary France, nor were they members of the National Assembly, which supposedly represented all members of the country’s Third Estate. An immediate question arose concerning the extent to which the benefits of the Revolution should be extended to females (as well as to slaves throughout France’s global empire). Some men did advocate the extension of these rights and privileges, but women also took action in their own cause. Among these was the “Cercle Social” (Social Circle), a group of female activists who coordinated their publishing activities on behalf of women and their own goals in the developing Revolution.
One of the leaders of this group was Marie Gouze (1748–1793), who, under her pen name “Olympe de Gouges,” attacked both the institution of slavery and the oppression of women in 1791. A playwright, pamphleteer, and political activist, de Gouges published this thoughtful meditation on what the National Assembly should declare concerning “the rights of woman” (as opposed merely to “the rights of man”). Other members of the Social Circle were arrested as the Revolution entered its radical phase, but Olympe de Gouges was executed by guillotine in November 1793.
Lynn Hunt, ed. and trans., The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston: Bedford St. Martin–s, 1996), 124–126.