Jenny P. d’Héricourt in “The Agitator” (1869)


  • Jenny P. d’Héricourt, “Woman’s Rights in France,” The Agitator 1 no. 8 (May 1, 1869): 1.
  • La Femme, “Madame Jenny P. d’Héricourt,” The Agitator 1 no. 9 (May 8, 1869): 6.
  • Jenny P. d’Héricourt, [letter], The Agitator 1 no. 14 (June 12, 1869): 8.
  • Jenny P. d’Héricourt, “Morality According to the Sexes,” The Agitator 1 no. 16 (June 26, 1869): 1.
  • Jenny P. d’Héricourt, “Ernestine L. Rose,” The Agitator 1 no. 17 (July 3, 1869): 2.
  • Jenny P. d’Héricourt, “Woman’s Rights in France,” The Agitator 1 no. 18 (July 10, 1869): 1.



Dear Agitator:

I will give you a page of history as an answer to a translation on Women’s Rights in Europe, accepted in the Revolution. If the Journal des femmes, whence this article is taken, were a French paper, the author could not be excused. But this paper is not French, though written in French; which explains how a “Woman of Geneva” does not know anything about thousands of wide awake women who were preaching, writing and claiming their rights in France in 1848. Having been one of those women, I can faithfully and truly inform you, and I will. Yet now, I send you first, the news which I received yesterday, from Paris.

The French “Woman’s Rights League” have published an Appeal, in which they show that woman, under the present law,

  1. Politically has no existence.
  2. Civilly is a minor.
  3. In marriage is a serf.
  4. In labor is made inferior.
  5. In public instruction is sacrificed.
  6. Out of marriage, is almost given over to the brutal passions of the other sex; and answers alone the consequences of a fault committed by both.
  7. As a mother, is deprived of her rights in her children, while the father may regulate their education, fix their calling, marry them and even have them put in a penitentiary, without, and even against, the consent of the world.
  8. In a word, that woman is only considered an intelligent and answerable being, and equal to man, when punishment and the payment of taxes are in question.

You see that in France, as everywhere, men are slaveholders. For them, liberty and license–for their mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, slavery. The members of the League claim their Woman’s Rights, not only in the name of justice, but in the name of civilization. Woman cannot be deprived of her influence on children and men, consequently it is in her power to ameliorate or ruin society. If she conquers her rights, is enlightened, and independent through labor, she will be an agent of purity. If not, humanity will run with full speed to the abyss. Therefore, it is the affair of men, as well as of women, to claim reform.

The League have voted the establishment of a school for girls, in which moral instruction will be based upon liberty of consciousness, the respect of rights in one’s self and in others, and a rational feeling of duty. Whoever is subscriber to that institution, endorses the principles of the League, and is engaged to promote Woman’s rights.

It is useful to add, that the women who have organized the League, are brave and intelligent, good mothers, excellent wives and careful housekeeper, since those are the characters of the “strong minded.” But it will rejoice you to now that, like in America, they have aroused some of the best and most just and learned men. Several Parisian papers have kindly printed the “Appeal,” and I am told by the Chief of the League, one of the literary stars, that there is great enthusiasm concerning it, particularly among men.

Woman’s Rights in Europe—A Page of History.

I will now give you a sketch of the origin and progress, in France, and part of Europe, of the movement for woman’s rights. From the origin of our great revolution, in 1789, energetic women organized public meetings, which in France we name “clubs,” and their courageous and eloquent leaders claimed the equalities of the sexes before the civil and political laws. Condorcet, the philosopher, was the organ of these claims in the National Assembly of our representatives.

But “black republicans” are not precisely the friends of any rights but their own, you know. Therefore our great men would not listen to Condorcet. Soon, Right and Liberty disappeared in the stream of blood of the “Terror,” and their bodies were shrouded in the glorious cloak of the first Empire. When France was delivered from this government, she took again her work of Justice, for a great idea cannot die in the land of ideas and generosity.

Our social schools rose, and every one of them, whatever may be their ideal construction, placed at the basis the equality of the sexes before nature and society.

Carried on the wings of the press and oral propagandism, the doctrines of Saint Simon, Fourier and hosts of different communist sects, went around the world, with our Marseillaise, and had everywhere numerous adherents. Even those who did not adopt their particular form of doctrine, either in France, or elsewhere, were unified by their common principles, for they expressed a new phase of human conscience towards Justice.

A great many French and foreign women had accepted the good news, the Gospel of their Salvation, when the Revolution of February, 1791 [1848], broke out like a bomb-shell. Then our martyr, Pauline Roland, and some other women, claimed their inscriptions as electors. We constituted clubs, and societies, we issued several papers, work-women formed labor associations, which were centralized, numerous masculine clubs voted our civil and political enfranchisement, and the courageous Jeanne Deroin, proposed herself as a candidate to the Legislative Assembly, with the approval of many workmen.

But nous avions compte sans notre hôte, that is to say, without reaction. Republican representatives shut our assemblies, forbade us to go to masculine clubs, labor associations were beheaded, Pauline Roland, Jeanne Deroin and several others were sent to prison; the most part of our adherents were slaughtered during the awful days of June, or transported out of the country.

Are you astonished now, that women, indignant and despairing, hindered their husbands and sons from taking the defense of our selfish and unfaithful representatives, and consented to have the Republic swallowed by the Second Empire? This man had repulsed Equality in the right–well, we should have it in the not-right. Dreadful Justice! oh, yes, but still, justice. Never, never, will we forgive these men; and it is because women have not forgiven, that the Second Empire has lasted. Besides, the Emperor is not at all our adversary; he has given the Cross-of-Honor to our great painter, Rosa Bonheur; he has introduced a great number of women in the Government Telegraph; he gives to women the postoffices, the Bureaux de tabac and of Papier timbre, and against the will of the Catholic Clergy, he has begun the reform of education for girls. He has done for us more than the Republicans.

It would be not to know the French genius to think that the elaboration of ideas was stopped after the Coup d’Etat. Not at all. Several centers of elaboration were formed, among which, one of the most useful was that of the Revue Philosophique, to which several women were contributors. While Ernest Legouve wrote his charming Histoire Morale des Femmes, Emile de Girardin his Egalite des Enfants devant la Mare. Before l’Ouvriere of Jules Simon, the intelligent and good Eliza Lemonnier founded the first Ecole Industrielle for young girls. We have several now. Madame Lemonnier, whose name will remain in the history of woman’s progress, was the wife of one of the contributors of the Revue. More than thirty-eight years ago he adopted woman’s rights. Another woman, of the same center, Jenny d’Hericourt, encouraged by all the good and enlightened men of the Revue, published fourteen articles on woman’s rights, marriage and divorce, in the Ragione of Turin, and the women of northern Italy awaked. The same woman fought the nonsense of Proudhon in the Revue, and at last wrote La Femme Affranchie, whose doctrines were spread in Germany by enthusiastic men and women, and in Russia by the great poet Michaeloff. I saw this poor martyr of despotism, whose body rests now in quiet, and his spirit in the women of his country.

Such is the origin and progress of woman’s rights in France and in a great part of Europe. You see that my great place among the leaders of progress. It would be a hateful ingratitude, and a despicable injustice, to forget it, and it is a strict duty for a daughter of France not to permit it, without protestation.

I am, dear Agitator, your sister in justice and humanity,

Jenny P. D’Hericourt.

Chicago, April 22, 1869.


Dear Agitator:

You ask me the biography of Madame Jenny P. d’Hericourt! I consent only to draw the great lines of her eventful life, those which can be interesting to those identified with the holy cause to which she has devoted a part of her existence.

She was born in Besancon, the capital of the ancient Franche-Comte, in 1819. She is therefore the compatriot of Victor Hugo, Charles Fourier, Proudhon, Bichat, Courbet, Rouget de l’Isle, the author of the Marseillaise, and the celebrated Georges Cuvier, to whom she is a relative through her grandmother.

By hereditary descent, Mme. d’Hericourt was a republican. Hatred of monarchy runs in her veins, with the blood of her fathers. She has also thanked Providence that she was born in a family perfectly honest, and of enlightened Protestant parentage. Good examples and moral education were the blessings afforded to her from her cradle.

“In the child is the full grown person,” say the French; and they are right, when instincts, passions, and faculties are in question. But with the same character, we can be good or bad, according to the objects of our passions. Happily Jenny was under a rational and moral influence. I say happily, for she could be, in consequence of her nature, very useful or extremely hurtful. Intelligent, persistent, courageous, bold, full of generosity and tenderness for the weak, and for every sensitive being-incapable of accepting a rule without endorsing and consenting to it, all these precious gifts would have proved an injury if she had been treated with violence, disdain of opinion, and indomitable rancor; for she never forgot nor forgave, and her vengeance followed promptly every offense.

Her parents nick-named her Don Quixote, because she always defended her weak companions and animals. She did not fear to struggle with those who were stronger than she was, and they were always worsted in the encounter. To the strong she was cruel, when they attacked those who could not defend themselves. She never oppressed either weak children or animals; she had no playthings. When she did not study or run and jump or climb like a cat, she taught twenty dirty paper dolls, or prescribed for them like a physician. It was of very little importance to her whether she had an elegant or worn-out dress, a beautiful or ugly hat; whether she played with well or ill-dressed children. She had so much disdain for distinction, that she never wore the medal given her almost every month, for the first place in her class. She carried this medal in her pocket, because she did not want to show it, and because, she remarked that her companions were unhappy to witness her constant success. However, she was loved by them, for she never made them feel her superiority. Not from generosity, however, did she fail to compare her career with theirs, but because she had her thoughts on the success she meant to acquire in the future.

Before she was seven years old, she knew how to write and to read; had progressed in arithmetic as far as fractions; could speak of the Greek and Roman great characters, and knew by heart the fables of Lafontaine and several chapters of the New Testament. Literally she was hungry and thirsty for knowledge. She was eight years of age when her father died; and though she shed not a tear, she was resolved to die herself in order to be buried with him. Her little sister, whom she loved with passion, alone could make her change her resolution. The following year, Jenny, with her mother and sister, went to Paris. There she received a solid education. At eighteen she received her diploma of Institutrice, after several brilliant examinations, for she knew much more than was required.

When twenty years old she was married to a young man, who, under the guise of honesty, was a libertine and a base hypocrite. After four years of sorrow, she left him and returned to her mother. Notwithstanding the prayers and promises of her husband she repulsed him for eight years. “I pity you,” said she to him, “you are by nature a bad man, and having received your education from Jesuits, you will become worse. You have attempted to murder me for your paramour’s sake, and being persuaded that you will lead me to perpetrate a crime, I will not return with you.” As Jenny had no children she took refuge in science and medical anatomy, physiology and natural history. At the same time she wrote two romances which had a great success. One was against adultery, the other capital punishment. Her serious studies led her to physics. She took lessons from physicians, for the Medical Academy had its doors then closed against women. The president of the Medical Homoeopathic Institute of Buenos Ayres, being in Paris, where he had established a large dispensary, Jenny attended this dispensary for a year; delivered a course of medical criticism in twelve lectures, and received her diploma of physician.

When the revolution of February broke out Madame d’Hericourt was too much of a Republican to remain indifferent. She organized, immediately, a society of thirty women to claim the civil enfranchisement of women, help the women to socialize labor, establish in every arrondissement an evening school for workers of the two sexes, and influence the elections. Other groups of women opened public assemblies to the same end, and issued very good journals. Every group managed according to their peculiar ideas, of course, but were friendly with one another. While Jeanne Deroin, so sweet and courageous, went into several masculine clubs to induce them to vote the equality of the sexes, Jenny d’Hericourt compelled Cuber [Cabet] to submit the question to his numerous disciples, and, standing on the stage, counted the hundreds of hands raised, voting “yes.” The disinterested work of woman was crowned with success for the Work-women’s societies, and the triumph of the Republican representatives. But the Revolution, stopped by reaction, had no time for Woman’s Rights. Mme. d’Hericourt had a great influence with the laborers. They felt that she loved them. Poor work-women said to her, “We will follow you everywhere, even to the barricades, you have only to command. “ And when she said to the workmen, “Friends, don’t call me citizen, for I am nothing but a serf without a country,” those brave men taking her white little hand in their strong and callous hands, answered: “In three years you will be a citizen and representative, for we know that our interests and those of justice cannot have a stronger advocate than you!”

Mme. d’Hericourt having a natural repulsion to putting herself before the public without there was a great necessity for it, never appeared in the numerous banquets given at that time. She consequently declined going to an immense assembly patronized by Republican ladies, but she was obliged to accept, because the working people would have imagined, if she did not go, that it was because the other ladies disdained the laboring class. Certainly they were mistaken; but this impression would have prevailed, and it would have been childish for Mme. d’Hericourt to sacrifice her taste to good harmony. She therefore sent messengers to the workshops of her friends to say that she should pronounce the first toast. When she appeared on the stage, it seemed as if the immense hall would fall under the applause of the multitude. She was obliged to calm this enthusiasm, and had much difficulty in finishing her speech. She was often interrupted with frantic shouts of approval. She said to me, in relating this fact, “0, it was a sweet and great day for me, to see how much I was loved by those worthy soldiers of labor, those oppressed by capital, by ignorance, by misery! For you know in me the woman is always the child. I love only the victims and slaves, I have great difficulty not to hate the others.”

Mme. d’Hericourt never spoke before the public without awakening passionate applause, for she always spoke with simplicity and to do good. It was easy to perceive that she forgot herself in her subject. She never writes a speech, and, according to the disposition of her audience, she decides the form in which her ideas shall be presented. She is excited by opposition, and then becomes sarcastic and severe. She said to me that being a vice president in a club of men, when some men, paid by the opposition, cried: “Death to the Communists! Death to Cuber!” she rose, and prayed the members of the club to pass a vote of censure against such savage cries. Murmurs rang through the hall. “Why,” said she, “have we Republican Jesuits among us? Do they think that this assembly is blind enough not to understand that to attack the free opinion of a sect is to attack the free opinion of all? Those who oppose me are hypocrites or imbecile, and hypocrisy and imbecility can have no hope among intelligent men. Citizens, I insist! Pass the vote!” And she developed her reasons and obtained the vote with acclamation. She knew that she ran the risk of being stabbed in going home, but she despises those who prefer life to duty. Her friends had the same fear, and they surrounded her for protection, when she went out.

I asked her if, being restored to calm and solitude, she felt no fear. “Fear?” said she, “there are two words that I never understood, fear and impossible!” She told me that having taken the charge of concealing Auguste Blanqui, who was searched for that he might be sent to the Haute cour de justice, as she took his arm to conduct him to her house, they had to pass through the midst of a troup of national guards. It appeared to her so funny to be among those who would have taken him to prison had they recognized him, and so good a joke to see those soldiers move gallantly for the lady and her poor outlaw to pass—they not knowing who he was—that she laughed aloud heartily in the very face of those astonished citizens. She saved another outlaw with the same sang froid, taking him in full daylight under the eagle eyes of soldiers and detectives.

When Napoleon was made President, Mme. d’Hericourt entered a hospital in order to finish her medical studies with practical obstetrics. She remained there one year, and, after a brilliant examination received her diploma of maitresse sage femme. She opened an office for the treatment of the diseases of women and children, and had great success. Her experience of pupil in a great hospital, and as physician, discovered to her all the bitter fruits of woman’s serfdom. Her heart is not one to be broken, but it can be put on fire by indignation, and she swore that she would shake laws and society, avenge and awake women. She understood that to attract attention, she should place herself on the ground which men preserve for themselves, saying that women have not such and such faculties. The Revue Philosophique of Paris under the direction of Verngigoud and liberal and enlightened men, accepted her as a contributor, and she gave a first article of philosophical criticism on the Philosophy of August Comte. There was no feeling in this article, it was only dialectical and sarcastic. “0, what a shame! A woman without feeling! A woman dialectician!” It occasioned great noise and great scandal, and Mme. d’Hericourt was put in the Index of the Positivistes. She laughed and rubbed her hands—the wicked and hard-hearted woman—for she had succeeded. There was another man, her compatriot, M. Proudhon, whom men did not dare attack, because he was a strong reasoner and cruelly sarcastic. Mme. d’Hericourt began resolutely to criticize his opinion of woman and her rights. She proved the equal of her adversary in sarcasm and dialectics. 0, what a monster! A woman reasoning! A woman so bold as to fight against a demigod! She was already in the Index of the Comtetists now she was in that of the Proudhonians. Was it not awful?

This article gave her a distinguished place among philosophers and reasoners, many enemies, but also a great number of friends. Now she proceeded to arouse and stir the churches. She wrote successively Le Christianisme et la Question des Femmes, and La Bible et la Question des Femmes. Then there was a disturbance. She was denounced to the Tribunal and received the charming name of female devil. There was no suit, but La Revue was suppressed. However Mme. d’Hericourt was happy. She had started the question anew—had startled men and awakened the public conscience. Now they would not get to sleep again.

In the same time when she thus labored in Paris, she had fourteen articles on woman’s rights, marriage and divorce successively, published in the Ragione of Turin. These articles analyzed in the Donna of Geneva, awakened the women of northern Italy. “You have put our country on fire,” wrote the editor of the Ragione. “Young men and women are for you. Thank you for your courage and talent!” And Mme. d’Hericourt received enthusiastic letters from Italy and France, and had her letters to Proudhon translated in the Reasoner of London. Then she thought that it was time to strike her last great blow, and she wrote La Femme Affranchie. In this book she was harsh and bitterly disdainful. She called ignorance, imbecility and bad faith and inconsistency by their proper names, and threw these names in the face of those who deserved them. You may think such passionate logic was not enjoyed by everybody, and she was not surprised to be called a devil, a monstruous woman to whom talent and high intellect had been given and warmed by the fires of hell, to overthrow all that is pure and just on the earth; while others called her a second Joanne d’Arc, a Garibaldi among women, a saint inspired to give the gospel of women. The book was startling. One would say it was inspired by genius coming from God, and others by a genius coming from hell. Mme. d’Hericourt laughed in secret. It little mattered to her to be called angel or devil. She knew humanity too well not to be certain that when this hate and anger were vented she would be forgotten, but the germ which she had sown would take root. She had not worked for her theory, but for the triumph of eternal justice.

It was in this feeling that she read all the letters coming from all parts of Europe, and from men having a name in science and philosophy. Her autograph was sought after which she sent without pride. Such demands were proof that she had faithfully fulfilled her duty. She thanked Proudhon that she had been able to prove herself not an unfaithful servant of justice and truth. Since “La Femme Affranchie,” Madame d’Hericourt has not published anything on the woman question. The cause is so well served everywhere now that she thinks she is no more needed. She would not shrink, certainly, before any new duty in that direction, but she waits for it to seek her-she will not seek it. She has been in America among us for five years, and will remain among us some years longer probably, unless she is wanted in France, where is her true field of usefulness. That is the opinion of Mme. d’Hericourt—but we much mistake if she does not find a place for her great talents in the woman movement of to-day in this country, which is yet destined to form a league with that in the various parts of Europe—making of it a World’s Woman’s League.

Chicago, May 1, 1869

La Femme

Madame d’Hericourt, having returned from New York, writes full of interest and enthusiasm concerning her plan for a “Universal League of Women.” She will have something to say of this in future numbers of the Agitator. In concluding her letter, she says:

I hope my next journey to New York will not be like the last one. In going I was left on the way, losing part of my hand baggage, and in coming back I was pickpocketed at Crestline. Happily, I had only five dollars, a little key, and my ticket in the portmonaie which was in my pocket. The kind conductor, full of confidence in my honest and horrified face, believed me and passed me from Crestline to Chicago, where I was greeted by such a pouring of rain that it can be compared only to the anathemas of bishops and prelates. I was obliged to remain in the railway sitting-room three hours because the car in which my trunk was, had been broken on the way, so that I could have my luggage no sooner. All my misfortunes being over, I am gay and healthy and ready to begin again for our cause.

Believe me, dear Madame, truly your friend,

Jenny P. d’Hericourt.

Chicago, Ill.





Dear reader, let us for a moment listen to a conversation between wife and husband:

Wife—“Men continue to be absurd, and to affirm the contrary of facts. The New York Nation writes thus:” (She reads.)

Society refuses to treat men’s licentiousness with the same severity as women’s, because the consequences to the family, to children, and to property are less serious.

Husband.—“But that is true, wife, and,” (He reads.)

A woman must be taught to take care of her honor, and to bear unsupported the loss of it.

Wife.—“Then, if I can prove that the consequences of men’s licentiousness are more ‘serious to the family, to children and to property’ than women’s, you will feel yourself obliged to treat it more severely?”

Husband.—“You cannot prove that.”

Wife.—“I will try. If a wife is untrue to her husband, she does not spend her money for her paramour, but the contrary. But an unfaithful husband has sometimes two households, and always spends much for his paramour. Men’s licentiousness, therefore, has more serious consequences than women’s relatively to the family property. This is a fact, not a mere affirmation.

“An untrue wife can introduce illegitimate heirs in the family. These children are taken care of, loved, and no stain is on them. An untrue husband introduces illegitimate heirs in another family, or they are borne to him by an unmarried woman. If he takes care of them, he robs his wife and legitimate children, if he abandon them, they swell the population of prisons and brothels. Men’s licentiousness, therefore, in this respect, has more serious consequences to children than women’s.

“An untrue wife carefully conceals her bad conduct. She loves her children, is mild and amiable with her husband; no trouble is in the family. Too often an untrue husband is cold, rough, angry, does not conceal his behavior, and gives bad examples to his children; he dissolves the family physically and morally.

“Through men’s licentiousness women are wholly corrupted and enfeebled; first, mentally, by seduction and prostitution; second, physically, though the awful disease which is the fruit of license, and which, transmitted to children, tends to the destruction of the race. Idiocy, dumbness, deafness, blindness, scrofula, are the physical gifts of a father’s licentiousness to his children. And moral tendencies and weakness of self-control are his gifts in a moral point of view. Never can a serpent be the father of a dove, my dear sir; never can a thorn produce roses; the daughters of an impure man cannot have chaste tendencies. So, as to the health and dignity of our species, you see that men’s licentiousness has pretty serious consequences.

“And if your daughter, taking her standpoint on your utilitarian ground, will follow your masculine rule, what can you object? The beauty of chastity? But if it is beautiful in a woman, why not in a man? The necessity to control her appetites and instincts? ‘But, father,’ may she not ask, ‘why have you not controlled yours? Why have you given me those awful tendencies and your weakness of controlling them?’ The fear to be despised? She is smart enough to dissemble. And, after all what matters to her the opinions of foolish people, blaming in her, what they admit and tolerate in her brother? Girls compare and reason, to-day, you know, my dear husband. The risk to become a mother? But the advertising pages of any masculine journal will indicate thousands of remedies against this risk, and besides, hundreds of physicians are ready to help her avoid it. her life and health are endangered by these criminal practices? But why have you not the same uneasiness about the health of her brother, who not only endangers his life and health, but makes a provision by which disease and vice may be entailed on his future children?

“On you own utilitarian ground, my dear husband, you can perceive that it is easy to best you in argument. In the point of view of family, children, race and property, facts prove that men’s licentiousness has consequences more serious than women’s, and all the sophistry invented by your immense selfishness, you blind ignorance of natural laws, your incredible weakness in self-control cannot transform your affirmations to facts and rules. Simple good sense says, as women cannot be pure unless men are so, the rule of morality is the same for the two sexes.

As when a woman sins a man sins too, both are equally guilty, and the public opinion which makes a distinction between their culpability is absurd and despicable. Besides it has the ferocity of the tiger and the injustice of the devil, if it condemn the weak, led astray by the strong seducer and suborner. Such a public opinion gives nausea to a just and reasonable soul, and makes one ashamed to be shut up in a body, belonging to a species of animal so cruel and so illogical.

Chicago, June 21 1869.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2701 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.