A FEMINIST OF 1848:
This study of Jeanne Deroin is the work left by Adrien Ranvier, who died September 18, 1905, at Asniéres (Seine).
Adrien Ranvier, born in 1807, son of Gabriel Ramier, member of the Commune, was raised, from 1871, by Madames Vincent and Mauriceau.
Her father, Gabriel Ranvier, imprisoned after October 31 1870, was elected mayor of the XXth arrondissement and member of the Commune, March 26, 1871; was one of the last combatants of the Commune and only escaped from prison thanks to the shelter than he found in Asniéres, with the Girard and Mauriceau families. Conducted by his friends to Creil, he made it to Belgium. His friends did not stop there; the got his oldest son, Henri Ranvier, currently conseiller municipal du XIth arrondissement, out of the Chantiers Prison, at Versailles, and received the young Adrien, on whom they never ceased to lavish maternal care; their charge, fortunately gifted, developed his natural talents through brilliant studies at the College of Melun.
In 1892, Adrien Ranvier was engaged, in London, to the daughter of Antoine Arnaud, ancient member of the Commune. It is there that he was introduced, through Louise Michel, to Jeanne Deroin, who entrusted to him some manuscripts on the events in which she had taken part in 1848.
Il profita de son séjour à Londres to study, in the libraries, the writings concerning the period of the Commune. A collaborator of the Revue féministe, he published numerous articles on the demands formulated by the women, and took an active part in the Feminist Congresses de 1889, 1892, 1896 and 1900.
Adrien Ranvier was attached to the Exposition of 1900 as authenticator of the works of the Petit Palais. Later, he passed eighteen months in Tunisia, where he directed some important works. In 1904, he had been named inspector of the works of public assistance at the hospice of Brévannes, when death took him prematurely, at the age of 38. The review l’Entente, in its number for November 1905, has dedicated an obituary to him.
In the first days of April, 1894, in foggy weather, as is often the case in London, the promenaders watched with astonishment as there passed before them a procession grandiose in its simplicity. Behind a poor hearse came, making escort, the notables of the English socialist world; they could also see in the procession some French residents of London. And these people seemed moved; they accompanied a friend to her final residence, one of the most remarkable women of our century, as much for the elevation of her thoughts and ideas as for her courage in developing and defending them; a woman who had dedicated her existence to a single cause, with two different forms: the emancipation of women, and the liberation of the workers: a woman finally who, all her life, had preached peace, concord and union for the greatest happiness of the suffering and disinherited. Arrived at an advanced age, she departed without being able to see any of her hopes realized. On that tomb, given to enclose the mortal remains of the valiant fighter that woman had been, one of the leaders of the English socialist party, as well as one of the best poets and artists with which England has been honored, the late lamented William Morris, since dead, pronounced, in a discourse vibrant with emotion, the elegy of the deceased and addressed to her the supreme adieu.
What was it then about this woman whose death gathered around her tomb so many diverse sympathies? What had she done that was so great, that these people came to pronounce words of farewell and of hope over her casket? That is what we are going to tell.
Jeanne-Françoise Deroin was born in Paris on December 31, 1805. She was still a child, when she witnessed the invasions of 1814 and 1815. She was struck by the evils that afflicted her homeland in that era, and retained such memories of it, that later she could not hear talk of war without manifesting the greatest horror. She witnessed the end of the extraordinary that was the Empire and which ended with the fall of Bonaparte, followed by the return of the Bourbons. She saw the reaction develop and it was with joy that she witnessed the Revolution of 1830, which put an end to the bigoted despotism of the eldest branch of the Bourbons.
She was of that generation of thinkers, enthusiastic admirers of the ideas of 1789, and, like them, the days of 1830 gave her the hope of soon seeing public liberties take a great step. Alas! All had figured without the stupid vanity of a La Fayette and the duplicity of the citizen-king.
Around 1832, she felt herself attracted to the Saint-Simonians, whose doctrine of fraternity and love was well formed to evoke her sympathies. The apologue of Saint Simon and the laborers struck her imagination and made her understand just how unjust was the situation of the proletarian class was vis-à-vis the other classes of society. Did she become a Saint-Simonian? We do not know, nor would we affirm it; but all converges to make us believe it to be true.
The relations of pure amity that she long maintained with Olinde Rodrigues helps further to confirm our belief.
First, the theories of the Saint-Simonians were in too much conformity with the thoughts of Jeanne Deroin for us to be surprised that she could have been Saint-Simonian. It is certain that a school that takes as its fulcrum this motto: — To each according to his ability, to each ability according to its works; — and which declares the following four as necessary reforms:
1° Abolition of all the privileges of birth;
2° Transformation of property;
3° Social and professional education;
4° Equality of man and woman;
such a school, we say, was well calculated to please the reformer’s spirit of Jeanne Deroin. She had known Blanqui and Pierre Leroux there; and by the study of Fourierism and Cabetism, which she ended by adopting completely, she managed to give to her mind the orientation that it preserved until the end of his life.
It was at the meetings of that school that she met the man who would be her husband, Mr. Desroches. Her marriage was purely civil; for, something of a deist, Jeanne Deroin did not believe in the dogmas of the Church, something for which she would have to suffer later.
In this regard, we recall that in London we became acquainted with a woman, who combined a great good sense with an erudition no less great. Mistress Sibthorp, who edited “Shafts,” is a notable figure in the English feminist party; she is a convert who, after having long sought her way, exactly like Jeanne Deroin, she arrived at a formula of doubt: she is neither absolutely deist, not absolutely atheist, neither a believer, in the absolute sense of the word, nor a free-thinker, as we understand that one can be such; but she is a liberator of firm and thoughtful mind. We will return one day on her account. She has the character of Jeanne Deroin, doubled with the cool temperament of the Anglo-Saxon race.
For several years, Jeanne Deroin withdrew entirely into her duties as a mother, and was occupied above all with giving instruction and education to the three children that she had with her husband. Until the Revolution of 1848, we turn up no salient detail of her existence; the moment has not come for her to reveal herself; the ideas which presented themselves in a mass to her mind did not yet, she thought, have sufficient clarity to be expressed. There was a period for Jeanne Deroin during which she devoted herself to the study of the socialist theories; so that later, at the time of her trial, a journalist hardly suspected of being favorable to the cause, the editor of the Gazette des Tribunaux, giving an account of the trial, could write this phrase: “That woman, Jeanne Deroin, is small, thin and very pale; she is coiffed with a hood of black crêpe garnished with ribbons of a very bright red. She responds with a great calm; she has given proof, in the exposition of her ideas, of a great erudition regarding socialism.”
The desire to give to her children, two daughters and a son, a solid instruction and a good education, suggested to her the thought of founding a school where she would instruct poor children at the same time as her own. But in order to obtain the necessary authorization, she needed a diploma; she prepared herself to pass the examination that would procure it for her; she failed several times, for two reasons: her religious ideas, which she had already demonstrated by her civil marriage, and her poor handwriting stemming from the fact that as a child she had been accustomed to write in printed characters; it was only later that she learned to write in script and to count; for her mother, a woman of another era, judged that instruction was useless for women. That circumstance, apparently secondary, caused her to reflect on the lot and situation of women in society and decided, as it were, her life and her future.
She obtained, however, the certificate she so desired, thanks to the benevolence of the Abbé Deguerry, who aided her in that affair. She was able from then on to conduct her school, which she preserved until 1848, at the moment when the Revolution broke out. She saw it arrive with as much joy as apprehension. For, along with a great number of innovators, she believed herself predestined, she thought that she had a mission to fulfill, a task accomplish. According to the promise that he had made her at the moment of their marriage, her husband left her completely free of his acts.After having commended her husband and children to the benevolence of her friends, Jeanne Deroin, convinced and full of ardor and faith in the ideas of social renovation, once again took her maiden name and launched herself into the revolutionary turmoil.
From that moment, the life of Jeanne Deroin can be divided into two fractions: the first, all of active struggle, goes from 1848 to 1855; the second, when Jeanne returned to private life, extends from 1855 until her death. But, in the two periods, whether she wrote or spoke of active politics, on morals and social religion, her work can be summarized with one word: emancipation.
That did not prevent the attorney from writing and saying of her in the proceeding:
“Jeanne Deroin, teacher, founder of the journal: l’Opinion des femmes, Madame Desroches, as a sort of protest against marriage, has abandoned her married name to reassume her maiden name.”
To which, Jeanne Deroin responded with much dignity:
“If I do not bear the name of my husband, it is first because I do not wish to render him accountable for my acts.”
[to be continued…]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]