Jenny d’Héricourt’s “Appeal to Women” and “Profession of Faith”

I’ve been working on an anthology of Jenny P. d’Héricourt’s works, combining her two-volume Woman Affranchised with an assortment of other works of feminist philosophy. d’Héricourt was, of course, one of Proudhon’s opponents on the question of women’s rights, and her response to him makes up an important part of the first volume of Woman Affranchised, but the second volume (about two-thirds of which was not included in the existing English translation) shows her as an accomplished social thinker and activist. I’ve been revising and completing the translation of the first volume of that work, and hope to have at least a small edition available for the August bookfairs, and I’m starting to wade into the untranslated sections of the second volume. Here are the first two part of the final section of that second volume. The first, an “Appeal to Women,” is the unrevised 1864 translation, and the second, the “Profession of Faith,” is my own new working translation.
Progressive women, to you, I address my last words. Listen in the name of the general good, in the name of your sons and your daughters.
You say: the manners of our time are corrupt; the laws concerning our sex need reform.
It is true; but do you think that to verify the evil suffices to cure it?
You say: so long as woman shall be a minor in the city, the state and marriage, she will be so in social labor; she will be forced to be supported by man; that is to debase him while humbling herself.
It is true; but do you believe that to verify these things suffices to remedy our abasement?
You say: the education that both sexes receive is deplorable in view of the destiny of humanity.
It is true; but do you believe that to affirm this suffices to improve, to transform the method of education?
Will words, complaints and protestations have power to change any of these things?
It is not to lament over them that is needed; it is to act.
It is not merely to demand justice and reform that is needed; it is to labor ourselves for reform; it is to prove by our works that we are worthy to obtain justice; it is to take possession resolutely of the contested place; it is, in a word, to have intellect, courage and activity.
Upon whom then will you have a right to count, if you abandon yourselves?
Upon men? Your carelessness and silence have in part discouraged those who maintained your right; it is much if they defend you against those who, to oppress you, call to their aid every species of ignorance, every species of despotism, every selfish passion, all the paradoxes which they despise when their own sex is in question.
You are insulted, you are outraged, you are denied or you are blamed in order that you may be reduced to subjection, and it is much if your indignation is roused thereby!
When will you be ashamed of the part to which you are condemned?
When will you respond to the appeal that generous and intelligent men have made to you?
When will you cease to be masculine photographs, and resolve to complete the revolution of humanity by finally making the word of woman heard in Religion, in Justice, in Politics, and in Science?
What are we to do, you say?
What are you to do, ladies? Well! What is done by women believing. Look at those who have given their soul to a dogma; they form organizations, teach, write, act on their surroundings and on the rising generation in order to secure the triumph of the faith that has the support of their conscience. Why do not you do as much as they?
Your rivals write books stamped with supernaturalism and individualistic morality, why do you not write those that bear the stamp of rationalism, of solidity morality and of a holy faith in Progress?
Your rivals found educational institutions and train up professors in order to gain over the new generation to their dogma and their practices, why do not you do as much for the benefit of the new ideas?
Your rivals organize industrial associations, why do not you imitate them?
Would not what is lawful to them be so to you.
Could a government which professes to revive the principles of ‘89, and which is the offspring of Revolutionary right, entertain the thought of fettering the direct heirs of the principles laid down by ‘89, while leaving those free to act who are more or less their enemies? Can any one of you admit such a possibility?
What are we to do?
You are to establish a journal to maintain your claims.
You are to appoint an encyclopedic committee to draw up a series of treatises on the principle branches of human knowledge for the enlightenment of women and the people.
You are to found a Polytechnic Institute for women.
You are to aid your sisters of the laboring classes to organize themselves in trades associations on economical principles more equitable than those of the present time.
You are to facilitate the return to virtue of the lost women who ask you for aid and counsel.
You are to labor with all your might for the reform of educational methods.
Yet, in the face of a task so complicated, you ask: what are we to do?
Ah, ye women who have attained majority, arise, if ye have heart and courage!
Arise, and let those among you who are the most intelligent, the most instructed, and who have the most time and liberty constitute an Apostleship of women.
Around this Apostleship, let all the women of Progress be ranged, that each one may serve the common cause according to her means.
And remember, remember above all things, that Union is Strength.

Yes, union is strength; but on the condition that it is founded on common principles, not on devotion to one or several persons. For persons pas and can change: principles remain.
Thus our nucleus of crystallization, ladies, should be less the Apostolate than the principles that it professes, its Credo, its profession of faith; for such a profession is needed to rally hearts and minds, and direct them towards a single goal.
Allow me, ladies, to attempt here a sketch of that Credo, which we will divide in to six headings and twenty-four articles.
the law of humanity.
1) The law of humanity is Progress.
2) What we call Progress is the development of the individual and the species in preparation for the realization of an ideal of Justice and happiness, a less and less imperfect ideal, which is the product of the human faculties.
3) The law of Progress is not purely inevitably, like the laws of the world; it combines with our own law, our free will; so it happens that humanity can, for a certain time, like the individual, remain stationary or even retrogress.
the individual, its law, its motives.
4) Each of us in an ensemble of faculties destined to form a harmony under the direction of the Reason or principle of order.
5) Reason recognizes for each of the faculties the right of exercise, with an eye to the good of the ensemble, and so far as [allowed by] the equal rights presented by the other faculties.
6) Each of us has for incentive of their acts the desire for well-being and happiness, and must propose to itself as an aim the triumph of our liberty over everything in the general laws of the which is harmful to our organism; and, in the moral order, the triumph over the constant tendency of our selfish instincts to sacrifice the higher instincts of Justice and Sociability.
7) The destiny of the individual is fulfilled by the development of its faculties, labor, and Liberty in Equality.
physical good and evil.
8) Suffering is nothing but a discord put in us by our own error, by a bad environment, or by the solidarity of the blood. It is a product of our inadequacy, of our errors, or of those of our predecessors in life.
9) Suffering and evil are stimulants to Progress, by the struggle that one maintains in order to cure them and to safeguard oneself and one successors against it: if we did not suffer, we would not progress, because nothing keeps the intelligence and other faculties in wakefulness and action.
10) To resign ourselves to suffering without committing moral evil, is to weaken our being; it is an evil, an error, or a cowardice.
11) To impose suffering on ourselves, except those necessitated by the struggle against the exaggeration of the penchants, it is an act of folly which tend to disharmonize our being, and render it unfit to fulfill its function in humanity.
moral evil and more good.
12) Evil and good, in the moral sense, are not substances, beings in themselves, but the expression of relations, judged true or false, between the act of our free will and the ideal of good posed by the conscience.
13) The soul of a nation is the Good and the Just: what is proven by these two facts: the fall of civilizations and empires by the weakening of the moral sense; decadence, from this single fact, despite literary, artistic, scientific and industrial progress.
14) The weakening of the moral sense is the result of the absence of a higher ideal of the Good and Justice, and produces the growing predominance of the selfish faculties over the social faculties.
15) The struggle is within in us, as a result of the very constitution of our being, because there is an antagonism between the instincts which tend towards our own satisfaction, and those which connect us with our fellows; because, on the other hand, the first are given to us in all their harsh vigor, while the others are only given in germ, so that we have the glory of raising ourselves from animality to Humanity. From these facts, it results that virtue, the exercise of free will and morale strength against the encroachments of the selfish faculties, is and will always be necessary to keep them within their legitimate limits, and to prevent them from oppressing the higher faculties.
humanity, its destiny.
16) Humanity is one. The races and nations which make it up are only its organs or elements of organs, and they have their special tasks. The modern ideal is to connect them in a intimate solidarity, as the organs in a single body are connected.
17) Humanity is the author of its own Progress, its Justice, and it ideal, which it perfects to the extent that it becomes more aware, more rational and better understands the universe, its laws, and itself.
18) The attentive study of the history of our species shows us that the collective destiny of Humanity is to raise itself above animality, by cultivating the faculties which are special to it, and at the same time to create arts, sciences, industry, and Society, in order to assure more and more, and to an always greater number, liberty, the means of improvement and well-being.
19) The history also tells us that Progress is the consequence of the degree of liberty, the number of the free, and the practice of Equality. From this it results that individual Liberty in social Equality is an imprescriptible right, the sole means of giving to each individual the power to accomplish their destiny which is an element of the collective destiny: That is why, since 1789, France proposed as ideal the triumph of Liberty and Equality.
equality of the sexes.
20) The two sexes, being of the same species, are, before Justice, and should be, before law and Society, perfectly equal in Right.
21) The couple is a Society formed by Love; an association of two distinct and equal beings, which cannot absorb one another, to become one single being, an androgyne.
22) The woman does not claim her rights only as a woman, but only as a human person and member of the social body.
23) The woman must protest, as wife, human being and citizen, against the laws that subordinate her, and demand her rights until they have been recognized.
24) What some call the emancipation of the woman in Love, is her slavery, the ruin of civilization, the physical and moral degeneration of the species. The woman, sadly emancipated in this manner, very far from being free, is the slave of her instincts, and the slave of the passions of the man.
However incomplete and imperfect this provisional profession of faith may be, if you gather yourselves around it, ladies, you will restore an ideal to your sex which will subvert the other and drive it into the abyss.
You will impress on education a seal of Justice, unity, and rationality that it has never had before.
You will magnify and transform Morals.
Imbued with a lively faith in human solidarity, you will work earnestly at the reform of social mores.
Instead of disdaining the lost souls of both sexes, you will use every resource to put them back on the right road: for not one of us can think themselves innocent, as long as there are the guilty among us.
You will moralize work and the workers.
In short, you will prove by your works that you are worthy of enjoying the rights you claim; and you will shut the mouths of those insipid babblers who raid in verse and prose against the activity women, the capacity of women, the science of women, the rationality and practical spirit of women.
A thousand years of denials, ladies, are not worth five years filled with useful labors and active dedication.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.