WOMAN’S RIGHTS IN FRANCE
LETTER FROM MADAME JENNY P. D’HERICOURT
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 , 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.
Source: The Agitator, I, 8 (May 1, 1869) 1