A Woman to Know: Olympe de Gouges

A woman has the right to be guillotined. She should also have the right to debate. — Olympe de Gouges

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


In her brief 45 years, Olympe shaped French politics -- and the burgeoning feminist movement -- in a way no one woman had ever before. Olympe laid out her political agenda in her plays (most famously, "The Slavery of the Blacks), her journalism (in her own self-started newspaper, "Letter to the People") and her other writing (including "The Declaration of the Rights of Woman," today considered an essential feminist text on every women's studies reading list).

She believed in many things: in the evils of slavery and her duty to advocate for its abolition; in the rights of women to divorce and political agency; and in the power of traditional marriage to crush and entrap the wives behold to it. These beliefs made her a political target. In 1793, during the Reign of Terror, the ruling Montagnard family arrested Olympe. On November 4, she died at the guillotine.

More than two centuries later, French feminists are again asking that Olympe be honored as befits a Parisian patriot: with a burial place in the Pantheon, the mausoleum of French heros (and now, heroines).

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