Gouges, Marie Olympe Aubry de

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Gouges, Marie Olympe Aubry de (1748-1793): French Political Thinker and Writer.

Olympe de Gouges was the most outspoken feminist and political commentator of the revolutionary period. Born in Montauban on May 7, 1748, she was the youngest of Pierre Gouze and Anne-Olympe Mouisset’s four children, though she always claimed that her real father was Jean-Jacques, marquis Le Franc de Pompignan. Married in 1765 to Louis-Yves Aubry and widowed soon thereafter, she moved to Paris in 1767, adopted the name, “Olympe de Gouges” and quickly established herself in Parisian society. Eventually she started writing, using plays as vehicles for her political ideas. She tackled slavery (Zamore et Mirza, 1784, revised into L’Esclavage des noirs, 1789), debt imprisonment (L’Homme généreux 1786), divorce legislation (Le divorce, 1791) and gender equality (Le Philosophe corrigé, 1787 and Le Couvent, 1791). In 1788 she started writing articles and pamphlets calling for numerous reforms, including a protoform welfare state, progressive taxation, public services and freedom of the press. Although her gender usually kept her from receiving proper credit for her ideas, Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de proclaimed her the originator of the French constitution. She was arrested on July 20th, 1793, ostensibly because she called for the return of the monarchy (in Les Trois urnes, ou le salut de la patrie), but more probably because Robespierre, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de had by then decided that she was too dangerous. She was guillotined on November 3rd, 1793. Apart from her plays, she is remembered for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791) and her tireless efforts in the struggle for women’s rights.

Further Reading:

Olivier Blanc, Olympe de Gouges: Une femme de libertés, 1989.

Ziad Elmarsafy

University of York