Women And The Question of "Universal" Suffrage in 1848: A Transatlantic Comparison of Suffragist Rhetoric

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Author: Karen Offen
Date: Spring 1999
From: NWSA Journal(Vol. 11, Issue 1)
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 12,315 words

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In March 1848 the revolutionary French Second Republic quickly abolished slavery and introduced the principle of "universal" (manhood) suffrage, deliberately leaving out the women. This article will introduce readers in some detail to the ensuing vigorous Parisian campaign for woman suffrage. It proceeds to situate the July 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in the United States with reference to the French events, and to compare the women's rights rhetoric in both settings. It moves on to contextualize both with respect to earlier English debates on slavery and suffrage. These findings reestablish vital aspects of a still incomplete historical record, thereby challenging and revising recent arguments by several French and American scholars concerning both the theoretical marginalization of women from political rights in republics since 1789 and the alleged distinctions between French and American feminisms in this period. Accompanying the article are four of the most significant French documents (in French and English translation), followed by the text of the Declaration of Sentiments.

In the first days of March 1848, the Provisional Government of the newly-proclaimed French Republic in Paris astonished all of Europe, first by decreeing (on 4 March) the abolition of slavery and second, by establishing (on the 5th) a "democratic" franchise for elections to a so-called "national" Constituent Assembly. The future of the country rested on "the people" of "the nation," which in fact meant all the men, regardless of property or tax qualifications. In their subsequent proclamation of 16 March, which elaborated on the decree of the 5th, the leaders of the Provisional Government announced:

   The provisional electoral law that we have made is the most expansive that
   has ever, among any people on earth, called on the people to exercise the
   supreme right of man, his own sovereignty. The election belongs to everyone
   without exception. Dating from this law, there are no more proletarians in
   France. Every Frenchman [Francais] of mature age [en age viril] has
   political citizenship. Every citizen is an elector. Every elector is
   sovereign. The law is equal and absolute for all. (Provis. Govt. 16 March
   1848)

The masculine usage of this "everyone" and "all" greatly astonished some Frenchwomen. Reacting very quickly, a group of Parisian women composed a petition, also dated 16 March, addressed to the members of the Provisional Government. The petition insisted on the complementarity of the sexes, and the fact that if the "revolution has been made for all," women were assuredly "half of everyone," that "there could not be two liberties, two equalities, two fraternities," that "the people" is "composed of two sexes ..." (Saint-Gieles 16 March 1848).

Shortly thereafter, another (or perhaps the same?) group of Parisian women, constituting themselves as the Committee on the Rights of Woman (Comite des Droits de la Femme), sent a delegation to the Provisional Government, demanding to know why women had been "forgotten." "You say `There are no more proletarians,' but if women are not included in your decrees, France still can count more than seventeen million of them" (Femmes electeurs 1848). According to their subsequent account of this delegation, the women's petition for the vote was adroitly deferred by Armand Marrast, mayor of Paris and member of the Provisional Government, to await a definitive decision from the future National Assembly. The deliberate omission of women had made visible a serious omission at the heart of the movement for a democratic republic, demonstrating for all to see that the republican concept of a "citizen" in France was being presented as specifically masculine.

Other women of Paris, following the example of Eugenie Niboyet, and especially Jeanne Deroin, refused to let the question drop-- and here the chronology of their interventions becomes extremely important. In a series of articles published in their newspaper, Women's Voice (La Voix des femmes), between its debut on 20 March and the elections of 23 April, the women continued to insist on the principle of including women as voters, if not immediately, then as soon as the new assembly was elected. The objection against women's exclusion from political rights was well-articulated in the "Profession of Faith" signed by Eugenie Niboyet and published in the first issue (20 March 1848): "We cannot conceive of the idea of privilege being associated with the idea of democracy, yet meanwhile, when the least intelligent citoyen (male citizen])has the right to vote, the most intelligent citoyenne (woman citizen) is still deprived of this right." A few days later, La Voix des femmes (no. 7, 27 March) insisted on the fact that those who did not support the right of election and eligibility of women simply did not understand equality, and were not real republicans but "Aristocrats."

One woman in particular, Jeanne Deroin, who is undoubtedly the best-studied of the 1848 French feminists (Adler 1979; Moses 1984; Moon 1990; Riot-Sarcey 1994; Scott 1996; also Bell and Offen 1983), spoke out eloquently and frequently on the question of women's citizenship during the months of March and April. Among other proposals, she called on the male voters to elect some women to the Constituent Assembly (Voix no. 7, 27 March).

Prior to the elections, several other women's associations, such as the "Society for Women's Emancipation" (Societe pour l'emancipation des femmes), also tried to influence not only the Provisional Government, but also the male clubs and the broader public (Societe 1848). They encountered some success among the disciples of the communist utopian (Icarian) theorist Etienne Cabet at the Societe fraternelle centrale and at the Jacobin club. The women editors of La Voix des femmes themselves endorsed candidates to the Assembly, composing a list at the head of which stood Ernest Legouve, who at the time was championing an expansive program of civil, educational, and professional reforms on women's behalf in a series of public lectures on the "Moral History of Women" (Offen 1986). They also endorsed the novelist George Sand, who was then working closely with the Provisional Government, only to be rudely disavowed by her. Overall, one could say that the women were playing the political game in good faith until the elections took place on 23 April, which was also Easter Sunday.

Following the elections, these women reformulated their demands somewhat. A petition of late April, published in the Voix des femmes, demanded that the new government consecrate "in principle the absolute recognition of the civic rights of women, and in addition to admit widows and single adult women to the exercise of voting rights, on the simple presentation of official papers proving their majority or their legal emancipation" (Voix no. 35, 28 April). Was this limitation to unmarried women only a step backward? Or was it a strategic retreat, dictated by the continuing legal subordination of married women to husbands in French civil law and the need to compromise under new post-electoral conditions? Nevertheless, with one voice they insisted on the need for their "integral emancipation" by the route of political (civic) rights. The articles of Josephine Bachellery, entitled "How we understand the emancipation of women under the Republic" (Voix no. 27, 19 April, and no. 32, 24-25 April) are most instructive in this respect. The theme of "rights and duties" was often discussed during these months.

Throughout the entire period following the convocation of the National Assembly, various groups of women argued for comprehensive reforms in women's status. In May and early June La Voix des femmes and its team of women writers argued especially for education, the right to work, and ultimately for civil divorce. But following the tumultuous days of mid-May, the closing of the national workshops, and the "June Days," when the army was called in to restore order in the streets, their claims were drowned out amidst the ensuing political panic. Even those deputies who were deemed partially favorable to women's rights, such as the Protestant pastor Coquerel, turned against the women, their clubs, and their publications. A little later, toward the end of July, the Assembly voted not only to regulate the political clubs, but also to prohibit entirely the participation of women (Coquerel 22 July). This did not stop Jeanne Deroin who in late 1848 and 1849 continued to campaign for women's political rights, to elaborate "women's mission" in the press, and especially to publish her Women's Opinion (L'Opinion des femmes) and to pose her candidacy during the legislative elections of 1849. But this subsequent history would take us well beyond the events of 1848. What must be underscored (in the words of Claire Moses) is that in 1848, despite its fragility, "the French feminist movement was the most advanced and the most experienced of all Western feminist movements" (Moses 1984, 149).

Did these demands for women's citizenship in 1848 constitute a new discourse in the history of France? Not at all! The suffrage as supreme symbol of citizenship for women was "thinkable" at least since 1787, with the argumentation of Condorcet in his "Letters of a Bourgeois of New Haven to a Citizen of Virginia" (which, perhaps not coincidentally, had been republished in 1847 as part of Condorcet's Collected Works). Condorcet's widely-circulated claims were further elaborated in a series of women's petitions and remonstrances of 1789, demanding suffrage and the representation of women by women in the revolutionary Estates-General. What is particularly striking, however, especially when one considers these developments from a comparative perspective, is the intimate juxtaposition of the demands posed by the French women in 1848 with the definitive emancipation of black slaves in France's colonies. This same juxtaposition of the disadvantaged status of women and slaves had characterized the framing of French women's rights claims in 1789; in fact, it dated already from the early 1700s in England (for example, in the works of Mary Astell), but it gained increasing significance from the late eighteenth century on, both in French- and English-speaking lands.

Across the Atlantic, in North America, "feminist" claims for political rights also erupted during the year 1848, though they began several months later than in France. Many years prior, in North America, a republican government had been established, known as the United States of America, and there also the question of emancipating the slaves was prominent. Soon after the arrival in New York (18 March 1848) of the first news of the revolutionary events in Paris, the celebrated educator of women, Emma Willard, composed a public letter to Dupont de l'Eure, the oldest and perhaps most distinguished member of the French Provisional Government. Willard insisted that the political position of French women be discussed and resolved by their inclusion. She also insisted on the importance of women's influence, and expressly noted their exclusion by the Provisional Government. "The men of France are called upon to come forward, and by their representatives frame a constitution which they will thus be pledged to support. All the men are called. The slaves too are kindly remembered--but the women--they are forgotten! Why ... should women be any longer regarded as incapable of judging of their own rights and responsibilities; and of those of the future nation, of which, if men are the fathers, women are the mothers.... Why ... should the national family be deprived of maternal counsels?" (Willard 1848, 248-49). She counseled the French to enroll women in the founding of a permanent republican government, based on a new family model in which women effectively shared power with men. She proposed also a "women's parliament" side by side with the parliament of men (in the Quaker manner) to deliberate all laws that concerned women.

On 14 July (was this sheer coincidence or a deliberately chosen reference to the celebrated fall of the Bastille in 1789 France?) a small group of American women--Quakers, anti-slavery activists, and other reformers--sent out a call for a two-day gathering at Seneca Falls, New York, beginning on the 19th, in order to deliberate on the subject of women's rights. These women and their male allies drafted a document entitled the "Declaration of Sentiments." This text took its model from the 1776 American Declaration of Independence. It was followed by a series of strongly-worded demands. The "Declaration" was discussed and ratified by the Seneca Falls convention and again two weeks later at a second meeting held in Rochester, New York (Report 1848). These two manifestations were diversely appreciated by the press, but had no immediate impact. Certainly, at the time and in the eyes of the world, Seneca Falls was not exactly Paris, and the American women had no periodical of their own. But the instigators of the "Declaration of Sentiments" were by no means women of the provinces, but well-informed and well-traveled women and men, many of whom were veterans of the transatlantic antislavery movement. Thus, the Seneca Fails Convention has become generally recognized as the founding moment of the American women's rights movement, thanks especially to the participation of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who became celebrated for her role in the campaign for woman suffrage (DuBois 1978, 1981). Not coincidentally, Cady Stanton was a former pupil of Emma Willard at the latter's Troy Female Seminary.

Did the American women's rights activists know in July 1848 what had happened with respect to the question of woman suffrage in France? Had some of them been attentively following the debates there? To date, the extant documentation does not permit us to confirm the extent of their knowledge with any precision, though certainly they could well have read Emma Willard's open letter to Dupont de l'Eure. Many of them would have had the possibility of being well-informed (from mid-March on) on the revolutionary events in Europe, thanks to Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald, the New York Daily Tribune (which reported on the so-called "socialist" experiments of the time), or possibly also Frederick Douglass's North Star, published in Rochester, which specialized in the question of slavery. We know that in early April the U.S. Senate discussed the potential domestic repercussions of the French abolition of slavery. One also finds allusive references to the general European agitation of 1848 in the text of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speech at Seneca Falls (although it was neither published nor reported at the time), as Bonnie S. Anderson has pointed out in her recent inquiry (Anderson 1998).

As a number of historians have recently underscored, the question of women's emancipation in the United States was closely linked to the questions of abolishing slavery and "Free Soil" (i.e., outlawing slavery in new states and territories), as well as to other reforms such as anti-alcoholism and especially utopian communitarianism, based on Owenite or Fourierist ideas (Basch 1997a and 1997b; Wellman 1991 and forthcoming; Hewitt 1984 and 1998). All these emancipatory initiatives served to weave bonds between women that were truly international, especially the antislavery cause. These women quickly remarked on--and elaborated--the parallels between the disadvantaged legal status of women in marriage and that of blacks held in slavery, both in the French colonies of the Caribbean and on the South American coast and in the slave states of the southern United States.

But this is not all that the feminists of France and North America shared in 1848. A fact rarely mentioned in most historical works that concentrate on a single country was that these feminists also shared a common knowledge of political developments in England, where slavery had already been abolished, but where debate about women's participation in or exclusion from political life had been quite agitated throughout the years 1820-1840. The British Parliament had deliberately excluded women from the parliamentary suffrage in the great Reform Act of 1832, even adding the word "male" as a qualification for new voters. Subsequently, women such as Harriet Martineau, Marion Kirkland Reid, and Anne Knight had contested this exclusion, along with the militant emprisoned Chartist, R. J. Richardson (Bell and Offen 1983; Often 1987). Thus, the question of the exclusion or inclusion of women in political and parliamentary life was far from new in Europe during the 1840s (Verjus, in Viennot 1996 and in Corbin 1997). Moreover, the arguments of the 1840s strongly reflected arguments already developed by feminists, both male and female, at the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789: women (especially unmarried women) pay taxes just like men; women's interests are not the same as men's interests and men cannot and should not represent women; women's wisdom, especially that of mothers, ought to complement that of men in councils of government (Often 1998).

Even in France during the 1840s the Parliament had considered the possibility of enlarging the restricted masculine suffrage some eleven times, albeit without positive results. The demand for woman suffrage was not absent in France during this period, even though it was not as visibly on the table as in England. The precedent of the masculinist solution adopted on the other side of the Channel without doubt conditioned the discussion in France. Among other examples, L'Atelier, a publication of Parisian male artisan-workers, issued an adamant declaration of unconditional opposition to woman suffrage in February 1844, underscoring women's incapacity in the "public" domain, and insisting on the necessity of confining women to domestic cares (L'Atelier Feb. 1844). Such statements no doubt echo a by-then reflexive Rousseauean reassertion of public/private spheres, but when they are considered in context they reveal themselves as objections in response to pressures of some sort in the opposite direction.

Let us examine briefly what Michele Riot-Sarcey has called "the political argumentaire of women" in the texts that championed their full civic rights in 1848 (Riot-Sarcey 1996, 213). In what follows, I will compare feminist discourse representative of U.S. and French activists in a similar time period in 1848, with the hope of demonstrating several significant similarities as well as pinpointing a few distinctive differences. The texts to be compared here are the single text of the American "Declaration of Sentiments" and a series of shorter articles, drawn primarily from La Voix des femmes but with reference to several others mentioned previously. In my comparison, I wish to examine four elements: the appeal to the Republic; invocations of principles and appeals to history; reforms desired in consequence of the vote; and criticisms of the qualifications of men. What can such a comparison teach us?

The appeal to the Republic

First, it is important to point out that in each of these two cases, the appeals are addressed to republican governments, not monarchies, even of the constitutional type. But what sorts of republican governments, and in what tone? It is above all a question of republics that are "governments of the people, by the people, and for the people," with representation for all. The word "all" is a keyword in the ensuing discussion.

The Parisian women addressed their claims to a new government, a founding, revolutionary, but still shapeless government. Like everyone at the time, these women were full of hope for the future. They believed in justice and in the principles enunciated by the leaders of the new provisional regime. They wanted to play their part, they wanted to be part of this "everyone," this "all" of the newly-enfranchised who would decide the new constitution of France. In consequence, their tone is conciliatory, welcoming ... but also one of deception, given the exclusively masculine preconditions stipulated for the new electorate. How is it possible, they demanded, that one "forgot" the women? Their arguments insist on the indignity of this exclusion as well as on conciliation.

In contrast, the American feminists at Seneca Falls present themselves as completely deceived and very angry. Their arguments underscore the humiliation of being so marginalized in a "so-called" republic established already for such a long time. They pose their demands and exhibit their impatience. Their discourse is a discourse about exclusion, their language bitter and highly charged. They speak of "abuse," of "injuries," of "usurpation," of "despotism," of "tyranny," of "oppression." The women of Seneca Falls insist on being fully invested with all the privileges of citizenship, and without delay. And, in contrast to their French counterparts, they do not invoke motherhood to justify these rights.

Invocations of principles and appeals to history

On the points of principles and appeals to history, the rhetoric of the French and American feminists exhibits many similarities, including common invocations of the progress of peoples toward civilization. At the outset, the Frenchwomen marked their intervention by an appeal to the French Revolutionary principles--Liberty, Equality, and especially Fraternity--but they also referred to "true" Christianity. Within a few days, they began to invoke history (as, for example, in the Voix des femmes no. 3, 23 March), pointing to examples of women who had voted: in Gaul, in Africa, in Anglo-Saxon England, among the Hurons. "Thus, in antiquity and among scarcely civilized peoples, women enjoyed a right that modern peoples refuse to give them, in countries where Christianity reigns, proclaiming universal fraternity without distinction of sex" (3). The Frenchwomen also exhibited their awareness of the political roles played by several well-known women during the French Revolution (Strumingher 1990, 1996).

The Americans invoked "the laws of nature and of nature's God" against the practices of their oppressors. They, too, called on history, especially by appropriating the founding document of the American republic precisely in order to call their male contemporaries to order by reminding them of the hope placed in the 1776 beginning. With sweeping strokes they then invoked the history of all humanity, denouncing it as "a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."

The reforms desired in consequence of the vote

Here, too, many parallels are evident: a better education for women at all levels; access to employment, to the professions; in France the reform of the discriminatory 1804 Civil Code (which feminists there had been publicly criticizing since the 1830s) and the legalization of civil divorce, a demand La Voix des femmes would raise during the month of May. "If the Constitution pretends to encompass and defend every interest, it must call women to the electorate and to candidacy, for it has been sufficiently demonstrated that the simple[-minded] nature of man cannot understand all the needs of another nature, whatever his solicitude as a father, a brother, a son, or a spouse" (Femmes electeurs 1848).

The American women laid out a long list of specific grievances in the "Declaration of Sentiments." In both cases, it was clearly established that women had their own unique interests, and that they shared a "difference" or "specificity" that could never be represented by men, even those who were deemed to represent their families. "Man cannot speak for her," insisted Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her opening speech; woman is "without representation in the halls of legislation," specified the "Declaration" (Stanton 1848). Claims based on maternity--exclusive to women, and not only physical, but especially moral and social--played a very large role in the claims made in 1848 France but they are muted here.

Criticism of the qualifications of men

Finally, the texts from both sides of the Atlantic exhibit a criticism of the pretended qualifications of male electors themselves. Consider these phrases from the previously-cited brochure, Les Femmes electeurs et eligibles (1848): "Everyone is quite aware that a third of the men called on, with justice, to exercise their rights do not even know how to read. One could say generally that instruction as well as political education is still to be accomplished for men as well as for women." Or, again, Eugenie Niboyet, in the first issue of La Voix des femmes (20 March 1848): "We cannot conceive of the idea of privilege being associated with the idea of democracy, yet meanwhile, when the least intelligent citoyen [male citizen] has the right to vote, the most intelligent citoyenne [female citizen] is still deprived of this right."

The women of Seneca Falls used an even stronger language: "He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners." The signers of the "Declaration of Sentiments" refused all charges of women's ostensible inferiority or incapacity by pointing to comparable "deficiencies" among men who had nevertheless been included in the mass electorate.

Every aspect of this dissenting discourse contained arguments that were irrefutable from the perspective of the principles and facts involved. The women who constructed them clearly understood the notion of justice, and they understood not only their rights, but also their interests both as individuals of the female sex and as members of a group constituted by exclusion. Thus, they constructed arguments based not only on principles, but also on notions of public utility, and the necessity for women to have political access in order to bring the qualities of their sex to bear on political decision-making. The tone may have differed, but the arguments are very similar.

In conclusion, it seems to me that this evidence, based on a comparative reading of the 1848 texts in France and the United States, calls into question a set of recent assertions put forth by scholars of French history such as Pierre Rosenvallon (1992) and Joan Wallach Scott (1996), to the effect that the hegemony in France of the idea of "universalism" acted as a pre-existing barrier to women's suffrage and citizenship, and that, in consequence, feminism had "only paradoxes to offer." It also challenges the conclusions of Mona Ozouf (1995, 1997) concerning the pretended "singularity" of feminism in France compared with that in America. In 1848, the exchanges that took place between woman suffrage advocates and their opponents (which I have treated to a greater degree in a forthcoming book) underscore a contrary argument, in effect that the appeal to the abstract "universal subject" by opponents of women's political rights might better be seen as a defense repeatedly constructed against women's irrefutable arguments for participation in politics and government, arguments based explicitly on womanly specificity as much as on appeals to common humanity.

Virtually all the arguments utilized by the feminists of 1848, both in France and in the United States, even as they insisted on natural equality, on women as individuals equal "in their own right" to men, tilted to the side of "equality-in-difference," of sexual particularity. These republican women's rights advocates, on both sides of the Atlantic, emphasized the impossibility, in consequence, of their being properly represented by men in the guise of representing "their" families. Such arguments would, in fact, provoke emphatic resistance from many male politicians during the remainder of the century. The campaign for woman suffrage, launched on both sides of the Atlantic in the spring and summer of 1848, would be long and difficult. But in the end, women in both France and the United States would achieve political representation on an equal footing with men. Whether, how, and in what respects they would bring to bear their womanly qualities on political life is another story.

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Documents

1a) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Women Electors and Candidates (Paris: J. Dupont, printer, 1848). Trans. Karen Often

By making man and woman so similar and at the same time so different, Nature has decreed that the assistance of both is equally indispensable, not only to the perpetuation and conservation of the species, but also to its happiness. This truth, misunderstood by man, has had to be demonstrated to him by experience.

The savage state, which is the reign of brute force, lasted for thousands of centuries because woman, who represents the force of feeling and reason, bent under the weight of the worst oppression, remained inactive; but when a ray of liberty shined on her, civilization took a great step, and now humanity will attain its full perfection when these two equally free powers work together in concert.

Is it given to our Republic to arrive at this result? Will our Revolution be the last? We will be able to affirm it when the National Assembly, recognizing that the stability of social institutions depends on the equilibrium of all human faculties and their general contribution to the public good, when the Assembly, we say, will posit the eternally true principle that the rights of man and of woman are equal.

If the Constitution pretends to encompass and defend every interest, it must call woman to the electorate and to candidacy, for it has been sufficiently demonstrated that the simple [-minded] nature of man cannot understand all the needs of another nature, whatever his solicitude as a father, a brother, a son, or a spouse.

The place of woman is marked out in our legislative assemblies, because she stands for love. As she speaks barbarism will disappear from our codes, powerless ramparts behind which lurk the egoism of man who pays back in spades the misfortunes he has suffered. At her voice the heart's justice will be seated, refuge of the unfortunate who cannot keep going, from which he will reappear regenerated, for he will have found protection against vice, assistance in virtue. At her voice, finally, the reign of peace will be established on the earth.

But, they say, does she not fulfill this noble mission by her influence in the family? Do we not owe to her already the benefits of civilization, morality, the sweetness of our morals (customs)? Yes, yes, we owe all that to woman deprived of her rights, to woman who is nearly a slave! How much more will we owe her when, acting in the full plenitude of her liberty, she will take her place in the bosom of the grand national family, when she will be able to inculcate in our laws all the grand and generous social sentiments to which she has helped to give birth. Only then will morals and laws no longer be in disagreement.

It is objected that it is not proper for woman to decide all the questions which are treated in a national assembly. What man would dare to boast of resolving them all with an equal knowledge and an equally sure judgment? Even though there are issues that are more man's business, we do not hesitate to affirm that woman can bring something to them. It is possible, they will say, but has she done the necessary studies to obtain such wonderful results? It should not be ignored that a third of the men called, with justice, to enjoy their rights don't even know how to read. Speaking generally, instruction as well as political education is still to come, for men just as for women; in any case, this difficulty caused by ignorance will soon be overcome, if, in reorganizing the University, it is stipulated that henceforth both sexes will pursue the same studies.

In its first flush of enthusiasm, our young Republic has considerably enlarged the electoral and parliamentary system; it awaits competion. Let it not leave to a future epoch this inevitable glory!

We have seen with pleasure the announcement in the paper, La Voix des femmes, of 26 March, that the ladies, thoroughly embued with their rights, are assembling in committees; that delegates have been sent to the Government. We regret that this journal has neglected its mission a bit in not reporting on these important events; it should understand that the flag has been planted! We regret even more that this neglect cannot be completely repaired, by retracing here all the petitions in question.....; but it was not easy for us to obtain more than this report which seems so very interesting.

Report of the Mission of Delegates of the Women's Rights Committee

These ladies, numbering four, presented themselves at the City Hall on 22 March; their address, delivered to the Provisional Government, which took it immediately under consideration, was conceived in these terms:

In the name of the principle demonstrated by long experience, that men who make the laws make them in their own interest, and consequently to the detriment of those who are despoiled of this sacred right, you proclaim: "Election for all without exception." We come to ask you whether women are encompassed in this grand generalization, just as they are in the laws concerning the Workers: we are even more entitled to ask you this, since you have not designated women in the excluded categories.

You say "There are no more proletarians," but if women are not included in your decrees, France still can count more than seventeen million of them.

A few days ago, to the extravagant applause of a vast amphitheatre, filled far beyond its limits, a philosopher, after having shown woman in her true light, said: The Republic of 1789 only failed because she excluded from her bosom half of the intelligence of France, intelligence not inferior but different, and by that very token indispensable to the perfection of human institutions.

The Government responded by the organ of one of its members, to whom these ladies were introduced, M. Armand Marrast, with all the urbanity and all the dignity of a Mayor of Paris, who took the floor and told them:

The Provisional Government can only offer an extension to existing arrangements, or reestablish those that have existed before, but it cannot create. Thus, since women have never possessed political rights, only the National Assembly has the power to accord them.

Then, M. Marrast tried to share with the ladies the hopes he conceived of soon seeing the amelioration of women's lot by opening new careers to them, and rendering easier and more certain those they engaged in already. He added that in the future, laws, made with the broadest view to the good of everyone, would assure them of civil rights which would make them more independent and consequently more happy. For his part, he offered to work toward that end with all his power.

The Delegates retired with their souls filled with noble enthusiasm, caused by the certainty of a new future for women, a future for which they must prepare themselves.

Already they had begun the study of history, whose charm and utility lie in understanding the present; thus they rejected that false belief, which had always been so fatal, that it was not becoming for them to occupy themselves with politics, a word which so frightened them. What did they learn from history? the politics of past times. Could that of our times offer less interest to mothers, daughters, sisters, spouses of legislators; to women who sought to become legislators?

In issue 12 of the Bulletin of the Republic, they read: "In recent times, a number of women, encouraged by a sectarian spirit, have raised their voices to claim, in the name of intelligence, the privileges of intelligence. The question is poorly posed. In admitting that society could gain a great deal from the admission of some capacities of the sex in the administration of public affairs, the mass of women, who are poor and educationally deprived, would gain nothing. These personal reclamations do not move society. The society that wants to reconstruct itself will be moved by simple and touching petitions which are formulated in the name of the entire sex, and which will have as their goal to destroy the lack of instruction, abandonment, depravation, the misery that weighs on women in general, even more than on men."

If the question is poorly posed, it is in the Bulletin. Nobody seeks privilege. What inconsequence on the part of intelligent and courageous men! Men who have repeatedly and loudly called for the rights of the men of the people, knowing well that it was the only way to make their suffering cease--what inconsequence, we say, to accuse of personalism women who are intelligent and courageous like them, reclaiming like them the rights of all, poor or rich.

What added inconsequence to say that if society ought to gain a great deal from the admission of capable women to public affairs, the class of those who endure all the privations would gain nothing! In order for this to be so, one would have to admit that this class is not part of society.

In the address of the attached report, in this vow that so many express already, who does not see the goal of destroying more surely the lack of instruction, the abandonment, the depravation, the misery that weighs, as the Bulletin so correctly points out, even more on the women.

And society is not moved by this? What, the new society, it too will impose duties and refuse rights! No, if it is not moved, surely it has not understood.

"It is a grand demand," the same Bulletin continues, "that of the serious and moralizing emancipation of the woman. It concerns you all, and there is no need of eloquent mouths to be your interpreters; you will all be great orators in the household [foyer domestique], there is no man whose entrails will not be deeply moved by the recital of your poignant troubles."

The Republic has awakened, not only in man, all that is dignified and courageous in the woman, who feels that for her also the time to beg humbly for her well-being has passed by, that the time has come when with her own hand, she must strike out from our codes the last traces of brutality and egoism, put the scales of justice into equilibrium, and at last work in concert with man, on behalf of their common happiness.

1b) Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: Les Femmes Electeurs et Eligibles (Paris: impr. J. Dupont, 1848)

La nature en faisant l'homme et la femme si semblables et en meme temps si differents, dit que le concours de l'un et de l'autre est egalement indispensable, non-seulement a la perpetuite et a la conservation de l'espece, mais encore a son bonheur. Il a fallu que cette verite, meconnue par l'homme, lui fut demontree par l'experience des temps.

L'etat sauvage, qui est le regne de la force physique, se prolonge des milliers de siecles, parce que la femme, qui represente la force du sentiment et de la raison, courbee sous le poids de la plus dure oppression, reste inactive; mais qu'un rayon de liberte luise pour elle, la civilisation fait un grand pas, donc l'humanite atteindra son entiere perfection lorsque ces deux puissances egalement libres agiront de concert.

Est-il donne a notre Republique d'arriver a ce dernier terme? Notre Revolution devra-t-elle etre la derniere? Nous pourrons l'affirmer quand l'Assemblee Nationale, reconnaissant que de l'equilibre de toutes les facultes humaines et de leur concours general a la chose publique, depend la stabilite des institutions sociales, quand l'Assemblee, disons-nous, aura pose le principe eternellement vrai que les droits de l'homme et de la femme sont egaux.

Si la constitution pretend embrasser et defendre tous les interets, elle doit appeler la femme a l'electorat et a la candidature, car il est suffisamment demontre que la simple nature de l'homme ne peut comprendre tous les besoins d'une autre nature, quelle que soit sa sollicitude de pere, de frere, de fils et d'epoux.

La place de la femme est marquee dans nos assemblees legislatives, parce qu'elle est amour. A sa voix doit disparaitre de nos codes la barbarie, rempart impuissant derriere lequel s'abrite l'egoisme de l'homme qui rend au coupable le centuple des maux qu'il en a soufferts. A sa voix prendra place la justice du coeur, refuge du malheureux qui a failli, d'ou il sortira regenere, car il y aura trouve protection contre le vice, aide dans la vertu. A sa voix, enfin, le regne de la paix s'etablira sur la terre.

Mais, dit-on, ne remplit-elle pas cette noble mission par son influence dans la famille? Ne lui devons-nous pas deja le bienfait de la civilisation, la moralite, la douceur de nos moeurs? Oui, oui, nous devons tout cela a la femme privee de tous ses droits, a la femme presque esclave! Que ne lui devrons-nous pas quand, agissant dans toute la plenitude de sa liberte, elle viendra s'asseoir au sein de la grande famille nationale, quand elle pourra faire passer dans nos lois tout ce qu'elle a fait naitre de sentiments grands et genereux dans la societe. C'est alors seulement que les moeurs et les lois ne seront plus en desaccord.

On objecte encore que la femme n'est pas propre a decider toutes les questions qui se traitent dans une assemblee nationale. Quel homme oserait se vanter de les resoudre toutes avec une egale connaissance et une egale sfirete de jugement? De meme qu'il est des choses plus du ressort de l'homme, nous ne craignons pas d'affirmer qu'il en est que la femme saurait mieux approfondir. C'est possible, nous dira-t-on, mais a-t-elle fait les etudes necessaires pour obtenir ces beaux resultats? On n'ignore pas que le tiers des hommes appeles avec justice a jouir de leurs droits ne salt pas meme lire. D'une maniere generale l'instruction aussi bien que l'education politique est a faire aux hommes comme aux femmes; toutefois, cette difficulte causee par l'ignorance sera bientet vaincue si, en reorganisant l'Universite, on stipule que desormais les deux sexes feront les memes etudes.

Dans son premier elan, notre jeune Republique a considerablement elargi le systeme electoral et parlementaire; il lui reste a le completer: qu'elle ne laisse pas a une autre epoque cette inevitable gloire!

Nous avons vu avec plaisir announcer dans le journal la Voix des femmes, du 26 mars, que des dames, fortement penetrees de leurs droits, s'assemblent en comites; que des deleguees ont ete envoyees au Gouvernement. Nous regrettons que ce journal alt un peu manque a sa mission en ne s'entendant pas sur des demarches de cette importance; qu'il comprenne bien que c'est avoir plante le drapeau! Nous regrettons encore bien vivement de ne pouvoir completement reparer cet oubli, en retracant ici toutes les adresses dont il est question d'une maniere si superficielle dans le meme article; mais il ne nous a pas ete aussi facile de nous les procurer que ce compte rendu qui nous parait des plus interessants.

Compte rendu de la mission des Deleguees du Comite des Droits de la Femme

Ces dames, au nombre de quatre, se presenterent a l'Hetel-de-Ville, le 22 mars; leur adresse, remise au Gouvernement provisoire, qui en prit connaissance a l'instant meme, etait concue en ces termes:

Au nom de ce principe demontre par l'experience de tous les temps, que les hommes, qui font les lois, les font a leur profit, et par consequent au detriment de ceux qui sont depouilles de ce droit sacre, vous proclamez: "L'election pour tous sans exception." Nous venons vous demander si les femmes sont comprises dans cette grande generalite, aussi bien qu'elles le sont dans le droit concernant les Travailleurs: nous sommes d'autant plus fondees a vous faire cette demande, que vous ne les avez pas designees dans les categories d'exclusion:

Vous dites encore: "Il n'y a plus de proletaires," et pourtant si les femmes ne sent pas comprises dans vos decrets, la France en compte encore plus de dix-sept millions.

Il y a quelques jours, aux applaudissements redoubles d'un vaste amphitheatre, deborde bien au-dela de ses portes, un philosophe, apres avoir montre la femme dans son vrai jour, a dit: Que la Republique de 1789 n'avait echoue que pour avoir exclu de son sein la moitie de l'intelligence de la France, intelligence non pas inferieure, mais differente, et par cela meme indispensable a la perfection des institutions humaines.

Le Gouvernement repondit par l'organe d'un de ses membres, aupres de qui ces dames furent introduites, M. Armand Marrast, avec toute l'urbanite et toute la dignite d'un maire de Paris, prit la parole, et leur dit:

Le Gouvernement provisoire ne peut que donner de l'extension aux choses existantes, ou retablir celles qui ont deja existe; mais il ne peut pas creer. Or les femmes n'ayant en aucun temps possede de droits politiques, il n'y a que l'Assemblee Nationale qui ait le pouvoir de leur en accorder.

Ensuite, M. Marrast a bien voulu entretenir ces dames des esperances qu'il conceit de voir bientot s'ameliorer le sort des femmes en leur ouvrant de nouvelles carrieres, en leur rendant plus faciles et plus sfires celles qu'elles parcourent deja. Il ajouta qu'a l'avenir les lois, faites dans des vues plus larges pour le bien de tous, leur assureraient des droits civils qui les rendraient plus independantes et par consequent plus heureuses. Que pour sa part, il y travaillera de tout son pouvoir.

Les Deleguees se sent retirees l'ame remplie d'un noble enthousiasme, cause par la certitude d'un avenir nouveau pour les femmes, avenir auquel elles doivent se preparer!

Deja elles sent entrees dans l'etude de l'histoire, dent le charme et l'utilite sent en raison de la connaissance du present; qu'elles rejettent donc cette fausse croyance, qui leur a toujours ete fatale, qu'il n'est pas de leur ressort de s'occuper de politique, mot dent on les effraie tant. Qu'apprennent-elles donc dans l'histoire? la politique des temps passes. Celle de nos jours peut-elle offrir moins d'interet a des meres, des filles, des soeurs, des epouses de legislateurs; a des femmes enfin qui doivent elles-memes le devenir!

On alu, dans le n. 12 du Bulletin de la Rgpublique: "Dans ce dernier temps, plusieurs femmes, encouragees par l'esprit de secte, ont eleve la voix pour reclamer, au nom de l'intelligence, les privileges de l'intelligence. La question etait mal posee. En admettant que la societe eut beaucoup gagne a l'admission de quelques capacites du sexe dans l'administration des affaires publiques, la masse des femmes pauvres et privees d'education n'y eut rien gagne. Ces reclamations personnelles n'ont point emu la societe. La societe qui va se reconstruire sera emue des petitions simples et touchantes qui se formuleront au nom du sexe entier, et qui auront pour but de detruire le manque d'instruction, l'abandon, la depravation, la misere qui pesent sur la femme en general, encore plus que sur l'homme."

Si la question est mai posee, c'est dans le Bulletin. Nul ne veut de privilege. Quelle inconsequence de la part d'hommes intelligents et courageux! qui ont reclame si haut et sans relache les droits des hommes du peuple, sachant bien que c'etait le seul moyen de faire cesser leurs souffrances, quelle inconsequence, disons-nous, d'accuser de personnalite des femmes intelligentes et courageuses comme eux, reclamant comme eux les droits de toutes, pauvres ou riches.

Quelle autre inconsequence de dire que si la societe devait gagner beaucoup a l'admission de femmes capables dans les affaires publiques, la classe de celles qui subissent toutes les privations n'y gagnerait rien! Pour qu'il en fut ainsi, il faudrait admettre qu'elle ne fait pas partie de la societe.

Dans l'adresse du compte-rendu ci-joint, dans ce voeu que tant de bouches expriment deja, qui ne voit pas le but de detruire plus surement le manque d'instruction, l'abandon, la depravation, la misere qui pesent, ainsi que le dit tres justement le Bulletin, encore plus sur les femmes.

Et la societe n'est pas emue! Quoi, la nouvelle societe, elle aussi imposerait des devoirs, et refuserait des droits! Non, si elle ne s'est pas emue, c'est qu'elle n'a pas compris.

"C'est une grande predication, continue le meme Bulletin, que celle de l'affranchissement serieux et moralisateur de la femme. C'est vous qu'elle concerne, et il n'est pas besoin de bouches eloquentes qui se fassent vos interpretes; vous serez toutes de grands orateurs au foyer domestique, il n'est point d'hommes dont les entrailles ne s'emeuvent au recit de vos poignantes douleurs."

La Republique a reveille, ainsi que dans l'homme, tout ce qu'il y a de dignite et de courage dans la femme, qui sent que pour elle aussi le temps est passe de mendier humblement son bien-etre, que le temps est venu ou de sa propre main, elle doit effacer de nos codes jusques [sic] aux dernieres traces de brutalite et d'egoisme, mettre en equilibre la balance de la justice, travailler enfin de concert avec l'homme, a leur bonheur commun.

2a) Jeanne Deroin, "Aux Citoyens Francais!" La Voix des Femmes no. 7 (27 March 1848):3. Trans. by K.O. [originally published in Women, the Family, and Freedom. 1983. I, doct. 70. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press].

The reign of brute force has ended; that of morality and intelligence has just begun. The motives that led our fathers to exclude women from all participation in the governance of the State are no longer valid. When every question was decided by the sword, it was natural to believe that women--who could not take part in combat--should not be seated in the assembly of warriors. In those days it was a question of destroying and conquering by the sword; today it is a question of building and of organizing. Women should be called on to take part in the great task of social regeneration that is under way. Why should our country be deprived of the services of its daughters?

Liberty, equality, and fraternity have been proclaimed for all. Why should women be left only with obligations to fulfill, without being given the rights of citizens? Will they be excused from paying taxes and from obeying the laws of the State? Will they be obliged to obey the laws and to pay the taxes imposed upon them?

Are they to become the helots of your new Republic? No, citizens, you do not want this; the mothers of your sons cannot be slaves. We address this just demand not merely to the provisional government, which alone cannot decide a question that is of interest to the entire nation. We come to plead our cause--so holy, so legitimate--before the citizens' assembly: our cause is theirs. They will not want to be accused of injustice. When they abolish all privileges, they will not think of conserving the worst one of all and leaving one-half of the nation under the domination of the other half. They will at least give us a role in national representation; some women chosen among the most worthy, the most honorable, the most capable, will be nominated by the men themselves, to come forth in defense of the rights of their sex and the generous principles of our glorious Revolution. Liberty, equality, and fraternity will thus be realized.

2b) Jeanne Deroin, "Aux citoyens francais,"publie dans La Voix des femmes, no. 7 (27 mars 1848):3.

Le regne de la force brutale est passe, celui de la moralite et de l'intelligence commence; les motifs qui ont porte nos peres a exclure les femmes de toute participation au gouvernement de l'etat n'ont plus aujourd'hui aucune valeur. Lorsque tout se decidait par l'epee, il etait naturel de croire que les femmes, qui ne pouvaient prendre part aux combats, ne devaient pas s'asseoir dans l'assemblee des guerriers. Alors il s'agissait de detruire et de conquerir par le glaive; aujourd'hui il s'agit d'edifier, d'organiser. Les femmes doivent etre appelees a prendre part au grand oeuvre de regeneration sociale qui se prepare. Pourquoi la patrie serait-elle privee des services de ses rilles?

On a proclame la Liberte, l'Egalite et la Fraternite pour tous, pourquoi ne laisserait-on aux femmes que des devoirs a remplir, sans leur donner les droits de citoyennes? Seront-elles dispensees de payer les impots et d'obeir aux lois de l'Etat? Seront-elles obligees d'obeir aux lois et de payer les contributions qui leur seront imposees?

Voulez-vous qu'elles soient les il[o]tes de votre nouvelle Republique? Non, citoyens, vous ne le voulez pas, les meres de vos fils ne peuvent etre des esclaves; ce n'est plus au gouvernement provisoire, qui ne peut decider seul une question qui interesse toute la nation, que nous adressons cette juste reclamation, mais nous venons plaider notre cause si sainte, si legitime, devant l'assemblee des citoyens; notre cause, c'est la leur. Ils ne voudront pas etre accuses d'injustice; quand ils abolissent tous les privileges, ils ne voudront pas conserver le plus inique de tous et laisser une moitie de la nation sous la domination de l'autre. Ils nous donneront au moins une part dans la representation nationale; quelques femmes choisies parmi les plus dignes, les plus honorables, les plus capables, seront nom-nees par les hommes eux-memes, pour venir defendre les droits de leur sexe et les principes genereux de notre glorieuse revolution: la Liberte, l'Egalite et la Fraternite seront une verite.

3a) "To Ledru-Rollin," La Voix des femmes, no. 20 (Tues., 11 April 1848):1-2. Trans. K.O.

   Woman must not emancipate herself by becoming a man; She must emancipate
   man by making him more womanly.

Since you have been good enough, amidst the grave concerns that leadership of the State provide you at this time, to take a look at the situation of women; since you have even been good enough to publish in the Bulletin of the Republic, no. 6, your opinion concerning the publication which has taken on the defense of their cause, please permit the humble redactrices [women editors] of this paper to present their sincere thanks.

But permit them also, citizen minister, to rectify certain opinions put forth in the Bulletin, which entirely falsify our goals and intentions by casting on us a ridicule that we are far from meriting.

We do not aspire to be good citoyens [male citizens], we aspire only to be good citoyennes [women citizens], and if we demand our rights, it is as women and not as men. In effect, citizen, do we not have the most beautiful of privileges, that of maternity, and would we have need to renounce it in order to arrive, for example, at the Constituent Assembly?

No, citizen minister! this is not at all our opinion and it is in the name of our duties that we demand our rights.

It is in the name of the holy obligations of the family, in the name of the tender servitude of the MOTHER that we come to say to you: Yes, we have, like you, the right to serve our country in proportion to our strength. Yes, we have like you the right to devote ourselves to the world, and we will prove it by our acts to anyone who tries to deny it.

And what ought then to be the first virtue of a woman if it is not devotion? Devotion to the utmost, the devotion of a mother?

Have you not seen the woman and the mother at the foot of Golgotha. Have you not seen the first at the tomb of Christ facing the insults and the scorn of Tiberius's underlings?

And why then, even if we do not have the physical strength to fight alongside you against the English or the Russians, would we not have the courage and intelligence necessary sometimes to be good legislators? Why then would you want to restrict our devotion to one sole being, and to refuse us the right to sacrifice ourselves for all humanity?

We know the difference between Theroigne de Mericourt and Madame Roland, and we repeat again that we demand our rights solely in the name of our duties!

3b) "A M. LEDRU-ROLLIN", publie dans La Voix des femmes, no. 20 (mardi 11 avril 1848): 1-2.

   La femme ne doit point semanciper en se faisant homme; Elle doit emanciper
      l'homme en le faisant femme!

Citoyen ministre, puisque vous avez bien voulu au milieu des graves soucis que vous donne, en ce moment, la gerance de l'Etat, jeter un coup-d'oeil sur la situation des femmes, puisque vous avez bien voulu meme, publier dans le bulletin de la republique, no. du 6, votre opinion sur l'organe de publicite qui s'est charge de defendre leurs droits, permettez aux humbles redactrices de ce journal de vous adresser leurs bien sinceres remerciemens [sic].

Mais permettez leur aussi, citoyen ministre, de rectifier certaines opinions emises dans ce bulletin, et qui denature entierement notre but et nos intentions en jetant sur nous un ridicule que nous sommes loin d'avoir.

Nous n'aspirons point a etre bon citoyens, nous aspirons seulement etre bonnes citoyennes, et si nous reclamons nos droits, c'est comme femmes et non comme hommes. En effet, citoyen, n'avons-nous pas le plus beau de privileges, celui de la matemite, et aurions-nous donc besoin de le renier pour arriver, par exemple, a l'assemblee constituante?

Non, citoyen ministre! telle n'est point notre opinion et c'est au nom de nos devoirs que nous reclamons nos droits.

C'est au nom des saintes obligations de la famille, au nom des tendres servitudes de la MERE que nous venons vous dire: Oui nous avons, comme vous, le droit de servir notre pays dans la proportion de nos forces. Oui, nous avons comme vous le droit de nous devouer au monde, et a celui qui voudra le nier nous le prouverons par des actes.

Et quelle doit donc etre la premiere vertu d'une femme si ce n'est le devouement? Le devouement jusqu'a sa derniere limite, le devouement d'une mere?

N'avez-vous pas vu la femme et la mere aux pieds du Golgotha. Ne l'avez-vous pas vue la premiere au tombeau du Christ bravant les insultes et les mepris des sattellites de Tibere?

Et pourquoi donc alors, parce que nous n'avons pas la force physique de nous batailler avec vous contre les Anglais ou les Russes, n'aurions-nous pas le courage et l'intelligence necessaires pour etre quelquefois de bons legislateurs? Pourquoi donc voudriez-vous limiter notre devouement a un seul etre, et nous refuser le droit de nous sacrifier pour l'humanite toute entiere?

Nous ne confondons pas Theroigne de Mericourt avec madame Roland, et nous le repetons encore, c'est au nom de nos devoirs seulement que nous reclamons nos droits! ...

4a) "Petition des Femmes," La Voix des femmes, no. 35 (Fri., 28 April 1848):1. Trans. K.O.

To the Members of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.

The undersigned citoyennes, members of the society La Voix des femmes and redactrices of the paper by that same name.

After having solemnly deliberated,

Have considered:

That the glorious revolution of February 1848 opens an era of UNIVERSAL FRATERNITY for all human beings without exception;

That the regime of EQUALITY and of LIBERTY that it has the mission to inaugurate cannot admit the perpetual helotism of any social category;

That civilization only enters the first phase of its development by the concession of bodily freedom and civil rights to the wife;

That the degree of freedom accorded to the woman is the thermometer of the liberty and happiness of the man;

That the state of immobility of the PATRIARCHS, the SAVAGES and the BARBARIANS, who submit the [weaker] sex to all the tortures of physical and moral serfdom, attests to the powerlessness of the stronger sex to realize the progress of civilization by itself;

That once the FIRST civil rights are conceded, logic, in accord with good sense and equity, constrains the other sex SUCCESSIVELY to concede integral emancipation, which, alone, will have the power to give meaning to the republican formula Liberty, Equality, Fraternity;

That history shows moreover that women, given an appropriate education, are capable of exercising all political and social functions;

That, in particular, the women of certain countries now enjoy the exercise of their civic rights;

That if France is considered by all the peoples as the MOTHER-COUNTRY and the center of civilization, it is because our morals have always been more equitable toward the weaker sex than our laws.

That among French adult women, only a small number have a legal and direct PROTECTOR, marriage only being accessible to an imperceptible minority in a society where misery is the share of the greatest number.

With these considerations in mind,

We implore the Provisional Government of the Republic to issue immediately a decree that consecrates, in principle, the absolute recognition of the civic rights of woman, and admits adult widows and unmarried women to exercise electoral rights on the simple presentation of a notarized act attesting to the fact that they are of age or legally emancipated.

Salut et fraternite.

The editorial committee of LA VOIX DES FEMMES

4b) "Petition des Femmes", La Voix des femmes, no. 35 (vendredi 28 avril 1848):1.

Aux membres du Gouvernement provisoire de la Republique francaise.

Les citoyennes soussignees, membres de la societe et redactrices du journal La Voix des Femmes,

Apres en avoir delib[er]e murement,

Ont considere:

Que la glorieuse revolution de fevrier 1848 ouvre l'ere de la FRATERNITE UNIVERSELLE pour tous les etres humains sans exception;

Que le regime d'EGALITE et de LIBERTE qu'elle a mission d'inaugurer ne peut admettre d'ilotisme perpetuel pour aucune categorie sociale;

Que la civilisation n'entre dans la premiere phase de son developpement que par la concession de la liberte corporelle et des droits civils a l'epouse;

Que le degre de liberte accorde a la femme est le thermometre de la liberte et du bonheur de l'homme;

Que l'etat d'immobilite des PATRIARCAUX, des SAUVAGES et des BARBARES, qui soumettent le sexe a toutes les tortures du servage physique et moral, atteste l'impuissance du sexe fort a realiser seul le progres de la civilisation;

Qu'une fois les PREMIERS droits civils concedes, la logique, d'accord avec le bon sens et l'equite, contraignent l'autre sexe a conceder SUCCESSIVEMENT l'emancipation integrale, qui, seule, aura puissance de donner une signification a la formule republicaine Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite;

Que l'histoire demontre d'ailleurs que les femmes, soumises a une education appropriee, sont aptes a exercer toutes les fonctions politiques et sociales;

Qu'en particulier, les femmes de certaines contrees jouissent actuellement de l'exercice de leurs droits civiques;

Que si la France est consideree par tous les peuples comme la MEREPATRIE et le foyer de la civilisation, c'est que nos moeurs ont toujours ete plus equitables que nos lois envers le sexe faible;

Que parmi les Francaises adultes, un petit nombre seulement ont un PROTECTEUR legal et direct, le mariage n'etant accessible qu'a une imperceptible minorite dans une societe ou la misere est le partage du grand nombre.

Par ces considerations,

Supplient le Gouvernement provisoire de la Republique de rendre immediatement un decret qui consacre, en principe, la reconnaissance absolue des droits civiques de la femme, et admettre les majeures veuves et non mariees a jouir de l'exercice du droit electoral, sur la simple presentation d'actes authentiques constatant leur majorite ou leur emancipation legale.

Salut et fraternite.

Le Comite de redaction de LA VOIX DES FEMMES.

5) Declaration of Sentiments. Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20 1848.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education--all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation,--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.

Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.

This essay is revised and expanded from an earlier version, "Femmes et suffrage `Universel': Une comparaison transatlantique," presented at the 150th anniversary conference on the revolutions of 1848, February 1998, in Paris. I am deeply indebted to Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith Wellman for sharing unpublished work and to the anonymous readers and editorial staff at the NWSA Journal for their constructive suggestions.

Karen Often is a historian and independent scholar, affiliated as a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University. She is the author of "European Feminisms: A Political History, 1700-1950," to be published by Stanford University Press in 1999. Correspondence should be sent to Often at the Institute for Research on Women & Gender, Serra House, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-8640; kmoffen@leland.stanford.edu

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A55093975