Olympe de Gouges lost her head to the guillotine on 3rd November 1793. Her mistake had been to question whether the French Revolution was going in the right direction.
She was a remarkable woman who was definitely ahead of her time. Born in 1748, she was a playwright who ran her own theatre company and campaigned against slavery. She was also an early feminist, who wrote a pamphlet entitled: “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen”. Her earnest belief was that women were born equal to men and deserved to have the same rights.
Her humanitarianism was what led to her downfall. She became horrified by what had happened to the Revolution that had begun in 1789 with promises of freedom for all and the end of tyrannical rule. One form of tyranny, namely that of France’s absolute monarchy, had been replaced by another, in which Robespierre and the Jacobins had created a new dictatorship that could not countenance any opposition.
She published a poster that called for a national referendum to allow the people of France to decide which way they wanted to go – towards a republic, a federal regime or a restored monarchy. This sealed her fate.
Her feminism was perhaps the final straw. One Jacobin commented that her death would be a lesson “for every woman who abandoned the cares of her home to meddle in the affairs of the Republic”.
© John Welford