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Donnerstag, 1. September 2016

Part  5: Sociétés patriotiques et Révolutionnaires: clubbist women

Although clubs had not been very common in pre-revolutionary France, political associations formed and multiplied fast after 1789. They were not only a means to gather in circles with like-minded persons or networking - important for “junior” politicians in the emerging democratic political society. They also served as arenas for debate and the exertion of influence of citizens that were still deprived of institutionalised politics: passive citizens generally, workers - and of course, women. Most political associations were men-only, but the majority of clubs allowed women in the stand, and women took advantage of this (and were noted for their presence in reports and minutes). Only about ten clubs in Paris and about 20 clubs in the provinces were mixed-gender. Women were allowed to be member, to vote and to be elected to certain offices, but never as a president. The best-known and most egalitarian mixed association was the “Société fraternelle des patriotes de l'un et l'autre sexe”, founded in 1790 and dedicated to the (political) education of the people. The fees were really small, and many of the radical democrats attended this association. Although women were not allowed to become president, the club had usually two female and two male secretaries. It is not clear, to what extend the Cordeliers can be seen as a mixed club. Women certainly had no deliberative or voting rights, but several women claimed to be “members”. Apart from that, women began to found their own all-female clubs since 1790, the most famous being the “Société patriotique et de bienfaisance des amies de la vérité”, initiated by Etta Palm in 1791, and the “Société des citoyennes républicaines révolutionnaires”, commonly dubbed “Femmes Républicaines Révolutionnaires”, in 1793. Compared to men’s clubs, there were only few women’s clubs, with relatively few members. However, some of them deployed a vast activity, challenging national politics. The most famous example for that are the Femmes Républicaines Révolutionnaires who, alongside the Enragés (Jacques Roux, Théophlie Leclerc) with whom they were linked, succeeded in pushing through many political claims and were a driving force in the petty bourgeois/sansculotte radicalisation of the Revolution (which is generally often attributed to the Jacobins who were, however, rather moderate themselves). The prohibition of female clubs in autumn 1793 needs to be interpreted in this context, for the struggle between the factions had just begun and the Convention seeked to regain the political control and thus be less vulnerable towards popular uprisings, in which radical women played a crucial role. In 1794, mixed clubs (which were, too, rather popular and more radical then the Convention wished for) were prohibited, too. But it was only in 1795, alongside the ultimate defeat of the Jacobins, that political activities of women were banned generally. 
Note: There were many political clubs in the provinces in which women organised themselves. In this section, these provincial clubbists are ignored. You find them in the section on women outside Paris.

Donnerstag, 18. August 2016

Part 4:  Ça ira: popular women

Finally, a post with more women, but much lesser information of them. This is because many of them are not even known by their real name. Often, these women would occur during an event of the Revolution, or lead a single, isolated protest some time, be noted by police officers who recorded their names, as they understood it upon hearing, and their offense, and then dissappear entirely. Arguably, this was the case for male one-time-rebels, too. Only relatively few sansculotte women and men gained a fame that lasted over several events and years, but even in their case, many would disappear into obscurity after the revolutionary period. Maybe, with the revolutionary government and/or the self-administration of the sections gone, they would loose their benefits granted to them for revolutionary engagement and fall into poverty again. However, in the most cases, we only know the names of these women, and the case in which they became known for something revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary) they were accused of. 
The list, despite its shortness, shows that it was very usual for women to be employed or run an own small business even after marriage. Several of the women were “liberated” from their husbands through death (being a widow was quite a good way of living these days) or separation. Others shared common ideas with their husbands and rather “worked together” in different fields of action, according to their respective social roles. Finally, many women fought together with their sisters and mothers, sometimes fathers, too. Also, female neighbours and friends played an important role in women’s political action. All in all, the women of the people were networkers and often acted in concert, and in the majority of cases they acted not inside the house, but publicly on the streets. The idea of women completely destitute of rights and acting capacity thus is somewhat indifferent towards the nuances of the limitations and liberties of popular women, and applies arguably better to the situation of bourgeois women, who - surprise - were those to criticise the corseted state they lived in, the only criticism of the female condition we have now, for popular women often were illiterate or semi-literate (able to sign with their name and do every-day scribbeling, but little more). 
This part owes much to the really worthy book by Dominique Godineau: Citoyennes Tricoteuses. I have most information from this book. However, it covers only sansculotte women in Paris. The actions of women in the provinces are even less known, and will be treated in a following part. Also, the women which operated mainly as members of political clubs, or which became known predominantly through their membership to clubs, will be presented in a following part.

Part  3: Révolution et Providence: religious women

Again, this is a social group which was generally not very welcoming of the Revolution. Most (catholic) religious convents were very entangled with the Ancien Régime, its abbesses being of noble origin, or the entire convent being donated by nobles. Additionally, there was a big distrust towards the civil order of the clergy among female clerics. Last but not least, in the course of the dissolution of contemplative convents as a result from enlightenment sense of social utility (there was a similar movement in the Josephian countries some years before), only those convents were secure who provided necessary social services, like health care. On the other hand, the revolution saw the emergence of a multitude of civil or semi-civil, anthroposophic religions, in which (urban) women engaged a great deal. However, I could not find individual women I could present here. So, this is again a very short list. 

Part 1 - La République des Lettres: literary and artistic women

This section comprises women who promoted the ideals on the Revolution by the means of letters and art, among others authors, playwrights, journalists, actresses, singers, painters, composers etc. However, many women who worked in the „entertainment business“ such as actresses and singers, were reliant on royal and aristocratic patronage, which meant for many of them not only that the Revolution cut off their professional prospects, but also that they opposed the Revolution altogether. In this diverse list, I present women who used primarily literary or artistic means to express their support for the Revolution. Note, however, that the boundaries between this and other sections may be fluid.

Part 2:  Les Tigresses des Salons: socialite women

Many literature salons were held by noble women, or women who were very closely connected to the Ancien Régime. Apart from that, mostly distinguished guests frequented these circles. Consequently, the salonnières were, either due to their social rank or that of their usual guests, predominantly restraint towards the Revolution, if not counter-revolutionary, and preferred to stay obscure and/or apolitical. The same is true for socialites, concubines and mistresses, who often were salonnières as well, and in any case relied on their aristocratic keepers. Thus, this section is, again, rather short and politically moderate.

Women in the French Revolution - Series

When we talk about women in the French Revolution, we tend to focus on Marie Antoinette and her friends, Madame Roland and other salonnières, Lucile Desmoulins and other family members, Olympe de Gouges, when we try to be feminist, Théroigne de Méricort when trying to be militant, and Rose Lacombe and Pauline Léon when we are better instructed. Not to mention the wifes and families of male revolutionaries, who may not even have been active in politics. All of them are certainly women who played a role during the Revolution, and with the exeption of Marie Antoinette, they forwarded the ideas of the revolutionary movement in one way or the other. On the other hand, the names of women from the more popular milieus have been obscured. The same is true for women who did not play their role in the political centres - geographically spoken, Paris. And it is true for women who served in the French Republican army, for the most part, and unlike many other contemporary armies, as women and without disguise.

Montag, 15. Februar 2016

Zinaida Lilina, Revolutionary, administrator and pedagogue

Meet Zinaida Lilina, Bolshevist revolutionary, women's activist, social and culture administrator and opponent to Stalin. She was a tough woman, and an important figure in the Bolshevist movement, but also controversial, especially in bourgeois eyes, and nearly forgotten by history (many biographies on her friends even fail to have her name right), which makes it somewhat difficult to detect her life.