Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) (a.k.a. Marie Gouze) was a playwright and journalist whose feminist writings reached a large audience. In 1791 this strong supporter of democracy demanded the same rights for French women that the French men were demanding for themselves. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791) she challenged the oppression of male authority and the notion of male-female inequality. She later lost her life to the guillotine due to her revolutionary ideas.
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Born 1748 in Montauban in the South of France, Marie Gouze was born into a petit bourgeois family. Her father was a butcher, her mother a seller of finery goods. She married quite young in 1765 to one Louis Aubry, but at the age of 18 she fled her husband for Paris took the name of Olympe de Gouges.
She promptly began to write essays, manifestoes and socially conscious plays. As she had little formal schooling and was illiterate, she must have dictated these to someone literate. A social climber, she strove to move among the elite and to lose her provincial accent.
In 1774, she wrote the anti-slavery play L'Esclavage des Nègres. Because she was a woman and because of her controversial subject, the play went unpublished until [ at the start of the French Revolution. She also wrote on such gender-related topics as the right of divorce and the right to secual relations outside of marriage.
A passionate advocate of human rights, Olympe de Gouges greeted the outbreak of the Revolution with hope and joy, but soon became disenchanted, in that the fraternité of the Revolution was not extended to the sororité (that is, that equal rights were not extended to women).
In 1791 she became part of the Cercle Social - an association with the goal of equal political and legal rights for women. The Cercle Social met at the home of well-known women's rights advocate Sophie de Condorcet. There she expressed for the first time her famous statement "a woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform."
That same year, she wrote the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen" ("Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne"), the first declaration of truly universal human rights. This was followed by her Contract Social, proposing marriage based on gender equality.
She attempted to become involved in any matter she believed to involve injustice. She opposed the execution of Louis XVI, partly out of opposition to capital punishment and partly because she preferred a relatively tame, live king to the possibility of a rebel regency in exile. With respect to this, Jules Michelet commented: "She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand." (Cited in Luise F. Pusch, 300 Porträts berühmter Frauen, Insel Verlag, 1999, p. 111)
As her hopes were disappointed, she became more and more vehementin her writings. Finally, her piece The three urns, or the health of the country, by an aerial voyager" (Le trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien'') 1793 led to her arrest and execution.