What Role Did Women Play in the French Revolution?


Although French public opinion toward women as a whole tended to consider them as wives and mothers, many French women had different ideas and were actively involved in all parts of the Revolution. Regardless of public opinion, women made many important strides to demonstrate their independence during this time of political change.

Women fared differently during different phases of the French Revolution and not all women participated in the same way or had anywhere near the same views of the Revolution itself. This was particularly true of aristocrats like Marie Antoinette, who was famously executed along with her husband, King Louis, during the Revolution. Many women attempted to participate in revolutionary activities, although this was met with mixed success. In a successful group of political action by women, a large group of angry women gathered for the March to Versailles, an early event in the Revolution that was brought about by bread shortages causing hunger and hardship for ordinary citizens. The March happened soon after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and the female protestors were eventually joined by a group of men outside the palace.

The Revolution itself inspired great social change in France, leading women to call for increased social justice. One such woman was Olympe de Gouges, who published the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” in 1791 as a counterpart to the famous revolutionary document that focused specifically on the rights of men. De Gouges is a symbol not only for France’s growing feminism, but also for the Revolutionary opposition to changing gender roles. The Jacobin Club, one of the most influential political groups during the Revolution, executed de Gouges in 1793 and outlawed female political clubs on the grounds that women belonged in the private sphere of family rather than in the world of politics.