Remarkable life and death of France’s ‘first feminist’

'She knew she was risking everything with her views. It was why she moved out of Paris temporarily’ says Sophie Mousset, biographer of Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges regularly courted controversy with her politically aware writing – and she eventually went to the guillotine for calling for the re-establishment of the French monarchy

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793), often cited as the first French feminist, was ahead of her time both in her struggle for women’s rights and in her opposition to slavery.

“She had no doubts about herself, her views or her right to express them, which was extraordinary for that era,” her biographer Sophie Mousset said.

“Perhaps she got that from her mother, who was a very strong character. She was also much-loved: by her mother, her mother’s husband and her natural father, which gave her immense confidence in herself.”

Born in Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne, it was believed that Olympe was the illegitimate child of local aristocrat and poet Lefranc de Pompignan, and the expensive education her mother insisted upon did nothing to quell the rumours.

In 1765, at the age of 17, education notwithstanding, she was forced into marriage with Louis-Yves Aubry, a butcher 30 years her senior, and gave birth to a son, Pierre. 

Olympe's son Pierre Aubry de Gouges

Her husband died the following year and she never married again.

Later, in a semi-autobiographical novel Mémoire de Madame de Valmont contre la famille de Flaucourt she wrote, “I was married to a man I did not love and who was neither rich nor well-born.

“I was sacrificed for no reason that could make up for the repugnance I ...

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