Petition (English version)

French version

Mr President of the Republic,

The work and struggles of Olympe de Gouges remain strikingly relevant.

While women were excluded from political institutions she seized the literary and theatrical stage with exemplary audacity and courage. Then, the political arena, to contribute to public debate. She is the only woman of the Revolution to have been guillotined for having published political writings.

She opened for women the way to political commitment in a modern republic. Her Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen, addressed to the Queen in September 1791, called for women’s access to full citizenship, encouraged them to take their destiny into their own hands and to contribute decisively history in the making. It is now considered throughout the world as one of the founding texts of feminism.

Animated by the spirit of the Enlightenment, but herself self-taught, Olympe de Gouges emphasized the need to educate girls as well as boys and advocated the access to all professions for women, to all functions and all responsibilities. Opposing religious vows as well as forced marriages, she defended the right of choice for young girls, too often locked up by force in convents or forced to marry according to the interests of their family. She proposed to replace marriage by a civil partnerships between equal spouses, revocable if necessary. Outraged by the indifference to the suffering and mortality of women in childbirth, she recommended the creation of maternity hospitals.

Even before the Revolution, by fighting for the performance of her play denouncing the slavery of Blacks, she exposed herself to the vindictiveness of the aristocracy enriched by the trade. The play, in which a slave is pardoned after killing a steward guilty of sexual harassment and sadism, was deemed « inflammatory » by the settler party. Despite death threats, she confronted it bravely, calling it an « unjust, oppressive and inhumane party. » Jacques-Pierre Brissot, founder of the Society of the Friends of Blacks, and abbot Grégoire, an early member of this abolitionist association, paid homage to her courage.

Concerned about the « Res publica » (public affairs), that war, counter-revolution and riots threatened, Olympe de Gouges used all the means at her disposal to make known her philanthropic proposals, her projects of reform and her « useful reflections », addressing them alternately to the deputies, the King, the Queen, the Duke of Orleans, the Prince of Condé, the army generals, political clubs, ministers, and sections of Paris and its citizens. For the last two years of her life she appealed to public opinion through an unprecedented poster campaign. Spending lavishly to spread her ideas, she died poor.

Sensitive to the « horrors of misery in the great winter », and to the misfortune caused by work accidents, she proposed the opening of « charitable establishments » for unemployed workers or their widows, for « old people without strength and children without support ». She was concerned with the plight of unsupported mothers and advocated the free declaration of paternity as well as for the recognition of children born out of wedlock and for their right to inheritance. She defended the right to work, and advocated opening public workshops to give work to unemployed labourers. In order to pay off the State debt, she suggested voluntary taxes or taxes proportional to means.

As early as November 1788, she asked the people to judge if she « thinks like a good citizen » (Letter to the people, or Patriotic purse project, by a Citizeness [1]). At the same time, she exhorts the nobility to « leave aside their rank, their titles and the pointless prejudices of their perfect dignity » to collaborate in the salvation of the country (Patriotic observations, November 1788). She publicly approves the meeting of the Estates general (États généraux) and the oath of June 17, 1789, by which the deputies commit not to separate before having provided a constitution to the French people. She considers the power of the King legitimate only if he dedicates it to the assurance of happiness for the people. She urgently asks him to take the measure of the misery of the people and to prevent it. She requires him to endorse « the equality of all the citizens » and to remove from [the emigrants] all means and all hopes of re-establishing the tyrannical rights of feudalism or conspiring against their fatherland [2]” (French wit, March 1792).

Fearing despotism as much as anarchy and the « right to slit citizens’ throats with impunity », she thought, like many at the time, that the Republic and constitutional monarchy were compatible. « I was born with a republican character, and I will die with this character. If in my patriotic writings, I appeared to defend the constitutional monarchy, it is because I feared all the misfortunes that would result from the fall of the monarchy [3]« , she specified in 1793 (Works of the citizen of Gouges dedicated to Philippe).

In November 1792, disappointed by the betrayal of Louis XVI, she declared that « the kings are gnawing worms which devour the substance of the people to the bones ». She offered to defend the man during his trial only out of humanity and the refusal of violence. As early as 1789, she had warned: « Never soil your hands with the blood of your own kind [4]« . (The Primitive Felicity of Mankind).

After the fall of the monarchy, on August 10, 1792, she urged the deputies of the Convention to put an end to their dissensions, as only being profitable to the counter-revolutionaries and harmful to France. At the time of the massacres of September, she opposed those who claimed that blood must flow for revolutions and warns that « Even the blood of the guilty, spilled profusely and cruelly, eternally soils these revolutions [5] » (The Pride of innocence or the Silence of true patriotism, September 1792). By denouncing the beginnings of the Terror, she risked her life. “Heroism and generosity belong equally to women; the revolution offers more than one example [6]”, she observes (Olympe de Gouges, Louis Capet’s unofficial advocate, December 16, 1792).

In 1791, she declared: “woman is entitled to mount the scaffold; she must be equally entitled to mount the rostrum [7]« . She dared to seize the rostrum, which earned her the scaffold. She protested against the arrest of “Girondin” deputies by Parisian « Without panties » (Sans-culottes). She transgressed the prohibition of evoking a regime other than that of the one and indivisible republic by proposing that « everyone can pronounce freely on the government of their choice. The majority must prevail[8]” (The Three Urns, or the Welfare of the Motherland, July 19, 1793). Her death was lauded as the punishment deserved by any woman who abandoned the domestic space and dared to meddle in politics: « She wanted to be a statesman » and was punished « for having forgotten the virtues that befit her sex », celebrated La Feuille du salut public [9]. While to silence a deputation of female citizens, Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, prosecutor of the insurrectionary Paris Commune, evoked the fate of « this virago, this woman-man, the impudent Olympe de Gouges ».

A committed writer, Olympe de Gouges stands today as an exemplary symbol of feminism and humanism. In September 2013, the consultation organised by the National Monument Centre named her first among those persons most worthy of being pantheonised. Numerous educational, medical and cultural institutions are honoured to bear her name. Streets, squares and parks recall her memory. And, also emblematic buildings, such as the new Palais de Justice in Paris. She still inspires human rights defenders today.

Her pantheonisation would have all the more resonance since the National Assembly is for the first time presided over by a woman, Mrs. Yaël Braun-Pivet, and, by appointing Mrs. Elisabeth Borne as head of the government, you have given France its second female Prime Minister.

Olympe de Gouges aspired to an inclusive republic, where diversity has its place and where the sense of the common good prevails over particular interests. It is time she joins Condorcet and abbot Grégoire in the Pantheon. She would be an excellent symbol of gender equality, twice promoted by you to the rank of a great national cause.

    To sign this petition, send an e-mail to indicating your titles (your profession, for instance, or the place where you live). Put Olympe de Gouges in the subject line.

translated by Sylvia Duverger and Patrick Hazard

[1] When not indicated otherwise, the translations of Olympe de Gouges’ works are by Clarissa Palmer


[3] Our translation.






[9] Created July 1st, 1793 by a Jacobin (opposed to Girondins), Alexandre Rousselin.

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