About Marie Gouze
Marie Gouze was born into a petit bourgeois family in 1748 in Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne, in the South-West of France. Her father was a butcher, her mother, a washerwoman. However, she believed that she was the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc, marquis de Pompignan; his rejection of her claims upon him may have influenced her passionate defense of the rights of illegitimate children. She married quite young in 1765 one Louis Aubry, coming from Paris with the new Intendant of the town, Mr. de Gourgues. This was not a marriage of love. As de Gouges said in a semi-autobiographical novel (Mémoire de Madame de Valmont contre la famille de Flaucourt), "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 felt for this man."  When her husband died a year later, she moved in 1770 to Paris with her son, Pierre, and took the name of Olympe de Gouges.  She had a perfect education for a woman at that time and she was able to read, but wrote quite badly as the majority of the European people at that time. In 1773, according to her biographer Olivier Blanc, she met a rich man, Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, with who she had a long story which finished under the revolution. She was received in the artistic and philosophical "salons" where she met many writers, like La Harpe, Mercier or Chamfort, and future politicians like Brissot or Condorcet. She was usually invited in the salons of marquise de Montesson and countess de Beauharnais who were playwrights like her. She was also in connection with masonry lodges among them the "Loge des Neuf soeurs" created by her friend Michel de Cubières.
Surviving paintings of her show a woman of remarkable beauty; not surprisingly, she chose to live with several men who supported her financially. However, by 1784 (the year that her putative biological father died), she began to write essays, manifestoes, and socially conscious plays. A social climber, she strove to move among the elite and to lose her provincial accent.
In 1784, she wrote the anti-slavery play Zamore and Mirza which was received by the French comedy, performed in 1789 and published in 1792 under the title L'Esclavage des Nègres (Negro Slavery). Because she was a woman and because of her controversial subject, the play went unpublished until 1789 at the start of the French Revolution.. Even then, Olympe showed her combativeness when she fought unsuccessfully to get her play staged. She also wrote on such gender-related topics as the right of divorce and the right to sexual 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 women (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. Here, 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, in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne ("Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen"), the first declaration of truly universal human rights. This was followed by her Contrat Social ("Social Contract", named after a famous work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau), 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 of France, partly out of opposition to capital punishment and partly because she preferred a relatively tame and living king to the possibility of a rebel regency in exile. The late 19th century French historian Jules Michelet commented "She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand.".
As her hopes were disappointed, she became more and more vehement in her writings. On 2 June 1793, the Jacobins arrested the Girondins (her allies) and sent them to the guillotine. Finally, her last piece Les trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien (The Three Urns, or the Health of the Country, By An Aerial Voyager) (1793) led to her arrest. That piece demanded a plebiscite on a choice of three potential forms of government: the first, indivisible Republic, the second, a federalist government or the third, a constitutional monarchy. She spent three months in jail and not having a lawyer, she tried to defend herself. She managed to publish (owing to her friends) two texts: olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire, where she relates her interrogations, and the last "Une patriote persécutée" where she condemned the Terror. The Jacobins, who had already executed a queen, were in no mood to tolerate an advocate of women's rights. Olympe was sentenced to death on November the 2nd and executed on the guillotine on 3 November 1793, a month after Condorcet had been proscribed and several months after the Girondin leaders had been guillotined.
After her death, says Olivier Blanc, her son General Pierre Aubry de Gouges went to Guyana with his wife and five children. He died in 1802, after which his widow attempted to return to France but died on the boat. In Guadeloupe the two young daughters were married, Geneviève de Gouges to an English officer, and Charlotte de Gouges to an American politician, member of the Congress, who had plantations in Virginia. Now, many English and American families have Olympe de Gouges as their ancestor (Olivier Blanc).
 Legacy in France
On 6 March, 2004, the junction of the Rues Béranger, Charlot, Turenne and Franche-Comté in Paris was proclaimed the Place Olympe de Gouges. The square was inaugurated by the mayor of the Third Arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum, along with the first deputy mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. The actress Véronique Genest read an extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Woman.
2007 French presidential contender Ségolène Royal has expressed the wish of her remains being moved to the Panthéon. However, her remains like those of the other victims of the Reign of Terror have been lost through burial in communal graves, so any reburial would be ceremonial (as was done for Condorcet himself.)
Olympe de Gouges wrote her famous Declaration on the Rights of Women shortly after the French constitution of 1791 was created in the same year. She was alarmed that the constitution, which was to promote equal suffrage, did not address nor even consider woman’s suffrage. The Constitution gave that right only to men. It also did not address key issues like legal equality in marriage, the right for a woman to divorce her spouse, or a woman’s right to property. So she created a document that was to be, in her opinion, the missing part of the Constitution of 1791, in which women would be given the equal rights they deserve. Throughout the document, it is apparent to the reader that Gouges had been influenced by the Enlightenment way of thinking. Enlightened thinkers critically examined and criticized the traditional morals and institutions of the day, using “scientific reasoning.”
Gouges opens up her Declaration with a witty, and at times sarcastically bitter, introduction in which she demands of men why they have chosen to subjugate women as a lesser sex. Her opening statement put rather bluntly: “Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least.” The later part of the statement shows her taking a stab at the fact that men have been ridiculously depriving women of what should be common rights, so she sarcastically asks if men will find it necessary to take away even her right to question. Gouges begins her long argument by stating that in Nature the sexes are forever mingled cooperating in “harmonious togetherness.” There she uses a bit of Enlightenment logic, if in nature the equality and the working together of the two sexes achieve harmony, so should France achieve a happier and more stable society if women are given equality among men.
After her opening paragraph she goes into the actual Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, which she asks be reviewed and decreed by the National Assembly in their next meeting. Her preamble explains that the reason for current public misfortune and corrupt government is due to the oppression of women and their rights. The happiness and well being of society will only be insured once women’s rights are equally as important as men’s, especially in political institutions. In her document Gouges establishes women’s rights on the basis of their equality to men, that they are both human and capable of the same thoughts. However, Gouges also promotes the rights of women by emphasizing differences women have from men, differences that men ought to respect and take notice of. She argues that Women are superior in beauty as well as in courage during childbirth. Addressing characteristics that set women apart from men added, what she probably thought was, logical proof to her argument that men are not superior to women, therefore women are deserving at least to have the same rights.
The actual declaration itself bares the same outline and context as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, but Gouges either changes the word “man” to “woman” or adds “ for both women and men.” In article II, the resemblance is exact to the previous declaration except that she adds “especially” before “the right to the resistance of oppression,” emphasizing again how important it is to her to end the oppression of women, and that the government should recognize this and take action.
A main difference between the two declarations is that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen emphasizes the protection of the written “law” while the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen emphasizes protection of the “law” and of “Natural Laws.” Gouges emphasizes that these rights of women have always existed, that they were created at the beginning of time by God, that they are natural and true and they cannot be oppressed.
Article X contains the famous phrase: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” If women have the right to die, they should have the right to speak.
She modifies article XI to say that women have the right to give their children the name of their father even if it is out of wedlock and even if the father has left her. Gouges is very passionate about this since she herself was deemed an illegitimate child.
In her Postscript Gouges tell women to wake up and discover that they have these rights! She assures them that reason is on their side. Gouges asks what they as women have gained from the French Revolution... the answer is nothing, but that they’ve been marked with more disdain. She exclaims that women should no longer tolerate this, they should step up, take action, and demand the equal rights they deserve. Gouges declares the morality that women are lesser is an “out of date” moral. In that Gouges shows strongly her enlightenment way of thinking – to break from old illogical traditions that are "out of date." She exclaims that to revoke women the right to partake in political practices is also “out of date.”
Her last paragraph is titled a "Social Contract between Men and Women." Taking a leaf from Rousseau’s book, the contract asks for communal cooperation. The wealth of a husband and wife should be distributed equally. Property will belong to both and to the children, whatever bed they come from. If divorced, land should be divided equally. She called this the “Marriage contract.” Gouges also asked to allow a poor man’s wife to have her children be adopted by a rich family – this will help with the community’s wealth and drive back disorder. Gouges finally requests near the end of the contract for a law to protect widows and young girls from men who give them false promises. This perhaps is the most important issue she wants to deal with in France. Back in the postscript section of her document, Gouges describes the consequences of a woman who is left by an unfaithful husband or who is widowed with no fortune to her name and of young experienced girls who are seduced by men that leave them with no money and no title for their children. Gouges therefore requests a law that that will force an inconsistent man to hold his obligation to these women, or to at least pay a reimbursement equal to his wealth.
One of her last persuasions in her document directs itself to men who still see women as lesser beings: “the foolproof way to evaluate the soul of women is to join them to all the activities of man, if man persists against this, let him share his fortune with woman by the wisdom of the laws.” She challenges men that, if they wish, they may scientifically evaluate the consequences of joining man and woman in equal political rights.
Olympe de Gouges’ personality comes through strongly in her writings, and her opinions are shameless. She wrote this declaration using powerful language and boldness that was dangerous for her to do at the time. A bold woman was often persecuted, and in fact, Gouges was executed two years later. However, in a long history of fighting for women’s rights, Gouges declaration played a very important and positive role in the struggle.
Here is another good resource about Olympe http://www.women-philosophers.com/Olympe-de-Gouges.html