French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century

By Claire Goldberg Moses | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Reemergence of Feminist Activism

During the final years of the Second Empire, a series of liberal laws transformed the once repressive political scene and encouraged the reemergence of feminist activism. In 1868, a new press law permitted the establishment of newspapers without prior government authorization or the deposit of substantial "caution" money to guarantee payment of future fines; the new law also ended administrative censorship. Similarly, freedom of assembly was enlarged, and public lectures (conferences) to discuss political questions became an important element of political life of the late 1860s. 1 Feminists, like other advocates of reform, took advantage of the new liberty to present their case to the public.

Maria Deraismes, who would lead French feminists for the next several decades, made her public-speaking debut at this time. Louise Michel, Paule Mink, and André Léo addressed the particular problems of working-class women. Olympe Audouard spoke out for marriage reform. Beginning in 1866, a number of women's rights organizations were established, and, in 1870, the longest lasting of them, the Association pour le Droit des Femmes, was founded by Léon Richer, Maria Deraismes, Anna Féresse- Deraismes (Maria's sister), Louise Michel, Paule Mink, André Léo, and M. and Mme Jules Simon. This association was linked to the new feminist newspaper, Le Droit des femmes, which had been established in 1869. The publication was edited and written almost exclusively by Léon Richer, who devoted his limited funds and unlimited energies to its continuation.

The vitality of the movement, after nearly two decades of forced inactivity, was dazzling, but its progress for most of the next decade would be fitful. Feminists were still few in numbers and inexperienced. Also, war and the

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