French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century

By Claire Goldberg Moses | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Republican Feminism

The Third Republic was a decade in the making. Monarchists controlled the Chamber of Deputies until 1877 and the Senate until 1879. Only the inability of Legitimists and Orleanists.to resolve their conflicting ambitions prevented the Right from effecting a permanent restoration. Throughout the 1870s, republicans were cautious. They sensed that their chance to rule depended on creating the impression that they, not the monarchists, represented stability. The longer the Republic remained the regime--faute de mieux--the more likely it would come to be perceived as the regime of stability.

In 1878, feminists were all on the side of the Republic. They were certain its success would be their success. Already the republican victory in the 1877 Chamber of Deputies's election had worked for them: prohibitions against their public meetings had been lifted, and they were free to move ahead with their plans for an international congress. In 1879, the government gave its stamp of approval to their Société pour l'Amélioration du Sort des Femmes. Then, in 1881, after the republicans were firmly entrenched in power, the Ferry government passed a series of laws aimed at guaranteeing the fundamental liberties promised in the Declaration of the Rights of Man but only rarely permitted in the century since then: the law of June 30, 1881, guaranteed the freedom of assembly, and the law of July 29 guaranteed the freedom of the press. No longer would feminists have to obtain prior government approval for their meetings or public lectures, no matter the size of their expected audience. No longer would they have to secure large sums for "caution" money or obtain prior official approval for their journals. Finally, women were free to publish political newspapers.

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