The feminist movement of the belle époque overwhelmingly drew its leadership from the educated women of the urban middle class, such as Nelly Roussel. 1 The women who founded feminist organizations, and the officers who led those groups, chiefly came from the middle class. The women who published the periodicals and who organized or delivered the lectures also came from that background. A significant number of women from working‐ class origins certainly participated in the feminist movement, 2 however, these were often women who had won an education or a career that moved them into the middle class, such as Dr. Madeleine Pelletier, who is represented further on in this anthology. Politically active working women turned in much greater numbers to the socialist and syndicalist movements.
Few women of the aristocracy participated in the feminist movement, although there were important exceptions, such as the Duchess d'Uzès. 3 More aristocratic women participated in the Catholic women's movement, joining the League of French Women or similar groups. This women's movement had a conservative focus on issues such as the family and the church, but it gradually developed feminist interests on its agenda. 4
Seen in this context, Countess Pierre Lecointre is an interesting individual who illustrates the variety of feminisms during the belle époque. 5 Coming from the Catholic aristocracy, she took a very different attitude to female emancipation from that of left-wing feminists like Roussel and Pelletier. Lecointre opposed (and spoke out publicly against) contraception, abortion, and women's suffrage, but she favored the improvement of conditions for women as perceived by religious women brought up to do good works. Be