fancy name

The "Beautiful Amazon" of the French Revolution


de Méricourt by Lagrenée
"Fellow women citizens, why should we not enter into rivalry with the men?  Do they alone lay claim to have rights to glory; no, no . . . And we too would wish to earn a civic crown and court the honor of dying for a liberty which is dearer perhaps to us than it is to them, since the effects of despotism weigh still more heavily upon our heads than upon theirs. . . . let us open a list of French Amazons; and let all who truly love their Fatherland write their names there."
-- Théroigne de Méricourt

    No one who knew the young Anne-Josèphe Théroigne would have predicted her career as a revolutionary. Bright and beautiful, she shook off the dust of her Belgian village early and made straight for a dissolute life among the demi-monde. She traveled to England, and spent time in Rome, always as the mistress of some gentleman.  When the French Revolution began, she rushed back to Paris. Were her peasant roots calling her back to address the oppression of her class? We may never know, but one thing is certain:  at that moment she abandoned her old life and became a leader among the female contingent of the movement.
    Théroigne de Méricourt, as she was soon styled, was a dramatic figure. She wore a man's riding habit, complete with a dashing red jacket. Always in the forefront of the crowd, she made a number of public speeches urging her fellow Citizenesses to arm themselves and join the men on the battlements. She also organized a women's club dedicated to the proposition that women should have the vote in the new Republic, and be equal to the men.  This was viewed as a problem by many of the male leaders.  In many opinions, revolutionary women still belonged in the kitchen cooking  for their brave men. Théroigne refused to be silent, and as a result, was marginalized. She was imprisoned twice (by different parties), and once had to flee back to Belgium.  But she kept right on -- writing when it was not safe to speak publicly.
     In 1792, as the revolutionaries began to turn on each other, she aligned herself with the relatively moderate Girondins.  Big mistake. In May of 1793, the Girondists were thrown out.  Théroigne was cornered by a mob of Jacobin women who beat her and stripped her naked.  She never recovered from this blow. Some biographers state that the humiliation broke her mind. Others opine that she probably had syphilis. At least one claims that she was probably manic all along, her condition disguised by the general mania of the revolution. Whatever the cause, Théroigne became increasingly paranoid.  She  was eventually committed to an insane asylum, and stayed there for the rest of her life.  Historians often used her life as a metaphor for the revolution, because it began so brightly and burned itself out so completely.

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buttonRead a Revolutionary essay on women's rights.
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