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The Feminist Press in France

Feminist Press in France, 1848-1849 Between 1848 and 1849, the principal newspapers that promoted women's civil, educational, and economic demands were the Voix des femmes, the Politique des femmes, and the Opinion des femmes. The founders of the feminist press, Eugenie Niboyet, Desirée Gay, and Jeanne Deroin, had earlier been followers of Enfantin or Fourier. In 1832, Gay had launched the first feminist newspaper, the Femme libre (later the Tribune des femmes), and Deroin had contributed articles. From their early socialist associations, they accepted the philosophy that men and women had different natures, that the social individual was a couple, that all human capacities should be developed, regardless of sex, that women as wives and mothers were the moralizing agents of society, and that women should serve the cause of all humanity. The establishment of the republic seemingly provided them with the opportunity to realize this philosophy.

In February 1848, the Provisional Government suspended the security bond for newspap er publishers and the stamp tax for subscribers. The result was an outbreak of several hundred short-lived newspapers. Niboyet founded the first daily feminist newspaper, the Voix des femmes, and published forty-five issues between March 19 and June 17, 1848. As a socialist and political journal in the interests of all women, the newspaper had a wide range of contributors: socialists and republicans, middle- and working-class women and men, French and foreign. While it was primaril y a Parisian paper, a wider circulation is indicated by letters from provincial subscribers and articles on regional events. The Voix des femmes was run by a central committee composed of Niboyet, Gay, Deroin, Josephine Deland, Amelie Pray, and Jeanne Marie Monniot who later replaced Gay. The committee established the Société de la Voix des femmes, with membership based on sponsorship, majority acceptance, proven morality, and monthly dues. Niboyet later pr esided over the Club des femmes. Meetings were open to both men and women with a small admission charge. The speakers were constantly heckled by men and after a particularly disorderly session the prefecture of police banned the club.

The Voix des femmes advocated the Saint Simonian principle of the full moral, intellectual, and material development of women. In the democratic and social republic of 1848, this translated into interconnected demands for civil, educational, and economic rights. Women's suffrage was promoted as a means of moralizing the public sphere, since women's affective and inspirational nature complemented men's reason and action. The newspaper demanded women's right to vote in the upcoming elections to the constitutional convention. Denied suffrage by the Provisional Government, it supported sympathetic male candidates. When an article promoted George Sand as a candidate, she replied with a stinging denial of her candidacy and repudiation of any sympathy with the newspaper's principles. After the election, the newspaper petitioned the Provisional Government to at least accept the principal of suffrage for widows and unmarried women over twenty one. Contributors to the Voix des femmes also insisted that women's moralizing role required equal authority in the family and some promoted the re-establishment of divorce as a means of preserving women's morality.

The Voix des femmes demanded women's education on grounds of equity and morality. Women's intellect was equal to, although different from men's. The full development of intellectual capacities was necessary in order to instill women with republican values that they would then impart to their children. Articles advocated an equal, but separate education: the same curriculum and the opening of the lycées to women, but separate classes, women instructors, and a women's reading room at the national library. Niboyet offered a series of lectures open only to women.

In promoting economic reform, the newspaper recognized that for many women work was a necessity. Only the organization of women's work would eliminate low wages, poor conditions, and prostitution and would save the working-class family. Articles in the Voix des femmes promoted temporary ameliorations, such as charitable collections and fund-raising concerts, while advocating more permanent improvements through national workshops, national restaurants for working-class families, and workingwomen's economic associations, such as Voilquin's Society of United Midwives that proposed making midwives government employees and Niboyet's self-governing Fraternal Society of Female Domestics. When the Provisional Government failed to establish national women's workshops, the newspaper briefly supported the Parisian municipal workshops. In mid-April, however, Gay wrote a scathing article, calling the municipal organization of women's work with its legion of spying inspectors and middle-class directresses an economic despotism.

Although the Voix des femmes attempted to unite all women, by the end of April it was suffering from internal tensions between the middle-class moderation of Niboyet and the working-class radicalism of Gay and Deroin. The paper suspended publication between April 29 and May 28. In the May issue, Niboyet announced that the newspaper had purified its collaborators--Gay and Deroin had left. She published only nine more issues.

On June 13, the constitutional convention denied suffrage to women. The first issue of a defiantly named newspaper, the Politique des femmes, appeared June 18-24. Published by the Society for the Mutual Education of Women--a society of workingwomen in women's interests--and directed by Gay and Deroin, the newspaper still supported political rights, but focused on the organization of work. The condition of Parisian workingwomen had steadily worsened. The municipal workshops were plagued by class tensions and insufficient funds. Even before their formal dissolution on July 3, the government had effectively closed the shops by suspending enrollment and denying supplies. Articles in the Politique des femmes pointed to the necessity of work, especially for widows and heads of household, and the need for organization. But they rejected middle-class materialism and the bourgeois woman whose assistance entailed her standards and supervision, and supported self-governing workingwomen's associations. The newspaper applauded a project for an association of dressmakers and suggested similar associations in the other needle trades as well as a general association. After the June Days, the government re-instituted security bonds for publishers to control political attacks. In the second, and last issue of the Politique des femmes, Gay stated that she would be unable to raise the bond, but announced a new journal, the Opinion des femmes, founded by the society and directed by Deroin. It published only one issue on August 21, 1848. By the end of 1848, democrats and socialists allied in anticipation of controlling the May 1849 elections to the new legislative assembly. Encouraged by their support of women's rights, in January 1849 Deroin refounded the Opinion des femmes which appeared monthly until August and included articles by Deroin, Hortense Wild, and Jean Mace. The newspaper promoted women's suffrage, education, and economic organization. In a series of articles entitled "Woman's Mission," Deroin argued that women's unique nature and their roles as housewife and mother were essential to a complete, well-run, democratic, moral, and peaceful state. As administrators, judges, and legislators, women would organize work, regulate commerce and industry, grant amnesty for political crimes, establish equal education, and assist oppressed peoples everywhere. Deroin attacked Proudhon for limiting women's options to prostitution or marriage and supported the equal admission of women to all professions and vocations according to their capacities. Appealing to the common bond of motherhood, she encouraged middle-class women to aid their working-class sisters to form associations.

After the democratic-socialist alliance refused to support her candidacy for the legislative assembly and discouraged by piece-meal attempts at economic associat ion, Deroin published a plan for a general union of all workers' groups in the August 1849 issue of the Opinion des femmes. The revolutionary Fraternal and Solidary Association of All Associations advocated complete sexual and economic equality. It proposed to organize work by abolishing wages, controlling distribution, consumption, and production, and raising credit. After the publication of the plan, Deroin was unable to raise an imposed security bond and the newspaper folded. In November 1849, a modified version of the union was registered with the government, and six months later the central committee, including Deroin and Pauline Roland, was arrested and convicted of political conspiracy.

Between 1848 and August 1849, several shifts are seen in the feminist press due to changes in the political climate of the republic. The socialist-republican collaboration of the Voix des femmes that optimistically supported the early republic could not survive government inaction and subsequent hostility towards the demands of women and workers and its own internal class dissensions. The socialist orientation of the Politique des femmes reflected Gay's working-class origins, her discouragement with the republic following the assembly's denial of women's suffrage, her dissatisfaction with the municipal workshops, and her dislike of middle-class benevolence. The revolutionary socialist proposals of the Opinion des femmes embodied Deroin's loss of faith both in the democratic-socialist coalition that had failed to support her April candidacy and in a republic led by Louis Napoleon and controlled by a conservative majority. These shifts, however, should not detract from the underlying unity of the feminist press: a unity based upon a belief in women's unique nature, in their public moralizing role in the peaceful social reorganization and moral regeneration of France, and in the full and mutually dependent development of the individual, the family, and the society.
S. Joan Moon


Riot-Sarcey, Michèle "le Parcours de femmes dans l'apprentissage de la démocratie : Désirée Gay, Jeanne Deroin, Eugénie Niboyet, 1830 - 1870" Paris, Univ., Diss., 1990.

_______. La démocratie à l'épreuve des femmes : trois figures critiques du pouvoir, 1830-1848 Paris : A. Michel, 1994.

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