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Hericourt, Jenny P. D' (1809-1875)

Hericourt, Jenny P. D' (1809-1875), writer and women's rights activist, was born as Jeanne-Marie-Fabienne Poinsard, in Besançon. Her family background and early upbringing was Protestant, Montbéliard Lutheran on her father's side and Swiss Calvinist on her mother's side.

Before the recent retrieval of Jenny P. d'Hericourt's brief autobiography, she was one of the least well known of the women active in the 1848 revolution. We now know that prior to that time she had run a private girls' school in Paris, had married and then separated from a husband named Gabriel Marie (divorce being impossible under French law at that time), and had become an enthusiastic adherent of the ideas of Etienne Cabet. She had also published a novel, Le Fils du reprouve (1844), under the pen name of Félix Lamb.

By her own account, Jenny P. d'Hericourt had a lifelong sympathy for victims and oppressed creatures. In early 1848 Jenny d'Hericourt organized thirty women into a society to work for women's civil liberties; the manifesto of this Société pour l'émancipation des femmes (dated 16 March), signed by V. Longueville as president, and J. P. d'Hericourt, as secretary, has been recovered in the National Archives. Hericourt also organized evening schools for workers of both sexes and worked to influence the elections. In particular she took credit for forcing consideration of the issue of women's equality in Cabet's Société fraternelle centrale, and for having successfully smuggled Auguste Blanqui through Paris, following his indictment by the high court in May. These latter activities remain as yet unconfirmed by archival evidence. Whether she is the same person as the "Jeanne-Marie" who played an active role in the Voix des femmes group remains open to question.

Hericourt's enthusiasm for the Icarians was greatly stimulated by Cabet's endorsement of women as medical doctors. Although the faculties were then closed to women, Hericourt managed to study homeopathic medicine in Paris, and following the election of Louis Napoleon as president, completed her studies with a stage in a hospital for practical obstetrics. She acknowledged receiving a diploma as a maitresse sage femme, which Anteghini has since located under the Poinsard name in the 1859 records of the Paris Faculty of Medicine. All these experiences, followed by a major polemic with Proudhon in the mid 1850s and her analysis of the various schools of thought on social and political change with respect to the position of women, culminated in the publication in 1860 of Hericourt's landmark study, La Femme affranchie: réponse MM. Michelet, Proudhon, E. de Girardin, A. Comte et aux autres novateurs modernes (Brussels: Van Meenen et Cie, and Paris: A. Bohn).

Karen Offen


Moses, Claire Goldberg. French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

Offen, Karen. "A Nineteenth-Century French Feminist Redi scovered: Jenny P. d'Hericourt, 1809-1875," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 13, no. 1 (Autumn, 1987): 144-158; an earlier version, with a French translation of the autobiography and expanded historiographical commentary, appeared in 1848: Révolutions et mutations au dix-neuvième siècle, no. 3 (1987): 87-100.

Anteghini, Alessandra. Socialismo e femminismo nella Francia del XIX secolo: Jenny d'Hericourt [Quaderni dell'Instituto di Scienza Politica, Universit di Genova, Pensiero politico, 10]. Genoa: ECIG, 1988.

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