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Pauline Roland

Pauline Roland was born on June 7, 1805, to the woman director of the post office in Falaise (Calvados). Well-educated on her mother's insistence, she was introduced to Saint Simonian ideas by one of her teachers and became an enthusiastic supporter of this philosophy of social and religious regeneration.

On her arrival in Paris in 1832, she began writing for early feminist papers (la Femme libre, la Tribune des femmes) and compiled a series of remarkable histories, "for the education of both sexes," of France (1835), England (1838), and England, Scotland and Ireland (1844). A close associate of Pierre Leroux and George Sand, she also wrote for l'Encyclopédie nouvelle, la Revue indépendante and other papers. She joined Leroux's community at Boussac (Indre) in 1847, where she worked in the school and wrote for l'Eclaireur de l'Indre.

Roland lived for twelve years until 1845 in a "free union" with Jean Aicard, insisting that their two children, and a son whose father was Adolphe Guérolt, bear her name and be brought up by her. On Flora Tristan's death in 1844, she also undertook the care of her daughter Aline (later to be the mother of Paul Gauguin). While Roland's philosophy of social harmony privileged the role of the family and fidelity and accepted a stereotyped complementarity of man and woman, she was convinced that, in the contemporary French context, marriage could only undermine women's independence.

Roland spent most of 1848 in Boussac, struggling to keep the community alive while corresponding with friends in Paris. On her return to the capital in December, she was immediately active in feminist and socialist agitation and publications, notably with Jeanne Deroin and Désiré Gay on l'Opinion des femmes (January-August 1849). With Deroin and Gustave Lefrançais she established in September 1849 the "Association of Socialist Teachers," stressing the importance of equality of the sexes in an education program spanning the first eighteen years of life and of women staying in the work force. Roland then played a key role in convening the "Union of Workers Associations" in October 1849; delegates of over 100 trades elected her to the central committee. This attempt to resuscitate the cooperative movement in 1848 was suppressed by the government in April 1850, and Roland was one of fifty people arrested the next month.

Vitriolically attacked at her trial for her socialism, feminism and "debauchery," Roland retorted: "I protest against marriage because, in the way it is organized, it asserts the inferiority of women to men." With Deroin, she was imprisoned for seven months, until July 1851. Undaunted, Roland was active in the Parisian resistance to the coup d'état of December and subsequently imprisoned in Algeria. She owed her early release to the intercession of Béranger and George Sand; however, on the way home to rejoin her children, she became ill and died in Lyon on December 15, 1852.

With Deroin, Gay and a number of other women, and male sympathizers, Pauline Roland is of great importance in the history of both feminism and the associational movement for workers' cooperatives in the years 1830-1850. These commitments were interconnected with her belief in the liberating and socially harmonious consequences of ending discrimination between the sexes, races and nations, of finding dignity in labor, and of placing personal relations between men and women on a new basis.
Charles McPhee


Laura Adler. A l'aube du féminisme: les premières journalistes (1830-1850). (Paris: Payout, 1979).

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

Pauline Roland, Arthur Ranc and Gaspard Rouffet. Bagnes d'Afrique: Trois transportés en Algérie après le coup d'état du 2 décembre 1851. (Paris: Maspero, 1981).

Edith Thomas. Pauline Roland: Socialisme et féminisme au XIXe siécle (Paris: Marcel Rivière, 1956).

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