Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Women Activists: Voices to be Heard

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19th century France was no haven for the equality of women, however, the sound of female voices still resonates.

Picture yourself as a poor mother in Paris in the 19th century. The floor you sleep on is damp and the noise of Paris rings in your ears.

You can hear the prostitutes talking in the street, the taverns filled with drunk citizens, and the sounds of change clanging around in pockets of the rich. The life of the poor in 19th century France was a struggle. Being poor and being a women made this struggle no more easier. Paris was only beginning to politically induce public charity (or welfare). However, being a mother, especially a single mother, being considered to receive these public funds was a painstaking process.




"La Bastille" 1871. Bertall [picture above] As pictured above the woman's position is forward in motion, arm raised and stance strong. Her mouth is open and clothes raged but one can sense her passion for the cause she is fighting for. Although she is the main focus, the background conveys a battle scene where smoke fills the air and the signs of combat litter the ground. With weapon in one hand and a home made flag in the other she is ready to defend her beliefs.

One French woman activist in France during the 19th century was Jeanne Deroin. She aided Niboyet by contributing articles to La Voix des Femmes until it disappeared in June of the same year. Deroin was intensely excited and interested about publishing women's works and creating equality for women.

On December 31, 1805 Jeanne Deroin was born into the poor house of a working class family. Spending her early childhood in poverty she was a laundress and embroidered by trade, she later became a teacher and set up a school for children from poor families. But only was it after many attempts from failing the permit test because of poor penmanship was she able to set up the school.

As a participant in the 1848 revolution she wanted to ensure women's demands were included in the new Republic (or at least somewhat heard). Deroin's hope for the New Order was based on social and gender equality, unfortunately this was not acknowledged at the time.


Associated with (although not a part of) the Saint-Simonian movement, Jeanne Deroin was imperative to two important developments for French feminism. First, Deroin questioned the authoritarian basis of much of the new doctrine (of the Saint-Simonians). Secondly, she enthusiastically participated in the major events of the revolution of 1848.


La Grèce sur les ruines de Missolonghi. 1863. Pictured above is Eugene Delacroix (most notable known as the leader in the painting "Liberty Leading the People on the Ramparts"). Although her activism occurred in the later half of the 19th century, she carried on the traditional ideas for women's rights that Jeanne Deroin and Flora Tristan originally had. She was an activist during the time of the Commune in France.