• Clare Burgess

The Idea

This site was originally the final product of a two-year long research project, undertaken as part of a scholarship, which evolved into my undergraduate dissertation. When the idea first occurred to me, I wasn’t sure what form it would take, or even what exactly I would be researching. I knew I wanted to focus on women in the French Revolution, because they are so often overlooked.

The French Revolution was perhaps the first-time human rights and equality had been taken seriously, and implemented on any real scale. Most people, when asked, could name Robespierre or Napoleon, even without a background in history – these names are famous (or infamous) the world over. However, this ground-breaking attempt to create equality was not universal: it discounted women, black people, and Jews, amongst others. Partly as a result of this, the women who were so instrumental to overthrowing the French monarchy and establishing the Republic are usually forgotten. It was my intention, with this project, to reinstate the memories of some of the truly incredible women involved in the Revolution. I could have written about hundreds of women, pro- and anti-revolutionary, rich and poor, named and anonymous, but in the end, I decided to focus on just four. These four women are intended to be a symbol, a reminder, of the hundreds and thousands of others whose stories are brushed aside in favour of men’s.

The four women I chose vary greatly: some were rich, well-educated, even nobles by birth or marriage; some were poor, ill-educated, ordinary working women. This was a conscious decision to represent a broad spectrum of the women who supported the Revolution. They were all revolutionary, as opposed to counterrevolutionary, although the extent to which they supported the revolution does differ. All four women have been chosen because they themselves were important, not because of their relationships with important men (as is so often the case). These are not so-and-so’s wife, or such-a-person’s sister, they are activists and campaigners with personal ambitions, struggles and triumphs. They were also chosen because of their stance on women’s rights: almost invariably, these women fought for their rights, and the rights of their sex.

My aim was to present the lives and stories of these women, and to put them in the wider context of the time in which they lived, and by doing so to remind the world that revolutions do not happen without women, and the most iconic and well-known revolution was not different.

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