Notable Women


Women in the French Revolution were often counter-revolutionary, with the exception of a few such as Olympe de Gouge. This was because women were left in charge of the home, and all of its affairs, including religion and religious obligation. Women tended to feel a much stronger religious obligation and devotion than men as well. Because of these, women played a large role in protesting against the de-Christianization of France, and were often at the forefront of religious riots. Since women could not legally be held accountable for their actions, they were able to go to extremes such as storming the Mayor’s house, and demanding keys to the Church. Women also prevented the confiscation of religious objects from churches by blocking and threatening soldiers and men trying to take them (Desan, 457).

Saint Domingue:

The myth of Erzulie-Freda showed the type of power that Haitian women had in the Vodoun religion. The story emerged towards the end of the Haitian Revolution, in 1791 by a mambo, or Priestess (Dayan, 6). This showed that in the Vodoun religion, women could hold high positions of authority, which was a far different aspect than the French. However, like French women, they were heavily involved in their devotion, and because of this, they held a certain authority.

In the story, Erzulie was possessed by a white woman, and together they “turn history around” (Dayan, 11). Because of the joining of the two different women, she became a Goddess of Love (which played into the role that women of color on the island had of being temptresses), with rage and despair. Erzulie was representative of the women in San Domingue, because she embodied the struggles that both enslaved women and freed women of color faced. She was seen as a sex object, but images of her tears represent her more in the light of The Virgin Mary (Dayan, 13).


Dedee Bazile (Defilee the Mad Woman):

Accounts of Dedee Bazile were very rare and elusive, much like the identities of many women (Haitian women, especially) at the time, and were often framed in a nationalistic ideal of women, country, and liberty type of way (Brazlel, 63). Because of this, and through Haiti’s oral tradition, very little was known about her, and made it difficult to separate fact from fiction. What was known, however, she was born into slavery near Cap Francaise, was raped by her master, and had several children. She then later escaped to join the resistance, where she met Jean-Jacques Dessalines. She fought along his side through the revolution. Bazile was gave a speech about reason, wisdom, and patriotism after Dessalines’ death (Brazlel, 62). It was upon his death that it was believed she had been been given the name Defilee the Madwoman, though it was thought she went mad well before that, when her two sons died during the war. It was said that after Bazile had discovered Dessalines’ body, she carried the bloody remnants to the cemetery in the city (Dayan, 18). Through her time with Dessalines, she was a warrior woman, and a close friend that has been almost completely lost to history.


Olympe De Gouge:

Though there was very little known about her life, Marie Gouze, more famously known as Olympe De Gouge was one of the most important woman of the revolution. In France, progressive women were hoping that they too would finally have (at least some) political gain. Gouze took that hope to the extreme by publishing the Rights of Women. This, and her many other radical publishings sent Gouze to the guillotine in 1793 on the grounds of being counterrevolutionary and an “unnatural” woman (Hunt, 124). In The Rights of Women, Gouze reworded the articles from The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to fit women as well. In the post-script of her declaration, she also mentioned that women should have marital protections as well.


Olympe De Gouge

  •         Educated
  •         Feminist

o   Went Against Gender norms

o   Believed women to be equal to men

o   Executed for her beliefs

Dedee Bazile (Defilee)

  •         Uneducated
  •         Slave

o   Experienced many hardships based on both her race and gender

  •         Went against gender norms

o   Fought alongside men in the revolution

  •         Lived a long life after revolution

Who do you consider the more revolutionary of the two?

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