Monday, 3 November 2014

Today in History November 3: Olympe de Gouges; French playwright, journalist and feminist is guillotined

November 3 is the 307th day of the year. There are 58 days remaining until the end of the year.
Olympe de Gouges

Today's Highlight in History: 1793 – French playwright, journalist and feminist, Olympe de Gouges is guillotined.

Olympe de Gouges (7 May 1748 – 3 November 1793), born Marie Gouze, was a French playwright and political activist whose feminist and abolitionist writings reached a large audience.

She began her career as a playwright in the early 1780s. As political tension rose in France, de Gouges became increasingly politically involved. She became an outspoken advocate for improving the condition of slaves in the colonies as of 1788. At the same time, she began writing political pamphlets. Today she is perhaps best known as an early feminist who demanded that French women be given the same rights as French men. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791), she challenged the practice of male authority and the notion of male–female inequality. She was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror for attacking the regime of the Revolutionary government.
Historic replicas (1:6 scale) of the two
main types of French guillotines
: Model 1792, left, and Model 1872
(state as of 1907), right

A guillotine is an apparatus designed for carrying out executions by beheading. It consists of a tall upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured at the bottom of the frame, with his or her neck held directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to fall swiftly and sever the head from the body. The device is best known for its use in France, in particular during the French Revolution, when it "became a part of popular culture" and it became celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents."

Olympe de Gouges was a passionate advocate of human rights, She greeted the outbreak of the French Revolution with hope and joy, but soon became disenchanted when égalité(equal rights) was not extended to women.

She was part of the Society of the Friends of Truth, an association with the goal of equal political and legal rights for women. Also called the "Social Club", members sometimes gathered at the home of the well-known women's rights advocate, Sophie de Condorcet. Here, De Gouges expressed, for the first time, her famous statement, "A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform.

In response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne("Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen"). This was followed by her Contrat Social ("Social Contract", named after a famous work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau), proposing marriage based upon gender equality.She became involved in almost any matter she believed to involve injustice.

She opposed the execution of Louis XVI of France, partly out of opposition to capital punishment and partly because she preferred a relatively tame and living king to the possibility of a rebel regency in exile. This earned her the ire of many hard-line republicans. As the Revolution progressed, she became more and more vehement in her writings. Finally, her poster Les trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien ("The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Fatherland, By An Aerial Traveller") of 1793, led to her arrest. That piece demanded a plebiscite for a choice among three potential forms of government: the first, unitary republic, the second, a federalist government, or the third, a constitutional monarchy.

After she was arrested, the commissioners searched her house for evidence. When they could not find any in her home, she voluntarily led them to the storehouse where she kept her papers. It was there that the commissioners found an unfinished play titled La France Sauvée ou le Tyran Détroné ("France Preserved, or The Tyrant Dethroned"). Both De Gouges and her prosecutor used this play as evidence in her trial. The prosecutor claimed that Olympe's depictions of the queen threatened to stir up sympathy and support for the Royalists, whereas De Gouges stated that the play showed that she had always been a supporter of the revolution.
The execution of Olympe de Gouges
She spent three months in jail without an attorney, trying to defend herself. The presiding judge denied De Gouges her legal right to a lawyer, on the grounds that she was more than capable of representing herself. It seems as though the judge based this argument on De Gouges's tendency to represent herself in her writings. Through her friends, she managed to publish two texts: Olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire ("Olympe de Gouges at the revolutionary tribunal"), where she related her interrogations and her last work, Une patriote persécutée ("A [female] patriot persecuted"), where she condemned the Terror. The Jacobins were in no mood to tolerate any opposition from the intellectuals. De Gouges was sentenced to death on 2 November 1793, for seditious behaviour and attempting to reinstate the monarchy. She was executed the following day, at the age of 45 and her body disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery.

She wrote on such gender-related topics as the right of divorce and argued in favour of sexual relations outside of marriage she wrote some forty works - essays, manifestos, literary treatises, political pamphlets and socially-conscious plays and numerous other works,:

"Denied a place in the powerful circles of her day she found her political voice by writing an astonishing number of pamphlets and posters that she freely disseminated around Paris. Her texts chart her battles against injustice and inequality, her belief that solidarity and cooperation should predominate, her hatred of dictatorships and the corrupting influence of power, her profound pacifism, her respect for humankind, her love of nature, and, of course, her desire that women be allowed a worthwhile role in society. She pleaded against slavery and the death penalty, dreamt of a more equal society and proposed intelligent taxation plans to enable wealth to be more fairly divided. She called for a form of welfare state, trial by jury and reasonable divorce laws to protect women and children from penury. Believing in the power of drama to encourage political change she wrote several plays that ingeniously highlight contemporary concerns."


World Events

1793 – French playwright, journalist and feminist Olympe de Gouges is guillotined..

1817 – The Bank of Montreal, Canada's oldest chartered bank, opens in Montreal.

1838 – The Times of India, the world's largest circulated English language daily broadsheet newspaper is founded as The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce.

1868 – John Willis Menard was the first African American elected to the United States Congress. Because of an electoral challenge, he was never seated.

1903 – With the encouragement of the United States, Panama separates from Colombia.

1911 – Chevrolet officially enters the automobile market in competition with the Ford Model T.

1954 – The first Godzilla film is released and marks the first appearance of the character of the same name.

1964 – Washington D.C. residents are able to vote in a presidential election for the first time.

1969 – Vietnam War: U.S. President Richard M. Nixon addresses the nation on television and radio, asking the "silent majority" to join him in solidarity on the Vietnam War effort and to support his policies.

1978 – Dominica gains its independence from the United Kingdom.

1986 – Iran–Contra affair: The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa reports that the United States has been secretly selling weapons to Iran in order to secure the release of seven American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.

1986 – The Federated States of Micronesia gain independence from the United States of America.

1988 – Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries try to overthrow the Maldivian government. At President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's request, the Indian military suppresses the coup attempt within 24 hours.

1996 – Death of Abdullah Çatlı, leader of the Turkish ultra-nationalist organisation Grey Wolves in the Susurluk car-crash, which leads to the resignation of theTurkish Interior Minister, Mehmet Ağar (a leader of the True Path Party, DYP).

1997 – The United States of America imposes economic sanctions against Sudan in response to its human rights abuses of its own citizens and its material and political assistance to Islamic extremist groups across the Middle East and Eastern Africa.

2013 – A solar eclipse sweeps across Africa, Europe and the Eastern United States.

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