CLIO TALKS BACK: A French feminist runs for the Chamber of Deputies, 1910.

Cover of L'Illustration, #3501 (2 April 1910).
Marguerite Durand campaigning 1910
In 1910 the French journalist and political activist Marguerite Durand declared her candidacy for election to the national Chamber of Deputies from the ninth arrondissement (district 2) of Paris.

She was not the first women to run for the deputation – that honor belonged to the French feminist and woman suffrage advocate Jeanne Deroin, who posed her candidacy in 1849, also in Paris. However, neither in 1849 nor in 1910 were French women authorized to vote or to run for public office. The constitutions of both the Second (1848-1851) and Third Republics (1875-1940) specified that the vote was for “les français,” a masculine noun that in French could include all men and women, or not, depending on how it was interpreted, which was usually against the inclusion of women as separate individuals. The so-called “universal suffrage” established in 1848 in fact was “universal manhood suffrage”only – and this situation lasted, despite great efforts by the suffragists, until 1944. Why? because French republican men feared that the vast majority of women might vote with the Catholic priests and topple the already insecure republic.

French women began to campaign in earnest for the vote following the establishment of the Third Republic. Hubertine Auclert launched her newspaper La Citoyenne in which she and her supporters campaigned vigorously for the vote on the same terms as men – every one of whom were enfranchised at every level, municipal, departmental, and national. But the legislatures refused to take up women’s suffrage proposals up till 1900, and then only at the municipal level. At that point, women were voting in New Zealand, Australia, and in many western states in the United States. And in early twentieth century England, women launched a formidable campaign for the vote (see Clio’s August blog on Lady Constance Lytton and the Women’s Social and Political Union).

By the time Marguerite Durand declared her 1910 candidacy and began to campaign, she had years of experience of agitating and organizing for change in French civil society. An anticlerical radical feminist, her most important contribution was to found La Fronde, a daily newspaper staffed entirely by women, from the reporters on foreign affairs and the stock market to the typsetters and distributors. Durand then concerned herself especially with issues concerning women’s employment. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, French reformers (male) became very agitated about the declining birthrate in France and blamed it on women’s efforts to emancipate themselves. Most feminists ridiculed such assumptions, even campaigning for an improved climate and conditions for motherhood.

French feminists emphasized both function and style, not merely to acknowledge that they appreciated the seriousness of men's concern for the population problem but also as a realistic means of promoting desired legal reforms in the absence of the vote. Marguerite Durand’s 1910 campaign platform epitomizes this approach.

To focus attention on the question of women’s vote, shortly after the founding of the French Union for Women’s Suffrage in 1909, Durand advocated a number of significant reforms that could improve women’s lives: (1) obligatory child-care and housekeeping instruction in all girls' public secondary schools (lycées); (2) recognition of (and payment for) household work done in the home; (3) equal pay for equal work; (4) obligatory humanitarian service for all women (except those who were already mothers) as long as military service was required for men; (5) modification of laws that render women inferior in the married state; (6) maternity insurance; and (7) access for women to all schools, careers, professions, functions, and public charges for which their aptitudes and capacities permit them to compete.

This was a dramatic and radical program in 1910 and it took many more years to realize most of these goals.
Marguerite Durand went on to found the women’s history library in Paris that bears her name – the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand – one of the most important feminist archives in the world.
And, yes, Marguerite Durand did keep a pet tiger!

Postcard, Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand, Paris
Marguerite Durand with Tigger, putting up campaign posters

Source: Announcement of election meeting, 13 April 1910. “Réunion publique et contradictoire. Madame Marguerite Durand et le citoyen Charles Marest, candidats aux élections législatives dans le IXe arrondissement exposeront leurs programmes.” Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand.

Further reading: Karen Offen, “Women, Citizenship, and Suffrage in the French Context, 1789 1993,” Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives, ed. Melanie Nolan and Caroline Daley (Auckland: Auckland University Press; co published with New York University Press & Pluto Press, London, 1994), 151-170. Mary Louise Roberts, “Acting Up: The Feminist Theatrics of Marguerite Durand,” in The New Biography: Performing Femininity in Nineteenth-Century France, ed. Jo Burr Margadant (University of California Press, 2000), 171-217.