Born in France in 1748, feminist philosopher and playwright Olympe de Gouges is most famous for her 1791 essay Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen (Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne).
Gouges modeled it after the French government’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but—unlike that document—did not presume women to be inferior to men.
The essay’s dedication—to Marie Antoinette—led the Jacobins to suspect de Gouges of being a Royalist, though she was not.
As an advocate of both rights for women and for blacks, de Gouges had attracted many enemies.
She “is one of those women to whom one feels like giving razor blades as a present,” then-famous French actor Abraham-Joseph Benard said of her.
In Reflections on Black Men (Réflexions sur les hommes nègres), published in 1788, de Gouges wrote that “men everywhere are equal” and argued against slavery in the French colonies, a stance she also took in her 1785 play l’Esclavage des Noirs. The play had to shut down after three nights after slave trade lobbyists paid hecklers to ruin the performances.
A few years after the publication of Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, de Gouges wrote a piece about people having a choice between different forms of government, including monarchy as one possibility. She was declared a political enemy, found guilty of treason, and executed by guillotine in 1793.