Madame Roland and the political commitment of women during the Revolution

Madame Roland and the political commitment of women during the Revolution

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Home ›Studies› Madame Roland and the political commitment of women during the Revolution

Manon Philipon, known as Madame Roland.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: December 2008

Historical context

Women's salons in the 18th centurye century

Born in the 17th centurye century, private salons run by women multiplied in the following century in Paris and there were more and more large salons such as those of Madame Geoffrin, Madame du Deffand, Julie de l'Espinasse or Madame Necker. The French Revolution put an end to this typically Parisian form of sociality: emigration led to the disappearance of aristocratic salons, and the clubs regained some of their regulars, while some newly created salons became politicized, becoming places of exchange of revolutionary ideas, alongside popular clubs or societies.

Image Analysis

Madame Roland, the face of the Gironde

The salon that Jeanne Marie Philipon (1754-1793), known as Madame Roland, held rue Guénégaud is a good illustration of this new political sociability that took hold during the Revolution. Johann Ernst Heinsius, a German genre painter who emigrated to France, where he was renowned for his portraits of women, especially in court circles, left Madame Roland with a medallion portrait of a pre-Romantic style. Depicted simply wearing a dress with a wide neckline revealing the shoulders, loose hair cascading down, this one came from the world of craftsmanship by her father, a master engraver at Place Dauphine. Endowed with a great aptitude for studies, she developed a passion from an early age for reading and read the philosophers of the Enlightenment, notably Montesquieu, Voltaire and above all Rousseau, who was her teacher. Very quickly, she adheres to Republican ideals.

In 1776, she met Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière, inspector of manufactures, and married in 1780. From 1780 to 1789, the couple lived in Amiens, then Lyon, and Madame Roland assisted her husband in his work during these years. Fully committed to the ideals of 1789, she became politically involved and, from Lyon, encouraged the establishment of a network of popular societies and the holding of federations of clubs in each department. Returning definitively to Paris with her husband in February 1791, Madame Roland organized a salon at her home, rue Guénégaud, which attracted a host of extreme left politicians such as Robespierre, Pétion, Desmoulins and Brissot. A fashionable social place, its salon was one of the crucibles for the development of Girondin politics, while, thanks to his relations with the Girondists, Roland de La Platière was appointed Minister of the Interior on March 23, 1792.

Become the muse of the Girondins, Madame Roland directs the policy of her husband, notably writing in his name the famous letter to the king of June 10, 1792 in which Roland adjures the king to renounce his veto and to sanction the decrees, letter which to him was worth being fired three days later. After August 10, 1792, which marked the fall of the monarchy, Roland was recalled to the ministry, but, faced with increasingly virulent attacks from the Montagnards, who reproached him for his inertia, he ended up resigning on January 23, 1793.

After the departure of her husband from the ministry, Madame Roland, who has a platonic affair with Buzot, one of the speakers of the Girondin party, continues to play a role in Gironde politics. When the Gironde fell on June 2, 1793, she was ordered arrested like her husband. While he manages to take refuge in Rouen, she lets herself be arrested. Released on June 24, she was again imprisoned the same day and, pending trial, wrote to the Conciergerie Briefs which constitute an exceptional testimony to the history of the Gironde as well as to his personal involvement in politics. Tried on November 8, 1793 for having participated in the conspiracy against the Republic, Madame Roland was condemned to death and executed the same evening on the scaffold.


The political role of women during the Revolution

Already begun in the summer of 1792, with the establishment of the first phase of the Terror, the fall of the salons was definitively confirmed with the trial of Madame Roland. Educated and aware of her intellectual superiority, from her living room in rue Guénégaud, she played an inspiring role with leading circles, on the borderline between private and public, following a tradition of the 18th century.e century. She wanted to put her knowledge and her ideas at the service of the Republic, without claiming a leading political role for women: influenced by Rousseauist ideas, she felt that they should remain in their place within the sphere. private and thereby contribute to the happiness of society, rather than being openly involved in politics. These moderate positions were not shared by all, and other more radical figures, such as Condorcet or Olympe de Gouges, demanded the recognition of the natural rights of women and their equality with men. However, if the Revolution granted women certain civil rights such as inheritance equality and divorce and encouraged their education, it completely excluded them from political life, banning all women's clubs in the fall of 1793. Intended to put women "in their place", this measure represents a step backwards from the Ancien Régime where women, for example, had the right to exercise the regency.

  • women
  • revolutionary figures
  • portrait
  • Rousseau (Jean-Jacques)
  • Gouges (Olympe de)
  • Girondins
  • French Revolution
  • Lights
  • Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, said)
  • Lyon
  • Robespierre (Maximilian of)
  • Pétion de Villeneuve (Jérôme)
  • Desmoulins (Camille)
  • living room
  • Montesquieu (Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède and)


Pierre CORNUT-GENTILLE, Madame Roland: a woman in politics during the Revolution, Paris, Perrin, 2004. Marie-Paule DUHET, Women and the Revolution, 1789-1794, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Archives", 1979. Antoine LILTI, The World of Trade Shows. Sociability and worldliness in Paris in the 18th century, Paris, Fayard, 2005.Claude PERROUD, Letters from Madame Roland, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1900-1915.Jeanne-Marie ROLAND DE LA PLATIÈRE, Briefs, ed. C. Perroud and P. de Roux, Paris, Mercure de France, new. ed., 1986. Jean-René SURATTEAU and François GENDRON, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, P.U.F., 1989. Jean TULARD, Jean-François FAYARD and Alfred FIERRO, History and dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Laffont, 1987.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Madame Roland and the political commitment of women under the Revolution"

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