Section A: Plan of the Investigation
Throughout history, women are often included as a side note to occurrences of their ages, most often seen as small and unimportant among patriarchs. Despite this shortcoming in historical documentations, some events do look more closely through the eyes of women. The French Revolution of the eighteenth century is one of these events. This investigation will be exploring the French Revolution, and asking: to what extent did women make an impact? In Thomas Streissguth’s book, Women of the French Revolution, he highlights several women of France, while also analyzing their contribution to the course of the revolution. With his book as a major source, the investigation will explore the topics of women’s riots and salons, individual women, and women as a whole.
Section B: Summary of Evidence
In the summer of 1788, France was on the brink of revolution. Thousands were starving and peasant revolts were popping up all over the country. At this time, French government and society was in a period called the “Old Regime,” where mobility between classes was nearly unheard of. A person born into aristocracy was lucky, while one born into poverty would most likely struggle for their entire life. Women’s roles were “strictly defined,” no matter what class they were a part of (Streissguth 6). Before the revolution, most women did not question where their place was: in the home. It was very rare for a woman to work outside the domestic sphere, because they did not have as much freedom as men, even men in the lower class. In May of 1789, France had fallen into deep economic turmoil and public unrest was high, forcing the king to call the Estates General. The Estates General, according to Thomas Streissguth and other historians, was a representation of three estates. The First Estate was the clergy or the Church legislature, the Second Estate was the nobility, and the Third Estate was everyone else, mostly the lower middle class. These groups gave the people a chance to have their say in government (Streissguth 8). The Third Estate, however, was sorely underrepresented. To demand reform from this neglect in government, they proceeded to remove themselves from the Estates General and form a new group called the National Assembly, which promised a new constitution for the people. A few months later, shortly after King Louis XVI fired his minister of finance, Jacques Necker, the people were even more determined to free themselves from the economic downturn. On July 14, 1789, thousands of people attacked the Bastille, a royal prison that was “symbol of tyranny that towered above a working-class neighborhood” (Streissguth 11). With its armories emptied and prisoners set free, the Bastille was now a symbol of the French people’s rebellion against their unfair government. As tensions grew to their climax, women started to break free from their generally accepted roles, and stepped into leadership positions.
One of the...