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DERAISMES, MARIA

DERAISMES, MARIA (1828–1894), French feminist.

Maria Deraismes deployed an excellent education, wealth inherited from her liberal republican father, formidable speaking and writing talent, and organizational skills to become one of the most influential women in nineteenth-century France. Fully engaged in the struggles that engulfed the Second Empire (1852–1870) and the early Third Republic (1870–1940), Deraismes devoted her life to causes such as liberal republicanism, freethinking, and women's rights.

As a political activist determined to advance the ideals of liberal republicanism as well as the careers of individual politicians, Deraismes hosted a republican salon in Paris, authored republican tracts such as France et progrés (1873), and, in the early 1880s, published the journal Le Républicain de Seine-et-Oise. These efforts proved effective when her home department of Seine-et-Oise elected its first republican deputy during the Seize Mai crisis of 1877, followed by the victory of a full slate of handpicked republican candidates in 1885. Four years later, Deraismes transformed her salon on the rue Cardinet into a republican command post to help thwart the prospective coup d'état of General Georges-Ernest-Jean-Marie Boulanger (1837–1891).

Deraismes's commitment to freethinking reflected her conviction that the Roman Catholic Church represented a threat to both republicanism and feminism. Again, her activism took the form of writing tracts, such as her Lettre au clergéfrançais (1879), and organizing like-minded partisans. In 1881 she served as vice-president of France's first Congrés anticlerical, and in 1885 she assumed the presidency of the Feèdeèration des groupes de la libre pensèe de Seine-et-Oise. She also fought to secure women's equality within the ranks of French Freemasonry, a bulwark of republicanism and anticlericalism. Expelled in 1882 from a local lodge, she joined in 1893 with Senator Georges Martin (1845–1916) to found the Grande Loge symbolique ècossais de France: Le Droit Humain, which extended membership to women and men as equals.

Deraismes's campaign for women's rights began in the last years of the Second French Empire when she lent backing in 1869 to Léon Richer's journal Le Droit des Femmes (1869–1891), and then, a year later, joined him in founding the Sociétépour l'amélioration du sort de la femme. In 1878, she and Richer hosted the first French Congrès international du droit des femmes, a collaboration they repeated in 1889 with the second Congrès français et international du droit des femmes. Deraismes's feminism helped to produce such practical reforms as greater educational opportunities for women, the reenactment in 1884 of a law permitting divorce, and the right of businesswomen to vote for judges of Commerce Tribunals. Her feminist writings included Eve contre Dumas fils (1872) and Eve dans l'humanité (1891).

Like the majority of her contemporary liberal French feminists, Deraismes subscribed to thepolitique de la brèche, a strategy that called for the piecemeal "breaching" of the wall of masculine privilege and domination. This strategy placed Deraismes in opposition to the other wing of the emerging liberal French feminist movement, the wing led by suffragist Hubertine Auclert (1848–1914) and marked by the politique de l'assaut, a strategy that called for "assaulting" the wall all at once through securing women's right to vote. The "breach" strategy enabled Deraismes to present herself as a moderate and to pursue specific reforms of benefit to women, but it also left her awkwardly dependent on republicans, whose fear of clerical conservatism and the "priest-ridden" minds of women resulted in women remaining without the right to vote until the end of World War II. Deraismes also found herself awkwardly at odds with other feminists and reformers on the issue of protective legislation for women, opposing it as a violation of the liberal commitment to the ideal of equal rights for women—and men—as individuals.

Other causes to which Deraismes lent her influence included support in France for the crusade against legal prostitution led by Josephine Butler (1828–1906), an English woman; condemnation of decadent novelists, such as Émile Zola (1840–1902); and concern for the mistreatment of animals, especially the practice of vivisection. Critics abounded during Deraismes's lifetime. Some Freemasons viewed her as a "kind of monster." Workers resented her class background; the bourgeoisie scoffed at her passion for women's emancipation. Other feminists complained that she had not only tried to impose her personal stamp on the movement but had also confused women's rights with anticlericalism and liberal republicanism. Shortly after her death, the Paris municipal council renamed a street in her honor, and in 1898 her friends erected a statue to her in the Square des Epinettes. Only the pedestal remains today.

See alsoAuclert, Hubertine; Butler, Josephine; Feminism; Richer, Léon; Suffragism.

bibliography

Bidelman, Patrick Kay. Pariahs Stand Up! The Founding of the Liberal Feminist Movement in France, 1858–1889. Westport, Conn., 1982.

Hause, Steven C., with Anne R. Kenney. Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third Republic. Princeton, N.J., 1984.

Klejman, Laurence, and Florence Rochefort. L'Égalitèen marche: le féminisme sous la Troisiènne République. Paris, 1989.

Krakovitch, Odile. Maria Deraismes. Paris, 1980.

Patrick Kay Bidelman

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