Deroin, Jeanne

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DEROIN, JEANNE (1805–1894), French feminist socialist.

Jeanne Deroin was a French feminist socialist who in 1848 became the first to demand votes for women. A virtually self-educated needleworker, she was introduced to the Saint-Simonians in 1831. Deroin applauded their mission to liberate women and workers, but deplored their leader's doctrine of free love as likely to enslave, rather than free, women. She joined a small group of former Saint-Simonian working women in running a women's newspaper, Femme libre (1832–1834). One of her contributions, "The Woman of the Future," hoped "The time is arrived when woman shall find her place, her acknowledged, her useful and dignified place upon [earth]. … This … we can effect, both on condition of forming ourselves into one solid union. Let us no longer form two camps—that of the women of the people, and that of the women of the privileged class. …" The Owenite Anna Wheeler translated and published the article in 1833 in the Owenite paper, The Crisis. Subsequently in the years to 1848 Deroin focused on rearing her three children, one of whom was severely handicapped with hydrocephalus, and helping take care of fellow feminist Flora Tristan's family when Tristan died in 1844. With the help of her local priest, Deroin gained the brévet to qualify as a primary school teacher and ran a tiny school for daughters of workers.

In March 1848 Deroin joined other former Saint-Simonian women, including Eugénie Niboyet (1797–1883) and Pauline Roland (1805–1852), to publish La voix des femmes, a newspaper and a club for women. They argued as earlier for fairer wages and better education for women, nurseries and workers' associations, and the restoration of the divorce law, which had been abolished in 1816.

In addition, given that the republicans introduced universal male suffrage, Deroin took the lead in demanding votes for women. When their club and paper were forced to close in the repression that followed the June Days (a revolt by workers in Paris), she edited the short-lived Politique des femmes (August 1848), followed by L'opinion des femmes (1848–1849). This was forced to close in August 1849, when the government raised the caution money (a fee paid by newspapers to the French government). Deroin tried to stand as a candidate in the Parisian artisan district of Saint-Antoine in the legislative elections in 1849. Radical socialist voters listened to her and fifteen voted for her. The Times of London reported this with some enthusiasm for both her speech and her candidature. However the Fourierists' leader, Victor Considérant (1808–1893), was one of few socialists who supported her. The French novelist George Sand (Amandine Dudevant; 1804–1876) commented that it was too soon to give women the vote.

Deroin and Roland made valiant efforts to organize associations of workers, both for teachers and needleworkers. Their most ambitious project was an association of associations that linked together over a hundred mutual aid groups. However, after the June Days the right of association was regarded as a dangerous threat by the increasingly conservative government of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III, r. 1852–1871). In May 1850 the association's offices were closed down and its officers tried and imprisoned. In 1851 Deroin was jailed for six months, struggling abortively to defend the individual's right to petition the parliament while herself in prison. On her release, Deroin was constantly aware of the threat of rearrest, and this persuaded her to flee into exile with her children in 1852. Her husband died of typhoid fever before he could join them.

Deroin spent the rest of her life in Shepherd's Bush, west London. Fellow exiles helped her find work as an embroiderer. She ran a small girls' school, but this foundered because she charged such low fees. Deroin edited three almanacs for women, one of which was published in English. She continued to demand women's rights to equality. Women, she argued, had a particular spiritual role, both as mothers and in mutual aid groups. Deroin kept in touch with Léon Richer (1824–1911), a feminist activist for the revision of the Civil Code in France. Later she corresponded with the much younger feminist, Hubertine Auclert (1848–1914).

Deroin struggled to provide for her family and could never afford subscriptions to radical French papers. When the Third Republic was established, former exiles organized a small pension for her. In her eighties, she joined William Morris's Socialist League. Morris lived not far from her and gave the oration at her funeral.

Jeanne Deroin was a passionate feminist socialist, who expressed her ideas in an uncompromising, somewhat abrasive fashion. Léon Richer said that when Deroin spoke at a meeting, one could imagine that she was waving a rifle. In fact her socialism was never revolutionary, and her admiration for what she came to describe as "social solidarity" became increasingly spiritual.

See alsoAuclert, Hubertine; Feminism; Richer, Léon; Roland, Pauline; Suffragism; Tristan, Flora.


Gordon, Felicia, and Máire Cross. Early French Feminisms, 1830–1940. Brookfield, Vt., 1996.

Pilbeam, Pamela. French Socialists before Marx: Workers, Women, and the Social Question in France. Teddington, U.K., 2000.

——. "Jeanne Deroin: Feminist, Socialist Exile." In Exiles from European Revolutions: Refugees in Mid-Victorian England, edited by Sabine Freitag, 275–294. New York, 2003.

Pamela Pilbeam