Durand, Marguerite

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DURAND, MARGUERITE (1864–1936), leading French feminist and "new woman" of the belle epoque era.

Born the illegitimate daughter of a royalist general, Marguerite Durand was raised in a respectable bourgeois family by her grandparents and convent-educated. Rebelling against her background, however, she went off to study acting at the Conservatoire and in no time achieved fame as a star actress at the Comédie Française. In 1885 she quit the stage to marry the Radical deputy George Laguerre, an ally of Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) and an ardent supporter of the populist General Georges-Ernest-Jean-Marie Boulanger (1837–1891). Durand shared her husband's enthusiasm for Boulanger and served to publicize his cause in Laguerre's newspaper La Presse as well as exploiting her talents as a salon hostess to win over support. She divorced Laguerre after Boulangism collapsed in 1889, but remained in journalism, joining the staff of Le Figaro and becoming the lover of its editor, Antonin Périvier (1847–1924), by whom she had a son.

Following her conversion to feminism in 1896, she founded a daily newspaper, modeled on the heavyweight bourgeois press, which would be written and produced entirely by women. The result was La Fronde, launched in 1897, which though neither exclusively devoted to feminism nor aligned with any particular feminist group provided a platform for the burgeoning feminist cause. For several years, with a heightened feminist accent after 1900, Durand turned out a product of remarkably high quality and numbered among her collaborators some of the greatest female talents of the day, including Clémence Royer (1830–1902), the translator of Darwin; Séverine (1855–1929), the combative reporter who covered the Dreyfus affair; Jeanne Chauvin (1862–1926), a pioneering female barrister; and the children's education expert Pauline Kergomard (1838–1925). The paper always struggled financially, however, and eventually folded in 1905.

Despite the immense boost that La Fronde gave to the feminist cause, Durand remained an isolated and controversial figure in the movement on account of her mondaine lifestyle and reputed sexual liaisons. She herself liked to claim that "feminism owes a great deal to my blonde hair," by which she meant that not only was her stunning personal beauty a refutation of the stock anti-feminist charge that feminists were ugly harridans with a grudge against men but that in addition she was able to use her charms to influence the attitudes of her male lovers (who included the leading politician René Viviani [1863–1925]) and even to get them to contribute to the feminist coffers. Other feminist leaders were scandalized by her allure of the demimonde and thought of her as little more than a courtesan. The militant suffragette Hubertine Auclert (1848–1914) called her a "cocotte" and also took issue with Durand's initial lack of enthusiasm for female suffrage based on her belief, widely entertained and propagated by her male friends in the Radical-Socialist party, that women in France were still too subject to clerical influence to be entrusted with the right to vote.

Nor was Durand popular with the world of the French labor movement. Although initially dismissed as an irrelevance by male trade unionists, feminism posed issues with which they were forced to grapple. Because of Durand's all-women policy for the production of La Fronde, she founded a female printers' union that was refused recognition by the militantly masculinist Fédération du Livre. In 1901, during a printers' strike at Nancy, Durand volunteered twelve of her women workers as scab labor. The problem of women's work was one in which Durand maintained a passionate interest, and in 1907 she organized a conference to lobby the Ministry of Public Works to set up a special department to tackle gender-specific issues in the workplace. In 1912, Durand championed Emma Couriau, who was refused admission to the printers' union at Lyon, and her husband Louis, who was expelled from the union for failing to use his marital authority to make his wife give up her job.

By 1910, like other moderate republican feminists, Durand had become convinced of the necessity of creating the female citizen and advocated the right of women not only to vote but also to stand as candidates. In the parliamentary elections of 1910, she and three other women presented themselves as candidates in Parisian constituencies, and although all polled badly their campaign helped to raise the profile of the women's movement still further. The vote remained the focus of Durand's feminist endeavors in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, when she became a member of the Ligue Nationale pour le Vote des Femmes, a new and more militant suffrage group.

Like most bourgeois feminists, Durand placed patriotism ahead of feminism in wartime and briefly revived La Fronde as a means of doing something for the war effort. The attempt lasted only a few weeks, however, and a later postwar relaunch of La Fronde in 1926 with a number of her old collaborators such as Séverine and the novelist Marcelle Tinayre (1872–1948)—as well as some new, male staff—likewise quickly foundered. Durand's heyday was the belle epoque, but perhaps her most durable legacy is her archives and papers, donated to the Municipality of Paris and preserved in the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand.

See alsoAuclert, Hubertine; Boulanger Affair; Feminism; Suffragism.


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'Égalité en marche: Le féminisme sous la Troisiènne République. Paris, 1989.

McMillan, James F. France and Women, 1789–1914: Gender, Society, and Politics. London, 2000.

Roberts, Mary Louise. Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Sieécle France. Chicago, 2002.

James F. McMillan

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