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Durand, Marguerite (1864–1936)

Durand, Marguerite (1864–1936)

French actress and feminist journalist. Pronunciation: mar-GREET dew-RAWN. Born Marguerite-Charlotte Durand de Valfère in Paris, France, on January 24, 1864; died in Paris on March 16, 1936; daughter of Anna-Alexandrine-Caroline Durand de Valfère and General Alfred Boucher or possibly Auguste Clésinger; married Georges Laguerre, in 1888 (divorced 1895); children: (with Antonin Périvier) son, Jacques Périvier (b. 1896).

Marguerite Durand and her half-brother Charles (d. 1909) were born out of wedlock to Anna-Alexandrine-Caroline Durand de Valfère . Anna had been born to a comfortable and cultivated family in Frankfurt-am-Main; her father, Charles Durand de Valfère, was a friend of, and attorney for, Benjamin Constant. Anna's mother was Octavie Bouquié , a reader for the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia at the Imperial Court in St. Petersburg, where Anna was raised.

Marguerite's father was a Royalist colonel in the French army, Alfred Boucher (d. 1885), who fought in the African, Crimean, Italian, and Mexican campaigns and was promoted to general and Officer in the Legion of Honor. For unknown reasons, Boucher did not marry Anna; but he treated Marguerite as his daughter, and she kept up relations with him and his family. Nevertheless, the sculptor Auguste Clésinger (1814–1883) has sometimes been regarded as her father, for he lived with Anna for a long time, was a witness at Marguerite's birth declaration, and "married" Anna in church, a marriage annulled because he had been married to and separated from Solange , the daughter of George Sand ; divorce was not legal at that time.

Little is known of Marguerite's childhood and youth. For whatever reasons, her mother found herself obliged to raise her two children alone, and it was a hard struggle. She supported herself, apparently, by writing under pseudonyms, notably for newspapers. She also wrote a book (unpublished) on the diplomat Viel-Castel and a dictionary of famous women, which was incomplete when she died in 1911. Marguerite received a strict Catholic upbringing and was educated in the convent school of the Dames Trinitaires in Paris. Possibly in an act of rebellion, in 1879 she joined Professor Regnier's class at the Conservatory of Dramatic Art. She flourished there, winning the first honorable mention (accessit) on July 28, 1880, and the first prize for comedy on July 27, 1881. On September 1, 1881, she joined the Comédie-Française. She debuted as Marcelle in Demi-Monde (Dumas fils), on January 21, 1882, and for several years enjoyed a sparkling reputation in plays such as Les Femmes Savantes and L'Avare (Molière), Le Mariage de Figaro (Beaumarchais) and Les Honnêtes femmes (Becque).

In 1886, however, she suddenly left the stage to marry Georges Laguerre (1858–1912), a rapidly rising lawyer-politician (a deputy in Parliament since 1883) who had won a reputation defending social revolutionaries, including Blanquist demonstrators, Prince Kropotkin, and Louise Michel , and was close to the Radical leader Georges Clemenceau. In 1887, Laguerre became a leader of the Republican Committee of National Protest supporting General Georges Boulanger's political ambitions after he had been dropped as minister of war. "If Boulangism had its birth anywhere," wrote Maurice Barrès, "it was in the home of Laguerre." Marguerite, dubbed "the Madame Roland of Boulangism," played host and was an animating force behind Laguerre's Boulangist tabloid, La Presse, where she first came in contact with the world of journalism. Apparently she acquired doubts about the role of royalist money and bribery in the movement, for she was known as a staunch Republican afterward. In any case, she never spoke or wrote about the Boulangist triumph and crash (1888–91), and in 1891 she separated from Laguerre; they divorced in 1895 but remained on friendly terms. Laguerre's career plummeted. At his death in 1912, she took care of his sickly orphaned daughter (by a second marriage), Georgette Laguerre , but was finally forced to put her in a sanitarium.

The year she left Laguerre, Durand joined the prestigious Le Figaro, writing a woman-about-town column on fashions, trends, and political gossip. Antonin Périvier, the literary director, had hired her, and in time (August 14, 1896) she gave birth to their son, Jacques, of whom little is known save that he was always in poor health. Périvier, a married man, recognized but did not support Jacques; he did, however, retain Durand as a columnist.

In 1896, she was sent to cover the Fourth French International Feminist Congress (April 8–12). Durand went merely looking for a good story but came away converted to the feminist cause by Marie Pognon and the intelligent, dedicated women she found in attendance. She then set about to launch a major, unique enterprise: a daily newspaper written, administered, and printed entirely by women. La Fronde—named for the sling David used to kill Goliath and for a 17th-century insurrection—appeared on December 9, 1897, with an initial run of 200,000 copies. It lasted until March 16, 1905, having become a monthly supplement to L'Action in September 1903. Durand recruited her close friend Séverine (Caroline Rémy), the only top-flight woman journalist in France, and mobilized a large galaxy of collaborators and contributors, including Pognon, Jane Misme, Jeanne Schmahl, Hubertine Auclert, Clémence Royer, Nelly Roussel, Marie Bonneviale, Aline Valette, Eliska Vincent, Jeanne Brémontier , Daniel Lesueur (Jeanne Loiseau Lapauze ), Judith Claudel, Pauline Kergomard, Hélène Sée, Dorothea Klumpke, Clotilde Dessard, Mary Léopold Lacour, Louise Debor, Marie-Louise Néron, Odette Laguerre, Myriam Harry, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Marcelle Tinayre , Camille Bélilon (Ernestine Tournemine ), Harlor (Thérèse Hammer), Marie Maugerat, Isabelle Bogelot, Marie Martin, Maria Vérone, Mathilde Méliot , and Avril de Saint-Croix .

La Fronde was a first-class operation, the clerical staff neatly turned out in velvet, white-cuffed dresses and set up in a fine mansion on the rue Saint-Georges. Not surprisingly, finances were strained from the start. The subscription list settled at about 12,000 in its best years—mainly "female intellectuals," Durand admitted—a decent showing but insufficient for the scale of the operation. Where and how Durand obtained money for the paper—and, indeed, for her fairly lavish lifestyle—has never been altogether clear. She had many friends in high places (more than just friends, rumor said), including Alphonse and Gustave Rothschild and even Kaiser Wilhelm II; René Viviani, a wealthy lawyer, sometime minister, and premier (1914–15), almost certainly was a major benefactor. Many years later, however, Durand wrote to Jane Misme that she had started the paper solely from her own sources, e.g., selling her pearls one by one. She said she provided (at considerable trouble) a daily review of the world press to an "important Parisian personality" for a thousand francs per day, but she denied ever having had a patron (commanditaire) or accepting aid from anyone whomsoever. Rumors that the "Jewish syndicate" had bankrolled her to support the case in favor of Captain Dreyfus, for example, were utterly false.

La Fronde was not a paper devoted solely to women's interests but rather a comprehensive newspaper with numerous rubrics and features—"Le Temps in petticoats," as a snide witticism put it. This involved, for example, winning for female reporters the right to enter hitherto exclusively male domains such as the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, the Paris Municipal Council, the Bourse, and the Association of Parliamentary Journalists. Durand herself was the first woman admitted to the Union of Newspaper Directors. By its very existence as well as its content, La Fronde endeavored to popularize a new image of women as being fit to engage in every sphere of public and private life—active, financially independent, cultivated, sporting; and it even ran a women's employment office. At the same time, it also projected a new image of feminism, not as seeking to ape men's dress and manner, as the public so often perceived its adherents as doing, but instead as thoroughly feminine, "feminism in lace." The paper aimed to rise above party and faction, giving voice to various shades of opinion, while, however, firmly defending the Republic. With regard to feminism, for example, it carried writings by women ranging from the socialist left to the Roman Catholic right. La Fronde was, nevertheless, one of the first and most consistent upholders of the right of Captain Alfred Dreyfus to receive a fair trial on his treason charge. In the heat of the Dreyfus Affair battles (1897–1900), the paper became more leftish and stridently anticlerical (not just laic), was accordingly the target of much anti-Dreyfusard abuse, and saw its circulation suffer.

In the domain of women's issues, La Fronde regularly campaigned for abolition of the Napoleonic Code's strictures making women perpetual minors before the law. It fought for equal wages for men and women, opening of all the professions and the School of Fine Arts to women, equal consideration of women for the Legion of Honor, abolition of legalized prostitution, passage of a seat law for salesclerks, and ending of the exploitation of orphans by charitable or religious institutions. It also promoted the "science of motherhood" (puériculture), which trod on sensitive ground because of the connection between sex education and contraception. Likewise, its advocacies of a "right to die" and of the international peace movement (hence friendliness with Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany) touched issues that alienated many would-be subscribers.

By 1903, La Fronde was facing financial ruin. Durand, for reasons she never made clear, answered a plea from a failing paper, Henri Bérenger and Victor Charbonnel's rabidly anti-clerical L'Action, to merge resources. La Fronde would continue, after September 1, as a monthly supplement. The doomed marriage of two ailing papers lasted until March 1, 1905. Durand later expressed regret that she had agreed to the merger. Her wry verdict on La Fronde's eventual failure was that it was judged "too bourgeois by the socialists, too serious by the Parisians, and too Parisian by the provinces."

Founding and running La Fronde brought Durand into contact with the issue of women workers and unions. Laws "protecting" women by forbidding night work made it illegal for a morning paper like La Fronde to employ women typesetters. While litigating the question, and having received no support from the Federation of Book Workers which opposed admission of women printers, she founded a Union of Women Printers, which was admitted to the Labor Exchange on February 3, 1900, and the Women Printers' Cooperative Society (November 22, 1900), the first women's cooperative in France. The following year, she became heavily involved in the strike of the Berger-Levrault printing firm in Nancy when she allowed eight typesetters from La Fronde to offer to replace strikers. Berger-Levrault had previously shown sympathy to the women's movement and had refused to fire female typesetters at the Federation's demand. The infuriated Federation got the Labor Exchange to expel the Union of Women Printers on January 7, 1902, but Durand contested the action and ultimately won reinstatement by the courts in 1905. It proved to be a Pyrrhic victory, for it only fed a long-standing hostility of the French labor movement toward union memberships for women. The issue came to a head in the Couriau Affair of 1913; once again the Federation of Book Workers was at the center, and Durand—now co-director of Les Nouvelles—was prominent in the dispute as a journalist.

In the meantime, Durand also organized unions of flower-makers and feather sellers, stenographer-typists, cashier-bookkeepers, and midwives. In 1900, in conjunction with the Paris Exposition, she was secretary-general of the Fifth International Congress on the Conditions and Rights of Women (September 5–8) and headed the section on legislative questions. The Congress was highly successful in drawing official and international support but failed to attract many working women delegates. In 1907, with Viviani as minister of labor, she was named president of the new Office of Women's Work and convened a Congress of Women's Work (March 25–28), but the result was analogous to 1900; the few representatives of working women were put in the shade by a bejewelled and begowned Marguerite Durand and her bourgeois supporters. The General Labor Confederation (CGT) denounced her and the whole affair, and the Office itself soon became ephemeral. Undeterred, she organized with Jeanne Oddo-Deflou and Eliska Vincent the National Congress on the Rights and Suffrage of Women (June 26–28, 1908) and presided over the sessions on labor issues.

In 1908, Durand joined Jacques Stern and William Tournier as a co-director of Les Nouvelloes.

Not a feminist paper per se and tending not to take pronounced stands, it offered concise news in two daily editions but ceased publication at the outbreak of the World War (1914–18). Meanwhile, in 1910, Durand ran (illegally, of course) in Paris IX for Parliament, getting 403 write-in votes. Her platform featured women's rights and equal pay, safety laws, the eight-hour day, but not yet votes for women. Women should be able to run for and hold office, but—ardent anticlerical that she was—she thought votes for women would only strengthen the Catholic Church's political influence and thus endanger the Republic. (La Fronde had never campaigned for women in suffrage.) Moreover, the violent tactics being used by the English suffragists, she said in 1910, "would quickly be stopped by the ridicule" if tried in France. Yet by 1914 she had given way on this point, for she was, with Séverine, a principal organizer of a street rally on July 5 honoring the 18th-century philosophe Marquis de Condorcet, an advocate of women's rights, and calling for the vote. Some 6,000 marchers participated, the largest such demonstration France had seen. Most of the public viewed it as scandalous.

Also in 1914, Durand made an ill-timed effort to revive La Fronde. It appeared as a weekly one week before the June 28 assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and when the war began in August it tried to rally women "to carry out their social duties." The German invasion led to La Fronde's closing on September 3. During the war, Durand was rather circumspect because her prewar friendship with the kaiser, visits to Germany, and the pacifist tenor of Les Nouvelles raised suspicions about her patriotism. Her only public involvement in the war effort was as a member, principal speaker, and money-raiser for the Feminine Automobile Club, which employed about 20 cars to transport wounded and convalescent soldiers. She quit the organization in 1916, however, as a result of a power struggle with the president. That same year, she also spoke out to the government about low morale among female workers in the war industries due to mistreatment by their bosses and the unions. She asked for a Women's Labor Bureau to study the situation and propose remedies, but Premier Aristide Briand resigned before he could fulfill his promise to institute the bureau. Also, in 1918 she testified in defense of a left-wing pacifist, Hélène Brion , accused of subverting the war effort.

After the war, which converted her to seeking full political, not just civil, rights for women including the suffrage, Durand played the role of grande dame of the feminist movement, speaking at banquets promoting women's rights, international disarmament, and the League of Nations. In 1922, she organized the Exposition of Celebrated Women of the Nineteenth Century, partly to raise money for a retirement home for female journalists, which became a reality in 1928 when she bought Séverine's residence at Pierrefonds (Oise), "Les Trois marches," before the latter's death there in 1929. And once again she revived La Fronde for a short run, from May 1926 to July 1928, and won a personal triumph in 1927 when she and Séverine were admitted to the sacrosanct Association of Journalists (la Maison des journalistes). The new La Fronde differed from the original because it employed many men; it was partly undertaken to prepare her candidacy for the Paris Municipal Council in 1927. Since 1914, she had evolved toward a moderate socialism and was now a member of the Republican Socialist Party. Cautiously, her platform advocated only the municipal, not a general, suffrage for women, probably to conform to the party's position. She was ruled ineligible, however, and gave her support to a Socialist candidate. In 1930, she became a member of the administrative commission of the Republican Socialist Party.

Durand's last contribution to feminism was to give to the city of Paris her extensive library of feminist documents and history. She spent her last years organizing this material in a building across the street from the Panthéon, dying there of a heart attack on March 16, 1936, while working alone on her collection. The newspapers paid little attention and, a sad irony, mostly commented on her role in the Boulanger affair.

Marguerite Durand was an original, striking, and influential figure in journalism and feminism. Elegant in attire and manner and thoroughly worldly, she helped to change some of the popular misconceptions of feminists as disheveled revolutionaries, amazons, or puritanical busybodies. Due to her stage training, she was a fine speaker with "almost a seductive quality" when before an audience. She was intensely ambitious to hold center stage and be regarded as the leader of the women's movement. Her ambition helped her achieve what she did but also not infrequently alienated people. She pioneered women's labor unions, for example, but she expected "her" unionists to take her direction and tolerate her overweening, patronizing airs while they chanted their eternal gratitude. On the other hand, she was by no means heartless. She was compassionate toward suffering, and her sympathy extended, too, to animals. One of her original ideas was a cemetery for pets. In 1899, she founded one at Asnières on an island in the Seine which still exists. (It also proved to be an important source of income for her.) Self-confident in the highest degree, she was intelligent, wonderfully courageous, and in the midst of difficulties utterly serene: "She was truly the chief," remarked Séverine once when recalling the struggles at La Fronde. Moreover, she was, wrote Léon Abensour, a fine journalist, "another Madame Roland … a natural writer."

In the end, her greatest accomplishment was, indeed, La Fronde. This enterprise, unprecedented and still unique, involved an enormous effort, and its contribution to the progress of feminism was likewise huge. Wrote Abensour, it was "through La Fronde that the country began to view feminism not as a species of literary curiosity issuing from a rebellious, whimsical writer, but under its large and human aspect." As if speaking of the effort and her own struggle, Durand wrote to Jane Misme in October 1903, "It is not really a question of women's rights; it is a question of human dignity and worth."

Her greatest permanent legacy was her library. The Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand in Paris remains the most important repository of materials on the history of the women's movement in France and is one of the most valuable collections of its kind in the world.

sources:

Abensour, Léon. Histoire générale du féminisme: Des origines à nos jours. Paris: Resources, 1921; Slatkine Reprints, 1979.

Albistur, Maïté and Daniel Armogathe. Histoire due féminisme français, du moyen âge à nos jours. Paris: Éditions des Femmes, 1977.

Colin, Madeleine. Ce n'est pas d'aujourd' hui…: Femmes, syndicats, luttes de classe. Paris: Éditions sociales, 1975.

Dictionnaire de biographie française. A. Balteau, M. Barroux, M. Prévost et al., directeurs. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1933-.

Dizier-Metz, Annie. La Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand: Histoire d'une femme, mémoire des femmes. Paris: Mairie de Paris-Agence Culturelle de Paris, 1992.

Goliber, Sue Helder. "The Life and Times of Marguerite Durand: A Study in French Feminism." Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1975.

Hause, Steven C., with Anne R. Kenney. Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third Republic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Historical Dictionary of the Third French Republic. 2 vols. Patrick H. Hutton, ed. NY: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Klejman, Laurence, and Florence Rochefort. L'Égalité en marche. Le féminisme sous la Troisième République. Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1989.

McMillan, James F. Housewife or Harlot: The Place of Women in French Society 1870–1940. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1981.

Rabaut, Jacques. Histoire des féminismes français. Paris: Stock, 1978.

Stewart, Mary Lynn. Women, Work, and the French State: Labour Protection and Social Patriarchy 1879–1919. Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989.

Sowerwine, Charles. Sisters or Citizens? Women and Socialism in France Since 1876. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

David S. Newhall , Professor Emeritus of History, Centre College; author of Clemenceau: A Life at War (Edwin Mellen Press, 1991)

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