Monod, Sarah (1836–1912)

views updated

Monod, Sarah (1836–1912)

French philanthropist and feminist. Pronunciation: mo-NO. Born in 1836; died in 1912; daughter of a pastor.

Sarah Monod, daughter of a celebrated pastor, was a member of one of the most prominent Protestant families in France. She became a field-hospital nurse during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), was long the editor of La Femme (1878—), and was a leading participant in many philanthropic enterprises and social causes, from promoting world peace and public health to combating juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, pornography, and prostitution. In June 1891, she founded the Versailles Conferences, which annually brought together leaders of Protestant women's charitable organizations. Encouraged by a visit by May Wright Sewall , founder of the International Council of Women, these women gradually began to take an interest in the movement for women's rights.

Always garbed like a Quaker matron, with black bonnet and full round skirt, Monod was the soul of dignity and moderation, saying that "the best feminism should be the most feminine." She participated in the French feminist congress of 1889 and was an early member of Jeanne Schmahl 's L'Avant-courrière (The Advance Messenger, 1893), which advocated achieving specific, practicable reforms, beginning with the right of women to control their own income and to bear legal witness to public and private acts. At the Paris Exposition of 1900, Monod presided over the Second Congress of Feminine Works and Institutions (June 18–27), for which the Versailles Conference had taken the initiative. Some 230 reports were heard and discussed in a calm and orderly atmosphere. From a fusion of this meeting and the elements of the International Congress on the Conditions and Rights of Women held three months later, the National Council of French Women (CNFF), an umbrella federation of many kinds of women's organizations, was born on April 18, 1901. The founding of the CNFF was the earliest sign that French feminism might become a mass movement. Rather apolitical at first, it soon became active in the cause of women's suffrage. Monod was the CNFF's first president. Julie Puaux (Mme Jules) Siegfried , with whom she had helped to save Jane Misme 's La Française in 1911, succeeded her in 1912. From an initial membership of 21,000, the CNFF had grown to around 100,000.

Sarah Monod combined great moral authority with superior organizational abilities. Perhaps no other woman of her time in France could have brought together such a wide variety of women's organizations under one tent. As important as women's rights were to her, however, she regarded them as only a part, albeit a vital one, of the larger struggle for the social and moral regeneration of France and the world at large.


Duby, Georges, and Michelle Perrot, directeurs. Histoire des femmes en Occident. Vol. 4: Le XIXesiècle. Paris: Plon, 1991.

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

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.

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

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

More From