villersWhile looking up the history of women’s rights in France in order to get a sense of context for Marie-Denise Villers’ Portrait of a Woman  1801, (French, 1774–1821)  I found a write up about a French Philosopher who was at first a mathematician and later a champion of Social Issues/Justice.  Apparently, though the French Revolution did give all men the right to vote, it  specifically excluded women from that right. 


Check out this write up from the Stanford Encyclopedia.



The History of Feminism: Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet

First published Tue Mar 10, 2009; substantive revision Fri Nov 12, 2010

 Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (September 17, 1743 €- March 28, 1794) is most often referred to as one of the last philosophes or as an early champion of social science.[1] An inspired proponent of human rights, Condorcet moved from his first achievements in mathematics into public service, with the aim of applying to social and political affairs a scientific model that he termed a  €”social arithmetic.”  Through educational and constitutional reforms, he hoped to create a liberal, rational and democratic polity. He advocated for the social utility of statistics and probability theory, and he applied mathematical calculations to fiscal crises, the reform of hospital care, jury decision-making and voting procedures. He is best remembered as the author of the posthumously published final work Esquisse d'un tableau historique de l'esprit humain [Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Human Mind] (1794), in which he diagnosed the stages of human progress, including what was yet to come. However, far less well known is Condorcet's extraordinary advocacy of the rights of  women.[2] In this regard, he was exceptional even for an enlightened thinker.[3]

 What Condorcet termed, in a 1790 essay by that name,  €the admission of women to the rights of citizenship € was widely opposed on the grounds that women possessed distinctive natures, which perfectly suited them to the fulfillment of their domestic duties.[4] Women were deemed unqualified for the realm of public affairs because of their alleged greater susceptibility to sensations, flawed rationality, and weaker sense of justice. Women did not get the vote during the French Revolution, but they did benefit from many of the changes that occurred in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and the legal status of unwed mothers and their children. However, they ultimately suffered setbacks as many of these reforms were withdrawn or curtailed during Napoleon's reign. (On the revolutionary record, see Desan 2004; Traer 1980; Heuer 2005; Fraisse 1994); Landes 1988, 1996; Hufton 1999; Hunt 1992; Scott 1996; and Verjus 2002.) A further consequence of the Revolution is that, for the first time, sex was introduced as a constitutional condition for the possession of political rights, even as rights were proclaimed to be universal and inalienable. In contrast to such hypocrisy, Condorcet affirmed woman's equal humanity on the grounds of reason and justice.   While never entirely dismissing the influential case for women's difference, Condorcet refused to accept this as an impediment to their equal enjoyment of civil and political rights. He attributed women's limitations, to the extent they existed, not to their sex but rather to their inferior education and circumstances. Appreciating the risks he faced in rebutting one of the age's most deeply held prejudices, he begged for the opportunity to engage in reasoned dialogue  with his opponents:  €”I hope that anyone who attacks my arguments will do so without using ridicule or declamation, and above all, that someone will show me a natural difference between men and women on which the exclusion could legitimately be based” € (Condorcet 1790, in McLean and Hewitt 1994, 338-339).

Condorcet, J.-A.-N., 1790, On giving Women the Right of Citizenship (1790)€ in Condorcet: Foundations of Social Choice and Political Theory, I. McLean and F. Hewitt (trans. and eds.), Aldershot, England and Brookfield, Vermont: Edward Elgar, 1994, pp. 335-340.

Notes on Women's Rights

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