Ernestine Rose Society

Letter from Imprisoned French Feminists

Dear Sisters:

Your courageous declaration of Woman's Rights has resounded even to our prison, and has filled our souls with inexpressible joy.

In France the reaction has suppressed the cry of liberty of the women of the future. Deprived like their brothers of the Democracy, of the right to civil and political equality…

They wish the women of France to found a hospitable tribunal, which shall receive the cry of the oppressed and suffering, and vindicate in the name of humanity, solidarity, the social right for both sexes equally; and where woman, the mother of humanity, may claim in the name of her children, mutilated by tyranny, her right to true liberty…

The darkness of reaction has obscured the sun of 1848, which seemed to rise so radiantly. Why? Because the revolutionary tempest, in overturning at the same time the throne and the scaffold, in breaking the chain of the black slave, forgot to break the chain of the most oppressed of all the pariahs of humanity.

"There shall be no more slaves," said our brethren. "We proclaim universal suffrage. All shall have the right to elect the agents who shall carry out the Constitution which should be based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Let each one come and deposit his vote; the barrier of privilege is overturned; before the electoral urn there are no more oppressed, no more masters and slaves."

Woman… rises and approaches the liberating urn to exercise her right of suffrage as a member of society. But the barrier of privilege also rises before her…

The Assembly kept silence in regard to the right of one-half of humanity, for which only one of its members raised his voice, but in vain. No mention was made of the right of woman in a Constitution framed in the name of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

It is in the name of these principles that woman comes to claim her right to take part in the Legislative Assembly, and to help to form the laws which must govern society, of which she is a member…

The delegates of a hundred and four associations, united, without distinction of sex, elected two women, with several of their brethren, to participate equally with them in the administration of the interests of labor, and in the organization of the work of solidarity… In this organization all the workers without distinction of sex or profession, having an equal right to election, and being eligible for all functions, and all having equally the initiative and the sovereign decision in the acts of common interests, they laid the foundation of a new society based on liberty, equality and fraternity.

It is in the name of law framed by man only — by those elected by privilege — that the Old World, wishing to stifle in the germ the holy work of pacific enfranchisement, has shut up within the walls of a prison those who had founded it — those elected by the laborers.

But… a grand act has been accomplished. The right of woman has been recognized by the laborers…to accomplish the mission of enfranchisement… (And the women so elected) having shared their rights and duties, ... share today their captivity.

It is from the depths of their prison that they address to you the relation of these facts which contain in themselves high instruction. It is by labor, it is by entering resolutely into the ranks of the working people, that women will conquer the civil and political equality of which depends the happiness of the world…

Sisters of America! Your socialist sisters of France are united with you in the vindication of the right of woman to civil and political equality. We have moreover the profound conviction that only by the power of association based on solidarity — by the union of the working classes of both sexes to organize labor — can be acquired, completely and pacifically the civil and political equality of woman, and the social right for all.

It is in this confidence that, from the depth of the jail which still imprisons our bodies without reaching our hearts, we cry to you. Faith, Love, Hope and send to you our sisterly salutations.
Jeanne Deroin, Pauline Roland, Paris, Prison of St. Lazare, June 15, 1851 (quoted in Stanton, Anthony & Gage, "History of Woman Suffrage," v. 1, pp. 234-237.)