Women in the Revolution

Women in the Revolution

  • The Departure of the Ladies of the Hall and the Women of Paris for Versailles, October 5, 1789.

    JANINET Jean-François (1752 - 1814)

  • The Women of Versailles sitting in the National Assembly among the deputies, October 5, 1789.

    JANINET Jean-François (1752 - 1814)

The Departure of the Ladies of the Hall and the Women of Paris for Versailles, October 5, 1789.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

The Women of Versailles sitting in the National Assembly among the deputies, October 5, 1789.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: March 2008

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

On July 14, 1789, the people for the first time acted on the political course of the Revolution, saving it, at least temporarily. But the storming of the Bastille did not prevent the crisis: unemployment is increasing with the emigration of aristocratic families, the Great Fear which has seized the country has paralyzed the circulation of subsistence and dried up the supply of markets. : Paris is hungry. In this context of scarcity, the rumor of an orgy organized by the King's Bodyguards in the Opera hall of the Palace of Versailles on October 1, added to the exasperation of the street: the cockade tricolor was insulted there.

Anger is a food that the hungry people do not get satisfied with: on October 5, it throws it on the road to Versailles to go there to find the king, cry out to him of its distress and ask for compensation for the outrage that has been done to him. . New that distinguishes this great day from that of July 14: the movement is given by women. A platoon of activists came out of the Halles beating the dress code; he recruited housewives and bourgeois, sometimes under threat. Arriving in the late afternoon, they entered the National Assembly, mingled with deputies and presented a petition asking for bread.

Image Analysis

In the Departure of the Ladies of the Hall, the central motif recalls that the female procession, escorted by a few national guards, seized the cannons of the Châtelet before taking the road to Versailles; the earthy posture of a citizen riding a piece of artillery also shows that decorum is not the rule of this spontaneous march.

By investing in the National Assembly, the Women of Versailles introduce confusion: they take their places on the benches alongside the deputies, whom they call out, and appropriate the platform to ask for bread and grain.

The two plates by Janinet belong to the suite of 54 Historical engravings of the main events since the opening of the Estates General in 1789, published in issue between 1789 and 1791. They show the expressive attitudes of a people in movement, without specifying their face; they illustrate a collective approach rather than individual actions because they aim above all to educate through the image. Although composed from memory by a contemporary of the events, who probably did not always witness them, these scenes are nonetheless brought to life, in particular thanks to the technique of etching in the manner of washing which imitates the drawing.


Citizen of the suburbs or salons, orator or rioter, scholar or knitter, all the statuses and all the natures of women were illustrated in the Revolution. These riots are certainly noted in historiography as particularly fierce and enraged. And it is for the calculating reason of a man that the Hôtel de Ville - symbol of the Paris Commune's inertia in the face of famine - must have escaped the fire intended by the women of October 5: Maillard, usher of Châtelet and hero of July 14, wants to preserve the peaceful character of this unusual army against which the king will dare nothing, and which, consequently, can dare anything before the king. But October 5 also has its heroine: Théroigne de Méricourt, demi-mondaine turned politician, armed with saber and pistol conquered in the Bastille, is at the head of the procession and is active throughout the evening by defusing in particular the hostility of the Flanders regiment.

Thanks to this competition of intelligences, the people not only obtained from the king the promise of bread: Louis XVI, who has been late since August in sanctioning the abolition of privileges and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is forced to approve. Ultimately, the momentum given by the women of Paris marked a date in the improvised course of the Revolution: on October 6 they brought back to Paris "the baker, the baker and the little baker." Versailles is deserted.

  • National Assembly
  • women
  • revolutionary days
  • Versailles
  • Days of October 1789
  • Théroigne de Méricourt (Anne-Josèphe)


Paule-Marie DUHETWomen and the Revolution: 1789-1794Paris, Gallimard / Julliard, 1977 Dominique GODINEAUCitizen Knitters: Commonwomen in Paris during the RevolutionAix-en-Provence, Alinéa, 1988.Jules MICHELETWomen of the RevolutionParis, A. Delahays, 1855; republished in Paris, Carrère, 1988.

To cite this article

Mehdi KORCHANE, "Women in the Revolution"

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