5 September 1791: Olympe de Gouges fights for women’s rights

The feminist writer publishes a radical declaration


“Mothers, daughters, sisters, representatives of the Nation, all demand to be constituted into a national assembly,” begins the preamble to the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. “Man, are you capable of being fair? A woman is asking: at least you will allow her that right. Tell me? What gave you the sovereign right to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talents?”

Written by the French feminist Olympe de Gouges, the Declaration has a good claim to being one of the most forward-looking documents ever written. Clever and radical, de Gouges made a name for herself in the 1780s as a passionate critic of slavery. But it was the outbreak of the French Revolution that handed her a historic opportunity.

Frustrated that the National Assembly’s charter of human liberties, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, offered nothing to women, de Gouges decided to write a feminist version, which she dedicated to Marie Antoinette. She called for women to have full political rights, for equality within marriage and for women to be allowed to identify the fathers of their children, which meant single mothers could demand support.

Was France ready for this ground-breaking proposal? It was not. Most of her fellow revolutionaries ignored it. For the Jacobins, she was too brave, too outspoken and too independent. Two years later, after a swift mock trial, they sent her to the guillotine.

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English astronomer and meteorologist James Glaisher and aeronaut Henry Tracey Coxwell reached the greatest height then on record when they rose in a balloon to over 30,000 feet to measure the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere at high altitudes. Glaisher passed out during the ascent and Coxwell's hands became so cold that he was obliged to use his teeth to pull the cord to open the gas valve to enable the balloon to descend. Neither suffered permanent injury and the pair went on to make several more ascents together.


5 September 1661

Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV's superintendant of finances, was arrested and charged with the misappropriation of public funds. Found guilty after a three-year trial, Fouquet spent the rest of his life in prison.

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