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Desirée Gay

Desirée Gay At a very early age, the textile worker, born in Paris on April 4, 1810 to a family of workers, knew the that liberty signified her emancipation and independence. At the age of twenty-two, she threw off all forms of dependency oppressing her; she cut all ties to her family and broke with the Saint Simonian organization in the name of the very freedom that she had discovered there. Labeling herself a daughter of the people, she henceforth maintained that "the liberty of women" must precede all other "social questions," and without it all conquests would be vain. That conviction remained with her throughout her life.

In 1848, now a mother of two children, she hoped that the revolution would allow her to fulfill a "regenerative mission" to organize women in order to allow them to develop their "moral, intellectual and physical faculties." This had to begin with financial independence which was a necessary precondition for the flowering of their individuality. Having liberated herself in 1832, she sought to help others to throw off the dependency in 1848. "After the February revolution, the Provisional Government was assailed by women. Some wrote letters, others drafted laws, others arrived in a group bearing a flag, and all sought the protection of the republic." At the heart of this movement, Desirée Gay appealed to the new authorities. On March 2 she brought a petition to Louis Blanc proposing national workshops to permit women to work while satisfying social concerns: "Let us set up national restaurants as well as laundries and national linen-draperies where the people will find inexpensively healthy food, attention to order, and clean linens, that they can procure, not in isolation, but as united women whom association can easily organize."

On her thirty-eighth birthday, she was unanimously elected women's delegate of the second arrondissement to represent them before the Provisional Government. A breach was opened, women were exerting their sovereignty, however, Desirée Gay encountered the male work organization. She was discharged from her functions as head of the division of the National Workshop of Cour des Fontaines because of her rebelious attitude; she could not accept for more than ten days the measures of the Luxemborg Commission, which prove incapable of alleviating neith women's the poverty nor their inequality. Her criticism was severe: "They are dying of hunger, that much is certain. Their work in the workshops is an lure. This organization of woman's work is despotism under a new name, and the appointment of a female delegates is a hoax of men to rid themselves of her." She threatened: "But they dream to believe that women, once invested with the right of election, will relinquish it."

Desirée Gay, vice president of the society, and Jeanne Deroin, general secretary, assisted Eugenie Niboyet in editing la Voix des Femmes, which published her rousing inditement of woman's depressed status. All three women spokes out for universal rights, the liberty of all individuals, including their sexual equality. But equality was understood to embrace more than merely the maternal "specificity" of women. Desirée Gay and her partners glorified both women's "natural virtues" while simultaneously demanding actual independence of women. "Commencing with the principle of popular sovereignty, we believe that women will have a new place in the social order which arises," she wrote on March 30, 1848, "priestesses by their nature, the sacerdotal function that they have exercised for centuries in the family must become a social function so as to spread successively to the great human family."

Excluded from the National Workshops, caricatured by the press, forbidden to speak, their club closed in June 1848, Jeanne Deroin and Desiré&e Gay turned back to the associations that they created. For awhile Desirée Gay continued to express herself freely in La Politique des Femmes, which she edited from June to August 1848s.

While not adhering rigidly to any school she synthsized her won brand of socialism, whose essence was Saint Simonian. She worked with the Fourierists, while favoring Owenist propaganda whose doctrines she had learned to respect during her stay in England. "Harmony can henceforth only be reestablished by equality, the isolated power of the bourgeoisie alone is a thing of the past, we must now uphold the broad and social existence of a free people." She belonged to organizations that gathered women to guarantee their freedom; thus she set up a seamstresses group. "We have the honor to submit to the citizen-members of the labor commission a project for a voluntary association which has as its objective the assurance an honorable and dignified existence to women manner, to guarantee a pension for their old age, assistance in case of illness or accident, and help for the education of their children."

A living example of the freedom which she sought for "her sisters," Desirée Gay was free in her heart and her body. She loved three men during her life, remaining true to each. To Enfantin, the Saint Simonian initiator, she pledged her loving faith closely allied to in her social commitments. Her second lover was Considerant the Fourierist, Her husband, Jules Gay, translator of Owen. Yet she had loved the three men without surrendering her own freedom. But most men remained silent or refused to take cognizance of women who also demanded universal rights for themselves.
Michèlle Riot-Sarcey


Riot-Sarcey, Michèle "le Parcours de femmes dans l'apprentissage de la démocratie : Désirée Gay, Jeanne Deroin, Eugénie Niboyet, 1830 - 1870" Paris, Univ., Diss., 1990.

_______. La démocratie à l'épreuve des femmes : trois figures critiques du pouvoir, 1830-1848 Paris : A. Michel, 1994.

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